How to Save with Bulk Spices

Guest post from Kelly of KellyWiggains.com

I love trying new recipes and new flavors in my kitchen, but too often I have found myself in the spice aisle of the grocery store, debating if a $4 bottle of smoked paprika is worth the flavor for one dish.

Usually, I decide it’s not worth the price, and I use the standard paprika I already have at home. If you have a limited grocery budget like I do, I’m sure you can relate.

However, I recently discovered the bulk herbs and spices section in my local grocery store.

This section, located with the specialty and organic foods, has opened up a new world of variety in my kitchen. I simply choose an herb or spice, dispense the amount I need into a small plastic bag, weigh the package on the scale, and print out the price tag. Then, I typically do a little dance in the name of saving money!

Let’s look at the last trip I made to the store.

I purchased .220 lbs of garlic granules at $5.99 a pound. I paid $1.32. You might be thinking, “That’s more expensive than the $1 bottle of garlic powder.” However, I purchased 3.5 ounces of dehydrated garlic. The average bargain bottle from the dollar store only holds .8 ounces. Essentially, I purchased 4 dollar-store bottles worth of garlic for $1.32. 

Here are some advantages to buying spices in bulk:

1. Bulk Spices are Cheaper than the Bargain Spices

As I mentioned above, the herbs and spices in the bulk section are priced by the pound. At first glance, $5.99 for a pound of basil seems pricey until you actually weigh dried basil. It takes a lot of dried basil to make a pound. Half a bag cost me a whopping 11 cents.

2. Bulk Spices are More Economical

On my first trip to the bulk section, I purchased basil, rosemary, black pepper, garlic granules, cayenne pepper, and cumin. I spent right around $2 total for all of those spices. I could buy a wider variety of spices for less money because I only bought what I needed.

3. Bulk Spices are Fresh

I wish the internet people would just go ahead and invent smell-o-screen. Sadly, you’re just going to have to take my word for it. You can smell the difference in freshness.

I talked to an employee who said the store receives fresh spices at least once a week, replenishing their stock at a higher turnover rate than the spices in the baking aisle, where spices sit on the shelves for months with preservatives mixed in to keep them “fresh.”

4. Bulk Spices Provide Better Quality and Variety

Because bulk spices contain no additives, I can actually see the difference in quality. The colors and textures are richer than the bottled versions. I can also get a wider variety.

The dollar spice section offers only generic spices: black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, etc. From the bulk section, I can get a wide range of spices: curry powder, cumin, white pepper, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, etc. Yet, I still spend less than $1 for what I actually need.

5. Bulk Spices Allow You to Make Healthy Mixes

I love making up my own spice mixes for quick and easy dinners, like this taco seasoning mix from $5 Dollar Dinners and Ranch Dip mix from The Marathon Mom.

Buying spices in bulk allows me to have convenience items on hand that are healthy for my family as well as economical for my budget.

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As you start to stock up on bulk spices, here are a few things to consider.

Storage:

Once you start buying bulk spices, your spice cabinet will no longer contain tiny little bottles. Instead, you will have tiny little plastic bags to sort. You might consider keeping your empty spice bottles to refill with the bulk spice, purchasing some small plastic containers, or repurposing baby food jars to keep your spices contained.

Convenience:

Unless you only need one or two spices, I would suggest stocking up on spices without children in tow. I took all three of my kids with me the first time I bought spices from the bulk area, and they got restless. I also noticed a basket full of popular spices, already bagged, tagged, and ready to go, so you might check to see if your store does the same.

Check out the bulk foods section of your grocery store today and look for the spices!

Kelly Wiggains, a high school English teacher turned homeschooling mom, likes to surround herself with good literature, beautiful things, and big ideas, and she wants her home to reflect those things, too. She blogs at KellyWiggains.com, where she talks about everything From Literature to Living.

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Comments

  1. Jenny says

    Thanks for the advice! Great ideas. We always have spices going bad at our house.

    • Fay says

      You could store them in the freezer section if you don’t use spices too often. This way they don’t go bad for a lot longer.

    • says

      That’s one reason I love buying spices like this. I can get just enough for what I need. No more keeping bottles of things around for years before I decide to declutter!

    • WilliamB says

      I buy my spices from Penzey’s or the Spice House (NB: google for the Spice House’s online address, because a, er, different type of business has the same name) because the quality can’t be beat and some of their mixes are just awesome – Brady Cheese Sprinkle, I’m looking at you.

      To save money I buy in bulk. To preserve freshness I keep most of it in the freezer and only a few weeks’ worth on my counter.

  2. Silvia says

    If anyone is struggling to organize all the little bags and has a closet/pantry door anywhere near the kitchen, do what I did and spend $10 (or less, I suppose) on an over-the-door plastic shoe keeper. The plastic pockets are great for bags of spices!

  3. bberg says

    What stores have you found them in? Maybe we are just in to small of a town to find them here.

    • says

      I actually use a chain that is only available in Texas – HEB. However, I know Whole Foods has bulk spices, and a lot of health food stores have them as well. I’m sure there are online options to buying spices in bulk, too. I’ll see what I can find.

  4. Angela says

    You can also buy at ethnic stores. I had to go to an Oriental store because the regular store didn’t sell what I needed. I only paid $1.69 for what I probably would have paid $4

    • Jiya says

      I was just coming here to suggest the same thing — I buy most of my spices from an Indian grocery store, and their prices are great and the spices are always fresh. I use recycled baby food jars to keep the spices handy, and the excess is sealed in ziploc bags.

  5. says

    For storage I suggest saving or purchasing small jelly jars…they stack nicely, look great and provide wonderful storage at a really good price especially if bought on sale! And you usually get them 12 to a package!

  6. Michelle says

    When ever I go to Lancaster County, PA. I stock up on spices there. I go to the stores where the Amish shop and buy them there.

  7. Anna says

    Locally, none of the grocery stores have a bulk section. I wish they did! Ordering bulk spices on-line is a money saver long-run, too, but up front is much more expensive! There is a brand I can buy, Badia, and they have little packets of herbs/spices for about 70cents. They are in the latin foods section. I definitely save buying that brand over McCormic!

  8. Jen says

    I’m also wondering what stores carry bulk spices. Not my local grocery store. Someone mentioned Whole Foods but my nearest one is 45 min away so I’d waste all my savings in gas. :-(

  9. Meme says

    Winco sells them in bulk or if you live a small town and don’t have one check the mexican aisle of your local store they sell small packets for $0.79-$1.50 normally

  10. Karen says

    I love buying bulk spices. I never buy the little jars anymore. Don’t store your spices in the little plastic bags. Your spices will last longer in a jar and they won’t absorb odor/taste from each other. Cost Plus World Market has glass spice jars with a shaker insert for $1. CPWM has email coupons, BTW. I spent $30, printed cute labels for the tops, and have the best looking spice drawer EVER. You could do the same thing with glass baby food jars.

    • says

      Ooh, I’m suddenly very jealous of your spice drawer. Yes, I agree that getting jars is the best option. Baby food jars would be the best DIY option.

  11. says

    Unfortunately none of the stores around me have spices in the Bulk Section. However, I have found that my Aldis carries a pretty good selection of spices for 99 cents per bottle.

  12. says

    Yep! Love this advice! I order my spices from my favorite spice store in Fort Worth, but when I lived in Dallas, I’d occasionally buy spices from the bulk bins at Sprouts. I no longer live in a town where I can buy bulk spices, which is a bummer if I’m in a pinch and have run out of something.

    My ordered spices come in bags. I have glass spice jars I bought at a Crate & Barrel outlet years ago. Everything is alphabetized and easy to find. After I fill the jars, I put the bagged spices in the freezer. Buying spices this way is definitely a money saver. I buy cumin in one-pound bags and pay around $8 for it.

  13. jk says

    I love Sprouts. They have a small section of bulk spices but have most of the essentials. I needed couple tablespoons of sweet paprika for a recipe and instead of paying a several $ for one bottle, I paid 75cents for few tablespoon’s worth.

  14. Maria says

    I used to do this at Whole Foods for years, but sadly they’ve cut waaay back on their bulk spices. I’ve complained, but maybe if more people asked they bring them back…

  15. rose says

    Yes! I love buying spices in bulk! Fresher and so much cheaper! (So sorry to those who don’t have the option!) You can also get a better price on some spices in the Mexican section, if your store has those…not sure how common that is; I do live in TX. : )

    I also get nice Himalayan sea salt in the bulk bins of my health food store for $3/ lb., which is cheaper than Real Salt.

    Definitely shop around…I am blessed to have multiple stores with bulk sections, and I’ve found my local grocery store to be considerably cheaper for spices than my health food stores.

    • says

      I used to buy spices in the Mexican Section of my grocery store, too. I also shopped at Fiesta quite often. Asian, Indian, and other ethnic markets might have bulk spice options, too.

  16. says

    Great ideas! Sometimes I won’t even make a dish because it incorporates a spice I don’t have, and I don’t want to spend $4 on a bottle!

    Another way you could keep track of your spices, is to have a spice inventory sheet. It’s as easy as typing up your spices in a Word document if you don’t have too many, or downloading a printable. I created one for my blog readers here: http://creativesavingsblog.com/from_my_kitchen/meal_planning/spice-inventory-printable/

    • Myrna says

      I’m newly arrived in South Florida. Aside from Publix who does not seem to have bulk spices, there aren’t too many choices for shopping. All my friends tell me to buy in bulk in Asian markets or farmer’s markets and so far I haven’t seen any of those either.

      • says

        I haven’t seen many farmer’s markets either, and the ones I do visit only have flowers, natural soaps, and fruits and veggies. We have a Save-A-Lot near our home and I often find discount spices there, though not necessarily in bulk form.

        That’s cool that you just moved – we moved to SWFL 3 months ago!

        • Myrna says

          I loved the west coast and the gulf! No rip currents there! Stores are different and take some getting used to. Still seeking the best places for those bargains.

  17. says

    I didn’t read all the comments so forgive me if this was mentioned:).
    We have a bulk price food store in our area (like an Amish bulk store) Their bulk prices blow the bulk grocery store pieces out of the water.

    Seriously it’s amazing. I drive 30 min to get spice there because they are so much cheaper.

  18. Heather says

    Our Walmart (in VA) has spices in the Mexican section that are much cheaper than in the baking section, so that’s may be an option for those of you without bulk bins.

    I did recently discover Whole Foods bulk spices, and some of them are quite a good deal. That’s about the only think I buy there.
    I’m also lucky to have a Mennonite store nearby that sells bulk spices already packaged in small little containers for you for quite cheap.
    If I ever travel to a city with an Indian food store, I try to make a stop to look for spices. That’s definitely the way to get things like turmeric, coriander, and garam masala for a real bargain.

    Cooking with spices and herbs makes such a difference! I find that if I make good, well seasoned meals, we don’t get the itch to go out to eat at restaurants very often. I feel like the pennies spent on spices really saves in the long run.

      • Heather says

        No, it’s called the Cheese Shop, and it’s in Stuart’s Draft (near Waynesboro). Also in Waynesboro is a wonderful grocery outlet called Sharp Shopper. They also have some bulk foods (not in bins – already packaged). Red lentils for cheap. And wheat germ for pennies compared to those pricey bottles in the supermarket. And much more.
        Both stores have so many great bargains.

  19. Lisa says

    I order bulk herbs from herbalcom.com One lady mentioned about cumin, it is $4.90 a pound. I get with others and we do a big order. We have been happy with everything we have gotten there. They have spices as well as herbs.

  20. says

    San Fransisco Herb Company is a great place to order spices online. I can get a POUND of poppy seeds for the same price as a 1.5 ounce container from Walmart. Mustard seed and cream of tartar are similarly priced. I make my own poppy seed muffins that way, and the mustard seed is wonderful when I’m making pickles (a 1.5 ounce container contains 3 tablespoons, and I need 2 per batch of pickles, so buying it by the pound is a huge cost savings!)

    They have a minimum $35 order, but their prices are great.

    I keep my bulk spices in glass containers, including glass canning jars.

  21. Dixie Collins says

    buying spices in bulk sounds wonderful, however I live in a rural area the closest city is 50 miles from my home. It is not feasible for me to travel that far. We are at a disadvatage living in a rural area due to the fact a lot of people would not do this and the stores would not benefit or profit so we have deal with what they give us. The walmart store here is also not the greatest as prices are higher due to this area.

  22. says

    I bought their onion soup mix last night, but I need the recipe as to how much soup mix to how much water. I would appreciate any help on this issue. Thanks

  23. G. Armour says

    These ideas are really great! But where we live, grocery stores carry very little but the foods that people buy a lot of: prepared and canned foods, lots of different bread choices (all wheat), and, of course the regular, pricey spiece/herb section. We try to cook all gluten free and with as little sugar as possible. I’ve found good sources of “tasty” recipes online, but often they call for exotic spices I’ve never seen in any local stores. We find it uneconomical to run all over looking for these special items and impractical to try to order in bulk with some kind of coop. I wish I could afford to use more of a variety of spices, but am definitely at a disadvantage where I live in rural western Colorado.