How to Buy Spices

Spices can make or break your cooking, but they can be pricey and/or stale. You can save money and kick your cooking up a notch by learning how to choose bulk spices.

First, why not just buy pre-packaged mixes and bottles of ground spices? Legally, spice mixes can have up to 20% impurities. Ew. Not only that, but they can contain fillers (including gluten) and MSG. They’ve often been on the shelf for who knows how long, exposed to light and heat and losing the volatile oils that make or break their flavor.

All that said, there are some mixes I keep on hand, like Simply Asia’s Sweet Ginger Garlic (which I buy at Costco when they have it), as well as a couple of barbecue rubs by Grill Mates. That said, I’ve found you can make some pretty amazing rubs from scratch easily with individual spices and some brown sugar.

A great way to buy spices are bulk spice bins. You can sniff to see if they’re fresh easily, and buy only what you need. Don’t be sticking your nose down in there, though! First, that’s unsanitary (ew). Second, you’ll sneeze your head off! Lol When you get your nose near it use your hand to waft the scent over to you. It may make your nose burn and your eyes water.

Bulk spice rack in grocery store
Bulk Spice Rack

If your grocery store has bulk spices, you’re in luck! If not, you can try ethnic stores, spice stores, or food co-ops. Be careful with gourmet shops, they’re often over-priced. You can also order online from places like Mountain Rose Herbs. Be sure to label exactly what each baggy of spice is, along with the number of the bin. I promise you when you get home you’ll get confused as to which is which, otherwise. (Cough. Been there, done that! Lol)

I know, when you see peppercorns for $10 a pound it looks scary, but a small bag will last months and cost a dollar or less. As a matter of fact, you can get all the spices I list below for probably well under $20 for the very small amounts you’ll need, and that will be far less than buying them by the bottle. A little goes a long way.

If you like plants you can even grow some of your own fresh spices, like thyme, basil, oregano, and sage. They smell good and they’re pretty, as well as useful.

Next we’ll learn which spices to buy, and how to store them.