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Hello fellow cooks and cook wannabes! My name is Janet and I am a senior editor here at The Penny Hoarder.

For a long time before I came to The Penny Hoarder I was a newspaper food editor, which means I cooked and baked a lot for stories and photos. I still do a lot of cooking but, wow, the cost of spices keeps me from making some recipes.

I don’t know about you but I get sticker shock when I look at the prices in the spice aisle. A small container of poppy seeds for $4 or more. Almost that much for turmeric. And have you checked out vanilla extract lately? Gulp.

One way that I keep a lid on spice prices is to stay organized. This way, I don’t end up double or triple buying a spice. I learned my lesson when I found four containers of cream of tartar lurking in various unorganized spaces. Now, I have a shelf of what I call sweet baking spices — cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. — and another shelf of savory spices — onion powder, dried oregano, paprika, etc.

Before I put a spice on my grocery list, I look through the shelves to see if I already have it. If I have the spice, I check the date that I bought it. How? I write the purchase date on the cap with a Sharpie after I unpack the groceries. (I understand I am getting into serious nerd category here.) If it’s more than two years old, I buy a new one. Manufacturers say their spices last a year but I think they are good longer.

If a recipe calls for a small amount, ¼ teaspoon or less, of a spice I don’t have, I leave it out or Google a substitute. Ground nutmeg can stand in for a small amount of ground cloves.

So, I am curious. What do you do to get around the high cost of spices? And what I really want to know is how old is the oldest spice in your cabinet?

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I agree that buying herbs are expensive! I love your idea of keeping them organized. Some of my store-bought ones are over two years old. I do grow some of my favorites in a garden box on my patio. Planted three years ago: lavender and rosemary. Planted two years ago: thyme and parsley. Planted annually: oregano, cilantro, dill, basil, sage. Grown in separate containers because they’re invasive: chocolate mint, peppermint, mojito mint. An added bonus is that they keep mosquitos away! I usually cut them fresh, stick in a vase of water or freeze them. Sometimes I’ll dry the lavender, mix with pink Himalayan sea salt in an old shaker and use as car/air freshener.

We grow our own turmeric and ginger root, so those are covered.

Yesterday, walking through Wegman's, I saw the spice section had a new brand (Dion) and it comes in reasonably priced plastic boxes, they resemble the size of an Altoid tin. They were displayed perfectly, easy to read, and the prices were far less than other well known brand names. Here's a visual:

My basil is growing so well this year! I've got several varieties growing and have lots for using fresh and I dry it too. The oregano and parsley are not doing so well this year, but I have a dried stash from last year. The other herbs and spices that I cannot grow, I buy in bulk when I can. I try to find substitutes for the really expensive ones. If I really have to have a particular spice, I just whine and pay.

Buy in bulk. Price is a lot cheaper. Grow my own herbs. You can dry them for the winter, if necessary, or bring them in the house.

Make my own vanilla extract, which involves a bottle of vodka and some vanilla beans that have been opened. 1 cup of non-flavored vodka and 5-6 vanilla beans. (I buy them online.) Place in a tight closing container and leave it alone for 6 months. A fifth of vodka can make several batches of vanilla extract. You can also use bourbon, rum, or brandy.  Also makes for a great holiday gift.

Last edited by AnnieB

Hi Redcatcec! What a cool find and thanks for sharing the visual. I hear so many great things about Wegman's but have never been to one. My only worry with that container is that I wouldn't shut it securely enough each time I used it to keep the cloves fresh. And that's a lot of cloves. Do you think it's more environmentally friendly or is Dion hoping to stand out?

Yes, Badia is a spice brand which has cut the costs all over the kingpins of spices! It is a good product, it's distribution is not as large as the others, you can find it in certain retailers like ShopRite. Probably more, but I have not seen that much of that brand. Sometimes local stores like Dollar stores carry a limited number of common spices...cinnamon, oregano, cloves, chives...

Window boxes of Parsley, Chives, Basel, Orenano, etc.

Purchase hight use spices; i.e. pepper (black, white, red), garlic & onion (powered and granular), salt (sea and mineral), paprika (regular & smoked) at the restaurant supply store in larger containers. Low use spices I purchase at Grocery Outlet or Trader Joes (Aldi); they are often off  or store brands but cost 1/2 to 1/3 of the name brands in Safeway, etc.

One gal. tins of olive and grape seed oil also from the restaurant supply store.

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