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Taste testers compare spices at various prices

Posted November 24, 2009

For many, the holiday season means cooking special recipes and using lots of spices.

The spices available at the grocery store hail from all over the map, and their prices are pretty varied too.

There can be huge differences in price between different brands of the same spice. Even the small jars can cost plenty. In some cases, the price is equivalent to more than $100 per pound.

Consumer Reports ran some tests to see if a lower price meant less flavor.

Consumer Reports' sized up two frequently used spices -- oregano and cinnamon. The prices ranged from a low of 50 cents per ounce to more than $7 for the same quantity.

"We wanted to see if our trained testers could taste any big differences between an expensive spice and a less expensive one," said Amy Keating of Consumer Reports.

Testers tasted dried oregano in various recipes, including tomato sauce and on top of bread with melted mozzarella.

The cinnamon was mixed into applesauce and baked in sugar cookies.

“The testers couldn't really taste a difference with the cinnamon sugar cookies, but in the other recipes with the pricier oregano and cinnamon, there was just slightly more flavor intensity," Keating said.

They found that all of the oreganos tasted pretty much the same. All the cinnamons tasted just like cinnamon.

There is no need to spend more unless the spice is the main attraction, the tests showed.

"One thing that can make a difference with some herbs and spices is if they are old," Keating said.

While is can be less expensive to buy spices in bulk, taste can degrade over time. Most cooks should avoid bulk purchases except for spices they plan to use a lot, or if they are cooking for a crowd like chef Annamarie Macciocco.

She counts on spices to create signature dishes for her Italian restaurant.

“A dish could be good, but a spice could make it great," she said

Still, Macciocco said, "I buy the cheapest spice I can."

To keep herbs and spices tasting their best, Consumer Reports recommends:

  • Be sure to store them in airtight containers.
  • Keep them out of sunlight and away from moisture and heat.
  • Check the expiration date. If there isn't one, mark the container with the date you open it.

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  • thefensk Nov 30, 2009

    Snakebite is absolutely correct. I used to work at A Southern Season and they have reasonable quantities at very reasonable prices because they package their own bulk spices. Good stuff.
    On a recent trip to Houston my sister took me to a local Penzey's store; I knew of Penzey's as an on-line merchant but their store was awesome. I wish they'd open one of those here. They put samples in glass jars so you can smell ... the aromas are amazing.
    on spices ... the fresher the better!

  • Snakebite Survivor Nov 27, 2009

    One surprising thing I've found is that the gourmet food store Southern Seasons, in Chapel Hill, actually has much lower prices for most of the spices we use than the chain grocery stores. Spice prices in groceries are absolutely unbelievable! Online stores are generally much cheaper, too.

  • glbates Nov 25, 2009

    Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning.....I saw this picture when checking out this article and wanted to share a secret use for this spice blend. It's always a favorite when I serve up asparagus, lightly coated with olive oil and Cavender's Greek Seasoning, and grilled over high heat. The oil sears the outside and the finished veggie is still crisp on the inside. The spice blend really works with asparagus and not as well with other veggies. Try it! It's quick and easy and gives us guys more "grill time".