HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Canadian vs. US groceries

I'm a Canadian who lived in the States for 25 years and I just recently moved back to Canada and I'm having some trouble adjusting to some of the grocery products (or lack of them).

- Butter is rarely (or way more expensively) sold in sticks in Canada. How do you bake with it? I was used to using the tbsp. marks in the paper wrappers.

- Can you buy pre-packaged soft corn tortillas in Canada? Everybody seems to have flour ones, but I haven't found corn ones yet (crispy fried ones, but not soft).

- In the States sweetened condensed milk comes in tins that are almost 400 ml; in Canada the tins are only 300 ml. SHould I be adapting my AMerican recipes?

- Can you buy Uncle Ben's long grain and wild rice mixtures in Canada? I have found several simliar things, but not the "regular" kind that serves four and comes in a small, rectangular box and in either the longer or quicker cooking versions.

- Old English cheese in a jar?

- Lemon flavoured yogurt?

Thanks for your help. :-)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Can't answer most of your questions, except that you'll probably adapt, and like what we have. What is Old English in a jar? There are crocks of Stilton available at Xmas.

    What I miss most from the U.S. are inexpensive dairy and poultry. After 25 years living here, I still miss Perdue chickens, for a quick inexpensive dinner. Canadian chicken was four times as expensive, and dairy products twice as much when I got here in 1980, and those prices have gone steadily upward ever since, protected by marketing boards.
    Wine is a lot cheaper in major U.S. markets, like Chicago, N.Y.C., and Ca.
    Our L.C.B.O. could be a lot more competitive, if they had competition!

    But in the final analysis, I'm happier to pay higher prices and taxes to get OHIP and the social benefits lacking elsewhere.

    1. I looked everywhere for the corn tortillas..and finally found them in the freezer section of my health food stores. Natures Fare sells them. I like to buy the long grain and wild rice mixtures in bulk...and as for old english cheese in a jar...is that similar to Imperial Cheese in the tub? You might want to try that. I agree...our groceries are alot more expensive than in the States. If you have a Superstore in your area, that might cut your cost a bit..especially on boxed, dairy and meat items. I still prefer the farmers market for produce in the summer..can't beat fresh fruits and vegies! I live in BC and know alot of farmers in the area so it's nice to know where my food is coming from.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Veggigal

        Speaking of fruits and vegetables--I live in Toronto, and we have a lot of little green grocer shops: I find the produce is good *and* the prices on stuff there is *way* less than in the States. I do go to farmers' markets in season too. But I agree too that meat and poultry are a lot more expensive here. Until you had mentioned it, jayt90, I had forgotten about how annoyed I am when I have to pay a lot of money for chicken! :-P

        I'll check the health food stores for corn tortillas. My most recent solution was for my sister to bring me 3 bags from the States, which are now in *my* freezer!

        Old English cheese is more like Cheez Whiz actually. We have a recipe for crab muffins (Old English cheese, can of crab meat, some mayo spread on English muffins, cut into quarters and broiled) that calls for that cheese. I just tried them last week with Imperial cheese, and it didn't work too well--not as melty as the other. And ironically, in another thread, I just touted Imperial Cheese as being a wonderful Canadian product that you can't get in the States!

        1. re: Karieann

          Costco is a great leveller of food prices. They have similar items at comparable prices across the continent, and they buy locally when possible. Their Saskatoon jam might make it to New Jersey, as well as Canadian bacon, Alaska sockeye, and foods from Central America, OZ, etc. ending up in all the warehouses..

          Maybe diced Velveeta will work on the muffins. It's great for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Hope that doesn't start a grilled cheese war!)

          1. re: jayt90

            As someone born in the U.S., but who has lived in Canada for about 35 years, I feel I can comment on a few of your points.

            Butter - yes, this is one of the most frustrating grocery items on the shelf. In the U.S., virtually all butter is sold in 1/4 lb. bars. In Canada, all but the most expensive brands (Lactantia, for instance) are sold as 1 lb. lumps. I usually end up cutting the lump into 1/4 lb. bars, an inaccurate and messy process.

            Corn tortillas are hard to find in regular supermarkets (although one chain has its own house bvrand for a while, and then withdrew it, evidently some cluckheaded corporate decision). Most big cities will have at least a few latino markets (in Toronto, a few on Augusta) which usually have them.

            Bear in mind, though, that a truly authentic tortilla is almost impossible to obtain in non-Latino countries.. Made withiout perservatives, they get stale within a day. In Mexico, people buy them at special shops (tortillerias) and eat them the same day, often on their way home.

            I can't say I miss Uncle Ben's rice, which always struck me as being over-processed and not bearing much resemblance to real rice, albeit very healthful I usually buy a big sack of Thai Jasmine rice at an Asian supermarket, of which there are many, lug it home (it weighs about 8 kg.)and cook it with no added salt or anything, two parts water to one of rice. That's the way rice should taste.

            Also, have you noticed the difference between U.S. and Canadian cottage cheese? The first is firm and tangy (usually), the second, lumps in a rather unappetizing milky goo. A few stores in Toronto that specialize in Kosher foods import cottage cheese from the U.S. (such as Breakstone's), at a hefty price.

            1. re: ekammin

              as far as cutting up your butter, if it's what you must do, you should just stick it in the freezer for ten minutes or so and then heat your knife with a creme brulee torch (best) or in extremely hot water, that should make it less messy, its not that inaccurate, you can always go the old fashioned route and actually measure it in tablespoons or by measure it by weight..... you should be able to add butter to taste or know how it should make a product look while baking if you cook often enough.....

      2. Re: Uncle Ben's wild rice. I've never tried it, but I'd point you in the direction of President's Choice Texmati Rice. I hesitate to admit it here, but I do use it, and quite like it.

        1. We are in the same boat; I just moved back to Edmonton after 20 years. I can only find soft corn tortillas at a little Mexican grocery shop, it seems to be the one and only place it the city that sells them. You may have to look around wherever you are for something like that.

          Some convenience foods that catch on in the US don't always earn a place on the supermarket shelves here. If you can't find your rice mixes at the bigger grocery stores like Superstore you may have to find another product you like.

          Butter in sticks, excessive packaging aside, was a convenience when it came to measuring. Sigh. Get out a tablespoon and start measuring the way your mother did.

          Do you mean that cheese spread in the small blue ceramic crock? I haven't seen that anywhere for 10 years.

          2 Replies
          1. re: inuksuk

            Can I ask - which store did you find the corn tortillas in and was the quality any good?

            1. re: anonymoose

              I got them at Paraiso Tropical:

              9136 118 Avenue NW
              Edmonton, AB T5B 0V1
              (780) 479-6000

              You can read a little bit about the shop in the middle of this article: http://www.vueweekly.com/articles/def... The tortillas are made in a factory in Toronto and are wholly adequate. However, one week the store ran out and made up a batch out of instant masa. Stay away from those crumbly wrecks or any other tortillas in an unmarked bag.

          2. True about the butter packaging, but Lactantia happens to taste better than most, if not all, of the other brands. I use the Lactantia brand because it tastes better. But it really isn't hard to measure the butter. Just use a measuring spoon to scoop it from the block or buy a cheap plastic measuring gizmo at any decent kitchen store. You just need to get used to it. (I'm originally from the States.) Butter packaging in the eastern and western parts of the US also differs. Actually, precise baking would have you weigh the butter. What is much more important with regard to baking is the flour! US and Canadian flour are VERY different and, while many US baking recipes do come out okay, others don't.

            I haven't seen soft corn tortillas in a supermarket in several years, but you should be able to find them at a natural food store, a place such as Whole Foods, or a store catering to Latinos. (Possibly in the Keele St area or in Kensington Market).

            Yes, you'll need to adapt if a recipe calls for "one can". (Decent recipes shouldn't use "can" as a measurement, but that's a different issue.) What I find very frustrating is products that come in imperial sizes converted to metric. You'll need to get used to things such as 454 grams...

            I see the Uncle Ben's products around. I don't use them, so I can't advise whether they are equivalent to what you are missing. I believe you can get this type of convenience product in the President's Choice brand. But you have much greater choice in this realm than you would in the States. There's an actual rice store at St Lawrence Market, and endless varieties available at various ethnic stores.

            In a more general realm, check out the range of President's Choice products at Loblaw's. Most of these have no US equivalents and many are excellent.

            I'm not familiar with "Old English" cheese. Cheese Whiz and Velveeta are available everywhere and there are almost certainly other products comparable to what you're missing. I was going to suggest Imperial cheese, which is delicious, but you mention that it didn't work. The range of quality cheeses available in Toronto is much greater than in most of the States. I'd suggest grating some 4 year old cheddar into your muffins instead, but that's just me.

            Lemon yogurt shouldn't be a problem. My favourite is the Western brand, 8% version, but you should be able to find the lower fat stuff easily. We have a much greater selection of yogurt flavours here, but I know it's a bummer when you can't find your favourite brand.

            I know it's a nuisance, but adapting isn't really all that difficult. Then, again, I've been here for almost 40 years and I still miss Nathan's hot dogs. But it's no different when you move from one region of the US to another.

            Welcome back :-)

            1. Lemon flavoured yogurt is really hard to find in Canada. It's one of the strange grocery store things I splurge on when in the US.

              Soft corn tortillas can be had at the mexican store on Augusta in Kensington Market

              1 Reply
              1. re: orangewasabi

                I goofed. The yogurt brand is Liberty. Western brand is made by the same company. I'm sure they can direct you to a source. Post a message on the Western Creamery website.

              2. For butter measurements, you can buy these plastic cards (about the same size as an index card) in some kitchen stores that have measurements on them sized for a standard Canadian block of butter. I'm not familiar with what you get on the 'sticks' of butter but it sounds like it might be similar.

                1. Hmm, Presidents Choice sells butter in sticks. I buy it all the time, although at that packaging is a shame.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: thenurse

                    In regard to the fact that there is less packaging on a 1 lb. lump of butter than on individual bars, this is true. But when I cut them up (a whole pound is too much to leave out of the freezer at once) I have to wrap them, usually in plastic wrap, so that advantage is lost.

                    And also, about Texmati rice, I should suggest going to any Indian food store, or even some supermarkets, for a bag of Basmati rice. Much is imported from India, so is totally authentic, and at a price much lower per pound, than the individally packed stuff on supermarket shelves.

                    1. re: ekammin

                      as far as the yogurt i have frequently been able to buy a flavour of yogurt called "key lime" which may satisfy you. can't rememember the brand but no frills always has it and it is a firm style. also the dannon la creme mousse often has a lemon meringue flavour that i like that i have also purchased at no frills but it is frothy and lighter.

                  2. I have seen Liberty lemon yogurt (this is the high butterfat stuff) at several Loblaw and Dominion stores over the past couple of weeks.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: embee

                      I was just about to jump in and say that for the tortillas, the butter, the lemon yoghurt and the Uncle Ben's "blends", try a BIG Loblaws. All are availabel there in the Toronto area. The tortillas are not always in stock but try the bread area, I get lucky about one out of three times. As for the cheese product, have you tried sustituting Black Diamond red? it comes in a small black margarine-style plastic tub and is in the dairy section.

                      1. re: LJS

                        Even in Ottawa - which isn't nearly as foodie yet as Toronto or Montreal - you can find all this stuff easily at Loblaws or Farm Boy.

                        1. re: piccola

                          Yup--I often shop at a huge Loblaws since that is what is closest to my home.
                          - They have butter in wrapped sticks, but it is usually about $1-2 more per pound than the one big lump.
                          - There are some UB rice blends available, they're just not the same as the in the States.
                          - I have checked at Loblaw's *many* times and have yet to find corn tortillas. The ones I'm talking about are generally found regrigerated, not in the bakery section with all the flour tortillas.
                          - I love Imperial Cheese in the red plastic tub and it isn't anything like the Old English cheese. :-)
                          - I haven't had lemon yogurt in ages--I will have to try all your brand recommendations! In the States the Yoplait braind of (non-fat even) is really good...

                          (And as a Canadian, I really do love it here and I'm not bashing Canada! I pretty much learned how to cook while living in the US and so am just dealing with adapting. :-)

                          1. re: Karieann

                            If Uncle Ben's rice is different here from in the US, maybe I should tryb it. I never did like the US stuff - much too processed and "healthful" - not what I think rice should taste like.

                            Loblaw's used to have their brand of corn tortillas, under the name "La Eleccion del Presidente" (President's Choice) which sounds like an essay in Latin-American politics. They withdrew it due to lack of demand, or so they said.

                            1. re: ekammin

                              I remember those tortillas, though not the name. I've seen corn tortillas in the freezer case before, if not at Loblaws, then at the local health food store.

                              The one thing I truly, deeply miss from the US is Fage brand yogurt. It's the only Greek-style yogurt I've found that comes in fatfree - plus it's absolutely delicious. I wonder if I could convince grocery stores to carry it...

                    2. Butter: I buy the pound block, unwrap and score or cut it into 4 chunks with a knife. Then I can keep one chunk out and refrigerate or freeze the rest. If you know that each cup of butter (1/2 lb. - there are 2 cups to a pound) contains 16 tablespoons, all you have to remember to do is cut each 1/4 lb. chunk into 8 equal squares. As I write this, I realize it sounds much more complicated than it actually is. I also have a small digital kitchen scale which I use all the time - 1 tbsp = 1/2 oz.

                      Tortillas: I have recently been finding soft corn tortillas at my local No Frills store. DOn't know where you live, but I'm in Ontario. I was surprised to find them so immediately bought 2 packages and threw them in the freezer.

                      Condensed milk is my nemesis. I make a killer key lime pie and the recipe always gives me grief because it's meant for the US size can. I have a metric calculator and just do the math. It's a pain, though, I agree.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Nyleve

                        I do exactly the same thing with blocks of butter. Nonetheless, I find it a messy procedure, getting the butter from the original wrapping of the block from which I have cut it to a piece of plastic wrap for freezer storage, etc. I usually have to wash my hands afterward.

                        Thanks for the tip about No Frills. I live in Toronto, and usually buy my tortillas in Kensington market, much further from me than my local No Frills. Not bad ("Del :Pueblo" brand),but not like a fresh, Mexican tortilleria tortilla.

                        As to piccola's comment about yogurt, Astro claims to be a Balkan style yogurt, and, indeed, the company was founded by someone from the former Yugoslavia trying to make just that type of product. I find it completely satisfactory, both for cooking and eating. It is not fat-free, however.

                        1. re: ekammin

                          I don't think a true Balkan yoghurt should be fat free. I find that if the yoghurt is used in cooking, the lower the fat content, the less satisfactory the result.

                          1. re: hungry_pangolin

                            Well, tell that to the folks at Fage, an actual Greek company that makes - and sells tons of - fat-free Balkan yogurt.

                            1. re: piccola

                              Just curious... did you try to cook with it, and, if so, what was the result? And you did say above that it was the "only" fat-free Balkan style yoghurt, so it is, if you're correct, a singular innovation.

                              1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                Well, it's the only one I've found. Not necessarily the only one in existence.

                                I haven't tried to cook with it because honestly, it's too good as it is - I just eat it out of the tub. But others on the home cooking board have cooked with it without problems.

                                That said, if you're morally opposed to fat-free yogurt - which you're entitled to be - the brand also has 2%, 5% and full-fat version. I haven't tested them, though.

                      2. Karieann,
                        Lemon Flavored Yogurt- Neilson and Axelrod's (imported form the US- you can buy it at Loblaws at Bathurst and St. Clair and Dominion at Bathurst and Lawrence in the kosher dairy section).

                        Greek yogurt- I have seen it at Sun Valley on the Danforth.

                        Corn Tortillas- I have seen frozen ones at Whole Foods and other health food stores. I know the Ezekial brands make them. They are probably not nearly as good as the fresh ones.

                        UB's Long Grain and Wild Rice- boy that brings back memories. My mom used to tell me to make it when I was having company (as the wild rice made it so "fancy") and she warned me to hide the box before anyone saw it. I haven't made it in years, but it must exist. I think I have seen some President Choice mixes at Loblaws. I am a huge fan of the Lundberg rice mixes (also a US import). They are available all over the place.

                        Good luck with your acclimation back in Canada.

                        1. Just to let you know the pain of being on the other side - I'm a US-ian with Canadian relatives, and I'm craving Canada-only groceries: President's Choice Thai Rice Crisps, Fudgee-O's cookies, butter tarts, Kit Kats with real chocolate, root beer with no caffeine, ...

                          O, you lucky Canadians!


                          4 Replies
                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                            I'm flying into MSP tomorrow am - what should I bring you?

                            1. re: thenurse

                              What a sweet offer! But the list would be too long - you'd have to leave your clothes behind, and customs would nab you for being an importer.

                              I'll wait until my next visit to TO for my Canadian treats. And there's always www.canadaonly.ca for mail-order. But thanks!


                              1. re: AnneInMpls

                                I just checked out Canada only, and it looks fascinating. Is Canadian Red Rose tea really different from what's sold in the US?

                                1. re: Meann

                                  They used to advertise Red Rose along the lines of "only in Canada, eh? Pity!" If there is a US version now, I don't know the answer.

                          2. The easiest way to measure butter in a measuring cup is first to fill the cup with water in the quantity you don't want to be butter. Example: If you want 2/3 cup of butter, put 1/3 cup of cold water in the cup and add butter until the cup is full.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Querencia

                              You're a genius! Thank you! (Sorry--hadn't checked back in awhile. :-)

                            2. Here is where I get freshly-made corn tortillas in Montréal: Tortilla Maya 5274, boul Saint-Laurent, Montréal Tél. : (514) 495-0606

                              I don't buy any flavoured yoghourt; it is full of sugar. It is easy to add lemon.

                              And those ultra-cheap battery chickens come with a huge price in terms of health (yours and the chicken's) and flavour. I only buy locally-produced, grain-fed chickens, and no, I don't have a high income. Real food is important.

                              Do agree about the LCBO - and our SAQ. Our wine is far too expensive.

                              I believe I've seen larger tins of sweetened condensed milk in Asian supermarkets.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: lagatta

                                Some American supermarkets carry or have carried President's Choice.

                                Tom Thumb, in the Dallas area, carried it before they were bought by Safeway. I think Safeway (and its various alter egos) carried it for a while in the late 90s.

                                Yes, it was the bomb of store brands. Much better than Southern Home (Bruno's/Food World/BiLo) or Astor (Winn Dixie.)

                              2. Lemon flavoured yogurt?

                                You might go to a Liquor store and see if you can get some Lemon Bitters.


                                A few drops will add a lemon taste to anything. It is bitters so if you add to much you will start to get the bitterness.

                                A pinch of citric acid powder might also help get the taste you want.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Geo8rge

                                  I would be more inclined to add a spoonful of lemon curd - either homemade or from a jar. That would add the lemon flavour plus a bit of sweetness.

                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    Or lemon marmalade, which you should be able to get in Canada (more easily than in the US, I would think). Or just a little lemon juice and peel and a few drops of sweetener.

                                    Otherwise: buy a kitchen scale: if you convert the quantities in your recipes to weights, you can adjust for packaging size. I woudn't worry too much about the difference between a 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk and a 13 oz one, although you might try looking in ethnic markets (Asian or Latino) to see if they have the 14 oz size (be aware, though, that these markets often carry cheaper version of the same brands of sweetened condensed milk that contain vegetable oil, so read the labels carefully).

                                2. I'm not certain if you have Safeway in your part of Canada, but I know they sell a delicious Lemon Chiffon yogurt of their own brand (Lucerne).

                                  Though I've lived in Canada most of my life, I'm sure it was a real eye-opener to you to see how many more food items are in the US than there are here in Canada. I realize Canada does have a tenth of the population of the U.S., but it's shocking when you go over to the states and see all of the foodstuffs we don't have here. Don't get me wrong. I love my country, but a lot of the time, they put an item on the market for a month or two, and then they pull it before anyone's really had a chance to try it / them out.

                                  I'm hoping someone can help me too, but with the opposite issue. Are there US food sites (besides www.hometownfavorites.com) which import to Canada? If so, I'd appreciate the URLs for them.

                                  Thank you kindly.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Lynn N

                                    I can totally empathize, Lynn. When I am in the US I go absolutely wild in the grocery stores and am always astounded at what is on the shelves compared to here in Canada. There just is no comparison. I am forever reading about such and such in US magazines that we cannot get here.

                                    Lea and Perrins Worcestershire in Canada is not gluten free and it is in the US so I must get relatives to bring that back with them. Same goes for Chex cereal which we do not have in Canada. Lots and lots of things, actually. Not to mention the price difference when we are at parity! Wow. Cheaper US prices shock me each time I see them. :-(