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Dec 18, 2008 09:45 AM

Shout out to Ruth Lafler for inexpensive spice tip

A long while ago in a thread about eating inexpensively, Ruth gave the great tip about buying spices from the Mexican section of the supermarket. A bag of cinnamon runs about 70 cents.

Today I needed some Bay Leaves for a crab stock. I don't cook that much. The thought of spending $3.59 (on sale) for a bottle of bay leaves where at most I would just a few leaves with the bottle going bad long before I used another ... passed.

Yeah, I could drive down to the local spice store that sells bulk and buy two leaves, but the thought of negotiating that ... pass.

Then I remembered Ruth's tip ... a huge bag of hoya de laurel ... 69 cents. My area has a large Latino population so the turnover is rapid. I can smell the bay leaves sitting on the counter ,... they are that fresh and fragrant.

Anyway, with a lot of people baking in the next few days,... and the lousy economy ... just wanted to remind people that tha Mexican section of the supermarket is a good place to buy spices on the cheap.

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  1. I could be wrong - but I have noticed that the spices I have purchased from the mexican spice area have been mostly devoid of punch or taste. I don't know if they are old or what, but. hot pepper flakes should be hot, oregano should be... oreganoey especially when crumbled.

    Also, for their pastes and mixes (like adobo) - I am really careful. I look at the ingredient list. They always seem to be loaded with preservatives and MSG.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sal Vanilla

      I don't buy pastes or mixes. It would depend. Some of the big gringo supermarkets have a Mexican selection that is like Chinese ... that is Chung King or El Paso. That type of market I wouldn't buy the Mexican spices either. Turnover is pretty key for spices.

      The Mexican spices are not in the same class as Penzy's, but my experience is that they are the equal or better than the supermarket spices like Spice Island, Durkee, etc. The thing with the brand name spices is they have gotten so expensive that they don't turn over quickly with the exception of often used spices like cinnamon.

    2. I use the mexican cinnamon sticks all of the time. While the quality might not be as good as some other brands, at least where I shop, these spices are turning over FAST so they are fresh. I think it's worth a try, in a pinch. You might be pleasantly surprised.

      1. I'm with SalV on the oregano and chili-flake, but for bay leaf, cinnamon and dried whole chilies, you can't beat the bags. (Milpas (sp) is the brand my market carries. Also good for whole vanilla beans- $2.99 for three pods. Adam

        1 Reply
        1. re: adamshoe

          The oregano found in the Latin section is not the same plant as the Mediterranian oregano. As the nursery person explained to me the Mexican plant is a tall bush. However, I do prefer the Mexican oregano because it is less "sweet". Heaven forgive me, I use it in Italian dishes,also.
          If you find the herbs and spices tasteless, perhaps there are not enough Latins patronizing that store thus the turnover is as slow as the others.

        2. Another approach is to go to a "health foods" type store that has herbs/spices in bulk, and just buy the tiny quantities you need. They tend to be very cheap in bulk, and buying small amounts makes them extremely cheap.

          1 Reply
          1. re: johnb

            I would agree with buying in bulk whole heartedly. I had to re-stock my entire spice cabinet and I was able to get quite a bit-20 or so different spices-(about half of a typical spice jar each) for $12.00!

          2. Or, if you live in the Bay Area, just pick some off a (bay laurel) tree--they're quite common. Good tip though

            1 Reply
            1. re: xanadude

              Good point x-man. I live in the Laurel District of Oakland, CA, so named for it's abundance of said trees. Nothin' like a fresh Bayleaf as opposed to a dry one. Anytime I go for a walk up in the hills, there's tons of bay leaves there for the taking. Adam