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Aug 28, 2012 12:03 PM

When Cheapo is Better than Pricey?

For kitchen equipment, ingredients, whatever, what are your favorite examples of things that don't improve much as the price goes up, or your favorite cheap things that are actually better than the more expensive versions?

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    1. Yellow American Mustard. The less it costs the better it tastes.

      1. I'd be here all day if I listed everything I could think of - and that's good news, because the fact is the old marketing fallacy "you get what you pay for" is just that: a fallacy created by merchants. This fallacy has worked so well through the years that we began created a new definition for the word "cheap" to be, not just low in price, but also low in quality. This fallacy has made many companies and individuals a lot of money based not on actual value, but rather perceived value.

        To see this fallacy debunked, check out the reviews of what you're looking for at Cook's Illustrated, Consumer Reports, and Amazon.

        I'm not saying that one or the other (cheap or expensive) is an absolute with regards to quality. Quite the opposite actually. Unlike merchants who would love (and you have loved for centuries) for us to believe that as the price goes up, so goes quality.

        1 Reply
        1. re: 1POINT21GW

          Those are pretty much the last places I'd trust for food related reviews, though I'd consider them for equipment.

        2. Store brands, regional brands, and "second-tier" brands.

          1. I think flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda/powder, stuff like that, to me, it's all the same.

            51 Replies
            1. re: mariars

              I thought the same thing until about 10 years ago.

              King Arthur flour really is different, and really does give better results. (they are also quite a lot more expensive, so there's a balance there) I tried the same recipe with (don't remember) Gold Medal or Pillsbury, and about a week later with KA...and it matters.

              Baking powder -- I've yet to find a generic brand that behaves as well as Clabber Girl or Calumet. Those two, I'll switch between depending on which one's on sale, but I learned my lesson not to buy off-brand baking powder.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Sunshine, a friend found my King Arthur Flour catalog and ordered from it, she swears that the KA flour makes a difference and I believe her- she's an exacting cook and knows what she's doing when she's baking, too.

                1. re: EWSflash

                  King Arthur flours are noticeably better, for my uses, than ordinary flours. In part, this is because they are intentionally higher in protein. For example, here's a blurb from Wiki regarding one of them:

                  "There is at least one flour labeled "unbleached cake flour blend" (marketed by King Arthur) that is not bleached, but the protein content is much higher than typical cake flour at about 9.4% protein (cake flour is usually around 6% to 8%). According to King Arthur, this flour is a blend of a more finely milled unbleached wheat flour and cornstarch, which makes a better end result than unbleached wheat flour alone (cornstarch is a common additive for part of the flour used in cake where actual cake flour is called for but you only have all purpose on hand). However you will still get a denser end result than real cake flour that has been more finely milled, chlorinated, and has a lower protein content in the "cake flour" range of around 6% or so."

              2. re: mariars

                My parents live in a rather poor area of the country. Did you know that you can buy sugar that is not 100% cane? Found this out the hard way. Nasty, nasty stuff.

                I also disagree about the flour, eggs, and baking powder.

                1. re: smtucker

                  A large percentage of sugar is beet and not cane sugar.
                  In what way is beet sugar nasty? I know some that bake and say it behaves differently but most would not be able to tell them apart.

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    It's years since I did much candy making and complex cake decorating, but beet sugar behaves very differently in some applications than cane sugar, and as a result you rarely find recipes in these fields that call for beet sugar. It's considereed a "no no" by many.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I am not arguing beet sugar behaves differently, as I really do not know enough to have an opinion on the subject. But, I've been wondering *how* it behaves differently? Example?

                      As an aside, I don't recall having much choice in sugar brand where I live, unless one goes to the organic. Perhaps it's a regional issue.

                      1. re: CanadaGirl

                        Sometimes demanding answers on Chowhound isn't nearly as effective as asking Google. Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle with some of the more critical answers you seek.

                          1. re: CanadaGirl

                            You're welcome! My first experience with beet sugar was during WWII, when I was a kid and beet sugar was more readily available than cane sugar because of the war. Plus, ALL sugar was rationed! My mother used beet sugar to make fudge. I should say try to make fudge. It crystallized into a mess! And very shortly thereafter, she began doing much of our grocery shopping in Mexico, which was only three miles away. And NOTHING was rationed there, and cane sugar was super cheap. I always avoid beet sugar simply because I never know when the urge to make something that demands cane sugar will strike. Why take chances? '-)

                            1. re: CanadaGirl

                              I'm adding this as a separate post so no one will miss an edit. There are a lot of different kinds of sugars and sweeteners, and none of them behave exactly alike, no matter what those TV ads say. You know, the ad that says your body can't tell the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar? Well, mine can! I'm allergic to high fructose corn syrup and so are a lot of other people. Karo? Not so much. Among the natural sugars, I've recently begun using coconut palm sugar on my cereal. It's a very different sugar from cane or beet because it is a "slow carb" as opposed to "fast carb", and therefore is also recommended for diabetics. It's still a bit pricey, and I haven't tried making fudge with it, so I have no idea whether it behaves more line cane or beet sugar. Honey is another unique sweetener. I love making a peanut butter and honey sandwich, then letting it sit for ten or fifteen minutes while the chemical reaction between the two sets up crunchy crystallization. There's nothing like a crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich that does not use crunchy peanut butter! Sugars and sweeteners are a fascinating taste journey to explore!

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Still for general non specialty baking can one tell the difference on the tongue and would make it be "nasty"?

                    2. re: mariars

                      The ground wheat in flour is not the same. There are differences in wheat type, moisture content, ash content, proteins, etc. Lower-grade flour is usually in the cheap bags.

                      Granulated white sugar is processed from either sugar cane or beets. There is a difference in the mineral profile and the way the two are processed. Beat sugar is cheaper to produce and reacts differently during cooking, especially in baked goods, than cane sugar. The cheap brands use beet sugar.

                      Brown sugar is a combination of sugar and molasses, both inherent in the sugarcane plant, and is produced naturally as part of the process of refining white cane sugar by the traditional method, crystallization. However, brown sugar made from beets is made by refining the sugar all the way to the final white granular stage, stripping off all the molasses because beet molasses is unfit for human consumption (it's recycled as cattle feed). Then cane molasses is added back into the sugar through a process called "painting." Painting coats the granules but does not necessarily penetrate them -- the molasses can sometimes be rubbed right off.

                      Have you ever tasted a farm-fresh egg from a pastured chicken? The taste and texture are completely different from from a factory-farmed chicken raised on a diet of dried feed and antibiotics. Also, in the general grocery stores, eggs are now available pasteurized and fortified.

                      There are two types of baking powder: with or without aluminum. Studies concerning aluminum's connection to Alzheimers are still being conducted.

                      1. re: Vidute

                        Walmart's house-brand sugar says it's 100% cane sugar on the bag (or it did the last time I was there which was many months ago). It's definitely competitive with other "cheap" brands of sugar in price.

                        I had eggs pulled straight from the coop in the back yard of a relative's relative in Europe, and to be quite honest, they didn't taste much different to me. I was disappointed. Maybe I have a crappy sense of taste. I do spend a bit more to buy a particular local brand of eggs. The company vaccinates their flock against salmonella and also runs washed eggs under a UV light to kill any remaining potential nasties on the shell.

                        1. re: Jen76

                          You know... I saw an ad from a local farmer selling eggs directly to the public. They were supposed to be organic and and all that. I wanted to try them because farm raised chickens certainly should produce better eggs. I was expecting thicker, more yellow yolks and a better taste. I paid 3 times what I pay for eggs at the grocery store.

                          They tasted just like my store bought eggs. The yolks were no different. The eggs were various sizes and colors. I thought the light green ones were interesting.

                          Unfortunately, I didn't consider it worth the price so I didn't buy any more.

                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                            Buying from a farm doesn't guarantee you quality. You have to know how the farm operates and cares for and feeds the chickens. Diet and living conditions can be less than ideal on a family farm, too.

                            1. re: mcf

                              Another major thing about eggs is how fresh they are. I have found that out of necessity, I suppose, to sell all product produced, that many eggs bought at a farmers market are old as the yolks can be very flat. In fresh eggs, the yolk stands up round and the whites hold together more. Feed is also crucial to taste. My grandmother had a lady that brought eggs and things she grew in her garden yo her. Everything she brought was from that morning including the eggs. The chickens scratched around outside and ate bugs. The eggs were the best eggs ever. There was a definite difference in taste.

                              1. re: mcf

                                I think those chickens had a better life than the dog, personally. I agree with you, and that was mainly my point, that being free range, organic, etc. doesn't guarantee "quality" or better taste. And again, maybe my sense of taste isn't very discerning, since I've had farmer's market eggs from various farms, eggs grown by relatives, and supermarket eggs, and they all just taste the same to me, hence, it's not part of my personal "value equation" to pay $5-6 per dozen (seemingly the going rate around here) for local, small farmer, free range, organic eggs.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  It really depends a lot on what those chickens are eating. I've had farm fresh eggs that were sublime. A more delicate texture and nearly a custard-like quality to the yolks. Cooking of course has much to do with it as well.

                                  We're lucky in that we've got Halo Farms nearby so we get very fresh eggs at insane prices - often only $1.25 per dozen large. They aren't quite like the eggs that my buddy had from his chickens but they are very good and the price is unbeatable. We buy them like 6-8 dozen at a time and mostly just eat the whites for the protein.

                                  1. re: PepinRocks

                                    what a shame --- isn't there someone you can give the yolks to? Pasta? Custard?

                                    1. re: PepinRocks

                                      Too bad, those yolks are nutrition powerhouses, and the fats are really good for you.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          and most people don't know that the yolks also contain about 40% of the protein

                                    2. re: Hank Hanover

                                      I grew up in a tiny town, and my Mom used to buy her eggs from a lady down the street. In my head, they were way better than when we had to have 'store-bought' eggs.

                                      However, I developed an egg allergy, so I guess I'll never know the truth. At least its a good memory...

                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                        Same experience here. It's the cheapest eggs I can find for me.

                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                          the color of the yolks is determined by what the chicken was eating at the time, rather than by whether or not it's free-range.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            I have heard of people feeding their chickens yellow food coloring (mixing it in with their feed) to get that darker color.

                                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                                              Frank Perdue feeds his chickens marigolds...

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    His kid Jim still swears they feed them marigolds...

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Absolutely true that a chicken's diet effects not only the color and flavor of their eggs, but also the flavor of their meat. When I was a kid, we raised chickens for eggs and meat, as well as rabbits for the table during WWII, when store-bought meat was strictly rationed.

                                                  Our chickens nested and roosted inside one corner of the barn that had a small chicken-sized door that could be closed to keep them inside during bad weather, and that opened onto their large enclosed yard. It was my job to feed them and collect the eggs before school. Their diet consisted of "chicken feed" that was composed of whole grains such as millet, wheat, dried field corn (my favorite preschool snack in the fourth grade) and other whole grains, which was "served" in long concrete feeding troughs. They were also fed a course milled type of feed called "scratch." Both types of feed came in gunny sacks that held 100 pounds. We kept a bowl in the scratch, and part of my job was to take a bowl of scratch into the chicken yard and strew it on the ground, which encouraged them to scratch the ground while eating, and that would unfailingly unearth worms, which they ate with great relish! Their yolks were brilliant orange, except during spells of stormy weather when they weren't much interested in going out in the rain, which meant no scratch. When that happened, the yolks would lighten to yellow and taste a bit different. Diet absolutely determines the color and flavor of eggs. BIG time!!!

                                                  Oh, and just so everyone knows, there is no better way to start a cold and stormy winter day than slipping your icy hands under a warm brooding chicken to take her fresh eggs and leave the glass ones for her to sit on. Chickens are so toasty!!! I wish I could buy such eggs today... <sigh> And for the record, worms work as well as marigolds or food coloring. Maybe even better! '-)

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    whether they taste different or not is up for discussion, but I'd put up a fight at having to give up my sunny-orange eggs. Last time we visited my Mom it was weird to see pale-yellow eggs.

                                                    (eggs in Europe have orange yolks)

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      So do the ones I get in New Jersey.

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        When my second husband and I first arrived in Greece, we stayed in an all-inclusive resort while looking for a permanent home. Breakfast was a glorious anything-you-want and anything-you-can-think-of affair with nearly as many food laden waiters filling the expansive patio as guests. About our third morning I noticed he was avoiding eggs, a favorite of his at home. I asked why. "Don't ask me why I'm not eating them! Why are you eating those things with the wierd orange yolks! What is wrong with them?" And now you know he was a typical American city boy. He finally did try them a few days later, but it was like trying to get a phobic eater to try snails for the first time.

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          I would like a do-over of my youth years when my mother was trying to get my siblings and me to eat our ducks' eggs.

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            There's a large natural creek here in Plano that includes a couple of good sized islands and "sand bars" that are heavily populated with live "ornamental" ducks you can look down on from Spring Creek Parkway's bridge that crosses the area. I cannot see those ducks without wondering who gets the eggs? I suspect there are interesting perks for the grounds keepers! I also suspect I'd be arrested for helping myself... <sigh>

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              No, but next time I saw the groundskeepers doing their thing, I might be tempted to wander by and start a conversation....

                                                            2. re: Veggo

                                                              Such a Duck Mulligan is totally acceptable.

                                                              Its just one of them Shoulda's.

                                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                                          Caroline1, here's a link to pastured chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc. in TX. Hopefully, one of these farms is close enough to you.


                                                          1. re: Vidute

                                                            Thank you! There are several in my area. Many of them shut down their offerings during the drought, but things appear to be getting back to normal for beef. For poultry, I seem to have turned away from chicken in favor of quail, duck and goose, and it turns out that that's no hardship at all! I can't bring myself to to pay over ten bucks for a smallish kitchen! I seem to suffer from frequent sticker shock these days. <sigh>

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              I can empathise with the sticker shock. One thing I've become very aware of is that my farmer has not raised prices, except by maybe 25 cents. The price differences between pastured/organic meats and dairy, are quickly closing. For example, Eggland's Best in the grocery store are $4.99 a dozen whereas the pastured, organic, soy-free jumbo eggs from my farmer are $5.00 a dozen. Pastured, organic porterhouse steaks are $11.99/lb. Pastured, organic, ground sirloin is $5.99/lb. Organic, heirloom tomatoes are $2.99/lb. Pastured, organic, milk, poultry, pork, etc., in my opinion, is more filling and flavorful than that which is sold in the grocery, and now, with the grocery store prices rising, there isn't that much of a price difference, and sometimes, the pastured, organic product is cheaper! (pastured, organic, soy-free chicken wings are only $2.50/lb.)

                                                              1. re: Caroline1


                                                                Is your husband hunting them? Because Goose is $6/pound and most of the time so is duck. I have seen duck as low as $3/pound which is 3 times the price of store bought chicken.

                                                                I just don't see how I can justify paying $50 for a goose. For a special occasion, I guess I could bring myself to pay $12 for a duck...I guess.

                                                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                  When I have a hard time justifying the cost of a food item I remember that is still cheaper than eating out in most instances

                                                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                    Yeah... so do I .... and sometimes I look at the ducks and geese at the local park with a predators eye.

                                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                      We have quite a few Canadian expats (geese) in my neighborhood. You're welcome to come and introduce them to your kitchen. :)

                                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                        Come here little ducky I got some bread.....

                                                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                          I would but I have that laziness issue to deal with. It just seems like it would be sooo much work. What do you mean?... pluck em and gut em and you want all the pin feathers out too? I know... I can find someone needier than me and give them 2 geese. In gratitude, he can give me 1 back all cleaned. yeah that sounds good.

                                                    2. re: mariars

                                                      Funny thing is I think ALL of those things are much better with specific brands. KA is much better than supermarket and all cane sugar is better than the cheaper beet stuff and I like Rumford or the 365 non-aluminum baking powder and eggs and butter, boy do good eggs and butter make a difference.

                                                      Hum. That leaves baking soda. I guess it doesn't matter

                                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                                        You forgot the vanilla. When can I expect my cake? ;)