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Expensive foods that are now cheap?

Current discussion about food led to this question...name foods that were once expensive and are now cheap. We can name plenty of foods that were once in abundance like lobster and oysters that are now in demand, but not too many which have seen significant decrease in price. Number One: Peanut Butter and jelly once the sandwich of the rich...

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  1. beef (actually meat in general)
    hamburger
    sugar
    spices (definitely most spices)
    salt
    grape

    ....etc.

    <We can name plenty of foods that were once in abundance like lobster >

    By the way, I don't think there were more lobsters then than now. It is just that a lot more people want to eat lobsters than before.

    37 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Old texts describe lobsters so plentiful that they could easily be taken by wading out from shore---prisoners complained that they were so frequently fed lobster. Oysters were plentiful--fried oysters were street food in New Orleans 150 years ago. My memory goes back 70 years and I remember when fried sea scallops were on just about every restaurant menu and weren't expensive (now, $24 lb). And I recall that when we moved to the Chesapeake area in 1966, crabmeat was much more plentiful than when we left in 1991, and ten years later when I bought a can of it in Chicago, brand name was a famous Chesapeake Bay name, the can was stamped "Product of Indonesia". All of this speaks to diminishing supply in US waters.

      1. re: Querencia

        And that Indonesian crab isn't blue crab, it's asian swimmer crab -- an inferior species. As for the lobsters, they were so plentiful, Native Americans used them for fertilizer.

        Now cheap: Fruit out of season.

        1. re: Steve Green

          and those jumbo lumps....well, there's a good chance that they aren't picked from jumbo crabs, but are created by a process combining raw crab, cooked crab, and crab paste and pressing them into molds, then steaming the result.

          Crab meat placed in the mold is a mixture of cooked crab meat in the form of flakes and raw crab meat in the form of a paste. The preferred ratio for the mixture is, the mixture about 25% raw crab meat and 75% cooked crab meat. An alternate process uses all cooked crab meat. The cooked crab meat can be selected from broken jumbo crab meat, special crab meat, back fin crab meat and undersized jumbo lumps. The raw crab meat can be selected from white crab meat, claw and claw knuckle. Flakes of cooked crab meat are lined up in the mold with the texture of the flakes of crab meat aligned in the same direction. This process is preferably done by hand because it results in a high quality formed lump. If the cooked crab meat does not have a red knuckle then a red knuckle from claw crab meat may be added to the mold. Subsequently a paste of raw crab meat is applied to fill the remainder of the mold cavities. It is also preferred that the formed lumps be 100% crab meat, so only crab meat is placed in the mold and no binder, fillers, starches or other substances, are placed in the mold. This way, the resulting product can legally be called 100% jumbo lump crab meat.

          1. re: Vidute

            That is an interesting read! Is this done in the US or with imported crab meat?

            1. re: Tom34

              From what I've read, it's the imported meat. Just take a look at how uniform all those jumbo lumps are.

              http://www.phillipsfoodsservice.com/f...

              Here is Phillip's patent for the process:
              http://www.google.com/patents/US20080...

              1. re: Vidute

                Thats interesting and explains why the yellow & red can of Asian jumbo lump at Restaurant Depot is a couple $ cheaper than their Captains Catch super lump which are considerably smaller lumps but have a much stronger crab flavor.

                For crab cakes, I use the stronger flavored C.C. super lump as the base and then shove a couple of the jumbo lumps in for appearance.

              2. re: Vidute

                The questions I have are: how does it taste, how safe is it, and how much does it cost. If I were a seller of lump crab meat I would want labeling to identify this crab meat accurately.

                1. re: John E.

                  according to today's regulations, it is being labeled accurately. the "lumps" are 100% crab meat - no fillers, no additives. they're just not naturally formed lumps. i consider it fraud, but since there is no legal definition what each category of crab meat encompasses, well..... i know that the maryland crab industry has been trying to get legal standardization for for each grade of crab meat, so far no luck.

                  the price is much cheaper than naturally formed lumps. as for flavor, it tastes the same as any asian swimmer crab, which to my taste, is bland. if you've ever had a jumbo lump crab cake at a ridiculously low price, you've had the man-made lumps.

                  1. re: Vidute

                    You hit the nail on the head several times. We absolutely need regulations identifying exact species, region, grade & natural or formed.

                    Bland is the perfect description for the Asian Swimmer whether natural or unnaturally formed. Nice presentation to shove a few of those big lumps into a cake but not as the base crab ingredient.

                    Most of the supermarkets have switched to the Asian crab and its becoming more difficult to even buy Mid Atlantic Blue Claw Crab meat. For special guests I order it in from a friend. Night and day flavor difference and IMHO worth the extra 25% $.

                    1. re: Vidute

                      The Phillips company which holds the patent and which you linked to DOES distinguish natural lump and the formed lumps. They call their formed lumps "Culinary lump crab meat"

                      Most of their products are natural lump. You can SEE the difference in texture.

                      1. re: seamunky

                        but the restaurant at which you're ordering that "jumbo lump" crab cake doesn't inform that they're using formed "culinary lump crab meat". and phillips doesn't sell the formed lump at retail, only wholesale for the food industry. so... phillips knows what it is selling, the restaurant owner knows what he is buying, but you don't know that what you're being served is the formed lump and not the natural lump.

                          1. re: Vidute

                            I used to buy the Phillips crab cakes until I noticed they are using Asian crab meat.

              3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Lobster is an interesting case. The last few years in Maine have had, by far, the largest catch of lobster in history. http://www.maine.gov/dmr/commercialfi...
                Last summer the price per pound was usually below $3 retail (comparable to chicken breast). As you move away from Maine, the lobsters become increasingly esxpensive mostly because of the cost of shipping and the inability of "soft shell" lobster to ship well.
                I do agree with the statement that there are a lot more people eating lobster than ever before. If that were not true the industry would collapse - in fact it might do so anyway if the price doesn't go up.
                One theory for the growing and sustainable haul of lobster is the depletion of the cod fish stock in the lobster grounds. Cod often feed on baby lobsters. No cod, no predators, more lobster and, in Maine at least (in summer) it is certainly a food that was once expensive and is now comparably cheep
                .

                1. re: bobbert

                  <One theory for the growing and sustainable haul of lobster is the depletion of the cod fish stock in the lobster grounds. Cod often feed on baby lobsters. No cod, no predators, more lobster and, in Maine at least (in summer) it is certainly a food that was once expensive and is now comparably cheep>

                  Very insighful. I learn something. Much appreciated.

                  1. re: bobbert

                    Like lobster much more than cod. Very interesting.

                      1. re: bobbert

                        I hope the trend continues. Last year I bought a case of frozen Maine tails for something like $15.00 lb. Wrapped them individually in butcher paper to cover the sharp shells and then vacuum sealer them in packs of 2. Whole process worked out great and the convenience factor of having them on hand is really nice. Did the same thing with U-15 cold water brown shrimp last year when the shrimp market tanked.

                    1. re: bobbert

                      "One theory for the growing and sustainable haul of lobster is the depletion of the cod fish stock in the lobster grounds. "
                      Yes, and I have read that this is true of crab as well. Thus Red Lobster, etc. can offer Lobsterfest and Crabfest specials. You could add shrimp to this list as well - as with lobster and crab its cheapness comes at what I would consider a heavy price, since the farms on which shrimp are commercially grown are to such a large extent former mangrove forests.

                      1. re: bobbert

                        So you are saying to "short" lobster and go "long" on the Filet-o-Fish (They use cod for that correct?). Anyone want to start a sub-thread on the perfectly square cod filet's for the Filet-O-Fish? lol (I have never had one of those sandwiches)

                        1. re: jrvedivici

                          I am a fish eater who has never had a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. I just looked it up, as of this y ear it is made with 100% pollock.

                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Are you sure that beef, and meat in general, is cheap when counting for inflation?

                          1. re: C. Hamster

                            Where are YOU? I will bring you all the baloney you and the whole neighborhood can eat for a case of good cold water 6oz tails. :-)

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              lobster....the poor man's monkfish. at the grocer's this week, lobster was $8.99 a pound while monkfish was $17.99 a pound.

                              1. re: Vidute

                                When you take yield into consideration, monkfish is cheaper.

                                1. re: NE_Wombat

                                  I bought monk tails two weeks ago and paid only six bucks a pound. Lobsters were still around nine.

                              2. re: C. Hamster

                                I still remember summer of 2008 when I got so tired of lobster. I was living in Maine at the time. As you said, cheaper than boloney. $3.49 lb. at supermarkets in Maine and $2 lb. off the boat. That was the same summer when gas prices soared and went over $4 gallon for the first time. I heard it hit almost that low a price again last summer in 2012.

                                1. re: JMF

                                  The prices have bottomed towards the end of every summer for the past few year. My buddies that still pull traps are strugglin' to get by - that's why they were prohibited from fishing for three months. The prices are not going to get too low this summer.

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    Right. In 2008 a glut and also the Icelandic banking collapse caused the low prices. I knew fishermen who took a summer vacation in the first time in their lives because they couldn't make money. And last summer the huge and early glut, due to an early, and warm, Spring.

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      Exactly. That's why the boats stayed moored from February to April this year.

                                      1. re: MGZ

                                        You're talking Long Island Sound?

                                        1. re: JMF

                                          My buddies fish outta Point Pleasant, NJ - I worked on one of their boats myself in my lowercase days. I understand from them that the moratorium this winter covered the whole East Coast fishery, so the LI Sound was included. What's funny to me is that most folks don't understand that "Maine lobster" is a term that has little to do with where the bugs are hauled. Be it CT, ME, NJ or Canada.

                                2. re: C. Hamster

                                  When did you buy lobster last? The prices have come down some since the moratorium ended, but they are still well above the three to four dollar a pound price point that the Atlantic Coast enjoyed before it. In February and March, the only lobsters available from NC to ME were from Canada and sold for around twelve bucks a pound.

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    Last fall I got some at a local H Mart in Hartsdale, NY for $3.99 lb., a few months ago I saw them for $5.99, but it's a bit higher now. But those may have been loss leader specials.

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      Prices are always lowest in September/October. Bugs get caught in big numbers in the summer and can be kept in tanks for a while. Lobstermen on the East Coast are trying to recoup the money they lost when they couldn't fish. Remember, "Maine lobster", Homarus americanus, is mostly caught from NJ to ME. When those guys had to hang it up for ninety days, the bugs the Canadian fishers hauled exacted a premium price.

                              3. -I believe goat cheese and milk are much are not just more affordable, but available.
                                -brie cheese-though I believe quality may be compromised

                                1. Way back in the WW II period and before, veal was used as a inexpensive substitute for chicken, things have changed there.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                    Veal is an excellent example of a meat that was once relatively inexpensive. My mother made it quite often during a time when we seldom had steak because we really couldn't afford it. Now, it's the opposite.

                                  2. Mangos. Didn't even know they existed until I moved to Florida. Now 59 cents each at the supermarket. From Costa Rica.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                      Cost Rican Pineapples also. Here they are often under $2, and are usually between $2-$3.

                                    2. Chicken. When politicians promised 'A chicken in every pot', that was an unimaginable luxury. Of course, chickens may have had flavor in those days.