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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)
    spices (definitely most spices)


    <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.


              Here is Phillip's patent for the process:

              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.

                                      1. How come more than half of the posts answer the original poster's question in reverse?

                                        1. I can't come up with one example unless I go way back to early America when things like tea were kept in a lockbox. These days, everything is expensive.

                                          1. Chicken livers were a rare delicacy when chicken was a [maybe] once a week treat. At the beginning of the 20th century, having an egg for breakfast each day was a luxury reserved solely for the super-rich. Someone has already mentioned tea and spices but we'll add chocolate to the list.

                                            16 Replies
                                            1. re: Sherri

                                              Actually, it was chicken meat, not eggs, that was more expensive.

                                              The majority of Americans lived on farms and it was standard to keep hens. Many townspeople also kept hens. Given that so many people kept laying hens eggs were very common and a lot of people faced the problem of what to do with a surfiet of eggs. Many cake recipes from those days easily called for a dozen eggs simply to absorb the excess eggs a farm wife often had. Poorer Americans relied heavily on eggs as a source of protein because they couldn't afford proper meat, so having eggs for breakfast once a day was hardly a luxury reserved for the super rich.

                                              Chicken meat was considered a luxury because chickens were kept for eggs and older hens, past their laying stage, tended to be tougher and not as desirable for meat.

                                              1. re: Roland Parker

                                                Roland Parker has pointed out a major flaw in my statement re: eggs. I should have specified that an egg a day - for city dwellers - was a luxury. Urban citizens did not have easy access to fresh eggs, coupled with the chickens' limited laying during low light winter months, did make them quite costly.

                                                Today's chickens can lay approx 250 eggs per year, a pre-industrialized chicken would lay approx 60. On many farms, eggs would have been more plentiful during warm, summer months.

                                                THE CHICKEN BOOK, authored by Page Smith and Charles Daniel, offers an interesting look at chickens/eggs through the ages. As a Food History nerd, I admit to finding this genre fascinating.

                                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                                  My mother, born 1910, recalled having mock chicken salad made with veal.

                                                  1. re: Ms.M

                                                    I have been noticing posts about how cheap veal used to be. I wonder why so many young male cattle were butchered as veal instead of fattened up as steers for beef consumption?

                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                      John E. I can answer your question specific to Northern France. The majority of cows were part of dairy herds. Most of the male calves were unnecessary so became Blanquette de Veau, Veau Bonne Femme or the like.

                                                      1. re: Sherri

                                                        That still does not explain why veal apparently so cheap in the U.S. Was most of the beef in France from old dairy cows?

                                                      2. re: John E.

                                                        Male dairy cows can't get pregnant so they can't give milk and they don't produce high quality beef later on down the road so many end up as veal.

                                                        1. re: Tom34

                                                          What the hell is a male dairy cow? (Of course I know, but it's a bull, not a cow.) Most male calves born of dairy cows in the U.S. are not used to produce veal.

                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                            Out of curiosity, what happens to them?

                                                            1. re: seamunky

                                                              Wlhat Tom said below is unfortunately too common.

                                                              1. re: John E.

                                                                sorry, i still don't get it. so what happens to the calves after they are destroyed? that's still protein, bone, and skin that can be processed. Where does it go?

                                                              2. re: John E.

                                                                I was being facetious John. What I meant is that male calves born to "dairy" cows do not on average produce high quality meat. Many are used to produce veal and recently with the combination of the drought and the high cost of grain many are destroyed immediately after birth. One of the side effects of the drought was that many marginal quality animals were brought to slaughter prematurely last year which has led to a shortage this year & has driven the cost of hamburger to historic highs this year.

                                                                1. re: Tom34

                                                                  Yes, in general they are different breeds from beef cattle, though there are some all-purpose breeds, like our "vache canadienne", whose ancestors were from Northern France: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadien...

                                                        2. re: Roland Parker

                                                          Old hens were stewed, producing chicken broth and the "chicken in every pot". But obviously there were fewer of them, as they weren't churned out and slaughtered in a matter of weeks.

                                                      3. I found the page linked below quite interesting -- it compares costs for various food items 100 years ago compared to today. The attachment shows the data adjusted using the CPI (9.80 in Jan 1913, 230.28 in Jan 2013). Most of the food items in the table have decreased in price (when adjusted for inflation) over the past 100 years.


                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: drongo

                                                          If currency inflation is adjusted, prices for most food items have went down. Thanks for sharing.

                                                          This is another for you:


                                                        2. I'm just guessing, but I would expect that foods that required both sophisticated processing and/or long transit distances would have been more expensive "then" than now.

                                                          Nut butters
                                                          Exoctic meats[varies by locale]- ostrich, emu, 'gator, bison
                                                          TV Dinners

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                            Exactly... things like white flour and white sugar--prevalent and relatively inexpensive now--were more expensive until the mid 20th century. Now the unrefined versions cost more.

                                                          2. Actually, I'd say that if you go back far enough, a significant fraction of our foods have reduced in price, relative to the current cost of living.

                                                            Anything imported and fresh, for example (tropical fruit, out of seasonal vegetables, fresh seafood) has reduced in price or increased in availability with modern food distribution and preservation - fish, for example, can be caught and frozen at sea and shipped anywhere in the world.

                                                            A lot of foods that require processing - white flour and white sugar used to be luxury foods for the rich, until cheap industrial processes for refining them were developed.

                                                            And the category of foods where modern industrial methods make production much cheaper per unit. Meat, particularly chicken, dairy and eggs fall into this category. (As a comparison, look at the prices of local free-range farm raised versions compared to the prices at the local grocery store).

                                                            1. To bait crayfish, dig clams, catch fish, trap Dungeness crabs, garden vegetables, and grow meat makes delicacies free. Some trade time for health with fun.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: smaki

                                                                While one could make the argument that hunting and gathering save you the money of raising the plant or animal you gather - how is gardening or raising domestic animals "free"?

                                                              2. When was "...peanut butter and jelly once the sandwich of the rich..."?

                                                                We never had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I was a kid, neither my brothers or I ever took a liking to them. We did have peanut butter sandwiches however.

                                                                14 Replies
                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                  <We never had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I was a kid>

                                                                  That is because you were not rich! :D

                                                                  1. re: John E.

                                                                    It was longer ago, and depends on where one's ancestors lived. It was certainly true in Atlantic Canada and eastern Québec, where poor kids grew sick of fish and seafood. Imagine it must have been the same in parts of New England.

                                                                    But the problem with fish and seafood was mismanagement of what seemed to be an unextinguishable resource.

                                                                    1. re: lagatta

                                                                      As a young Minnesota kid growing up in the 70s, the only fish we ate was either walleye we caught (the most desirable of the several species available) or fishsticks at the school lunchroom on Fridays.

                                                                      Interestingly enough, in addition to the Friday fishsticks were piles of peanut butter (no jelly) sandwiches. I put my fishsticks IN my peanut butter sandwich.

                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                        "Interestingly enough, in addition to the Friday fishsticks were piles of peanut butter (no jelly) sandwiches. I put my fishsticks IN my peanut butter sandwich."

                                                                        That actually sound like a great taco - just add a splash of soy sauce, cilantro and some scallions.

                                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                                          Maybe some fish sauce and call it a Thia Taco.

                                                                          You're the first person that hasn't been a grossed by my peanut butter and fishsticks sandwich story. My mother just shook her head.

                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                            I just put two stitches in my calf yesterday. I don't gross out easily. Even more so when it comes to food. When I was a kid, my favorite McDonalds treat was takin' the bun off one side of a Filet-o-fish, one off a Quarter pounder, and mashin' 'em together to eat. That used to totally freak out my friends and family.

                                                                            The Thai Fishstick Taco is a thing of potential beauty. (Some food truck guy in Southern California will probably read this and be sellin' 'em by summer.)

                                                                            1. re: John E.

                                                                              So, tonight, thanks to you and a buddy who dropped off a coupla pounds of striped bass, dinner is going to be (with a nod to another running thread) fried bass "fishsticks" tacos, dressed with a combination of peanut butter, fish sauce, soy sauce, cilantro, mint, and finely chopped green onions.

                                                                              When someone see's this show up in a taco truck in San Diego, let me know?

                                                                          2. re: John E.

                                                                            Walleye is called doré (golden) in Québec. Definitely a most desirable fish.

                                                                            1. re: lagatta

                                                                              Walleye and snook are the best tasting fish I've ever had.

                                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                                I know that the walleye is known as pickeral in western Ontario. (The farthest east I have been is Sault Ste. Marie.)

                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                  Funny thing is though the Walleye is not a member of the Pickeral family and is much better eating than Pickeral.

                                                                                  1. re: John E.

                                                                                    I've even heard it called "walleyed pike"...

                                                                                    1. re: porker

                                                                                      People in Minnesota commonly refer to the fish as walley(ed) pike but ususally just say walleye.

                                                                                  2. re: lagatta

                                                                                    Funny, the francophone people I know pronounce it doe-ray (as spelled in French - doré as you point out), but the english speaking fishermen pronounce it door-ee (when they're not calling it walleye...)

                                                                            2. Interesting thread.
                                                                              Reading the responses had me realize the many variables involved in answering what appears to be a simple question.
                                                                              Timeframe: differing answers if we're talking one or 4 or 100 generations, or just from memory.
                                                                              Inflation: in absolute price, pretty much everything goes up. Taking inflation into account, things pretty much stay the same.
                                                                              Even "expensive" can be relative depending on your lot in life: price might remain the same, but the ability to afford it can change dratically in either direction...

                                                                              1. Asparagus - used to be available for a few weeks out of the year. An elegant and special treat. How many vegetables get their own specialized serving utensils? Now it's available all the time and gets as low as $1/lb.

                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                1. re: seamunky

                                                                                  I wish I could get it for $1.00 lb. I just spent about $3.00 lb last weekend. In all fairness though, we are still a little early for local grown. Hopefully the $ will come down soon.

                                                                                  1. re: Tom34

                                                                                    yes, it's still early here in california too. i've seen it for $1/lb but that is a loss leader...usually in mid to late June.

                                                                                    1. re: Tom34

                                                                                      Been buying white asparagus here in Paris for @ 5 euros/kilo or $ 3 a pound. It is perfect and about the size of your, well you know.

                                                                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                                        This is cruel and unusual punishment.

                                                                                        Memories of driving along the upper Rhine valley looking for a restaurant with a sign saying "Nur Spargel dieses Woche." trans, only asparagus this week. Yes, that meant all courses had it, including asparagus infused sorbet for dessert. With a bottle of Pinot Gris.

                                                                                        Or heading to the little place on the Loire in Vouvray and sitting on the patio and sipping a Chenin Blanc while savoring pike quenelles and 2 or 3 spears of that beautiful white asparagus either enfolded in an omelet or with beurre noir. And then a tasting of the latest vintage.

                                                                                        Are the spoiled spears still at half price or less? You know, the ones with a touch of green?

                                                                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                          Green and White about the same, both in markets and in restaurants.

                                                                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                                            Another indication on how tastes and markets evolve. I would never have thought the green would attain the same regard. Thank You.

                                                                                            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                              Sorry, but as a German *and* a spargel lover, the green stuff doesn't even come close.

                                                                                        1. re: seamunky

                                                                                          Sorry - my grandparents were asparagus farmers. It's always been a cheap item to us.

                                                                                        2. Celery was once considered a luxury and only enjoyed by the wealthy. Heard about this when reading about what the first class ate on the Titanic. Imagine the future. Perhaps we'll one day figure out how to cultivate truffles and make them an everyday food.

                                                                                          1. Shrimp!

                                                                                            I remember when I was a kid it was such a big thing to get shrimp and now, at my ethnic markets I can get really nice ones for $5 - $6 a pound - I almost have to be careful not to buy them too much!