Next time you're replenishing the spice rack, check the difference in cost from brand to brand. We've paid 35 cents per ounce for Costco's pure vanilla extract compared with $3.34 for McCormick's, for example (quite a spread even given that the Costco was giant-sized). And when it comes to oregano, you could pay $1.10 per ounce for Walmart's Great Value or more than $7 per ounce for Spice Islands.
Our trained tasters tried oreganos and cinnamons at three price levels. They tasted oregano steeped in hot water to make a "tea," in a simple tomato sauce, and on bread with melted cheese. They tasted cinnamon stirred into unsweetened applesauce, baked in sugar cookies, and on toast. The results could lead to smarter choices when you buy.
When we asked manufacturers about price differences, they cited several reasons:
When the cinnamon was baked in cookies, tasters found no differences. When tasted in other recipes, the most expensive oregano and cinnamon had a slightly more intense flavor than the rest. A pricey spice could be worth trying in a simple dish (oregano on fresh tomatoes, for instance) or where it's the main ingredient (as with cinnamon buns). For recipes with many ingredients, you probably don't need to pay a premium.
When you buy, check for expiration dates. Spices lose strength over time; many should be replaced after two or three years. If dates are absent, write the purchase date on the jar. Store spices in a dark, dry, cool area.
|Oregano||Prices are per ounce|
|Great Value Leaves (Walmart)||$1.10|
|Cinnamon||Prices are per ounce|
|Great Value Ground (Walmart)||$0.51|
|The Spice Hunter Highland Harvested Saigon||4.14|