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jca's avatar

Do you notice a huge difference between average quality spices, such as McCormick's, and high end, like (I would think) Whole Foods or other organic spices?

Asked by jca (26823 points ) September 17th, 2012

I need some ginger and am wondering what other Jellies think of the difference in quality between high end, like Whole Foods, organic or whatever, and “middle of the road” like McCormick’s or other brands that can be found in your average supermarket.

Is there a noticeable difference? Is the price difference worth it?

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19 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

I buy Whole Foods spices. Some of them, like whole nutmeg or vanilla beans seem noticeably better. Others, like oregano—well, it’s hard to tell for me, because it has been so long since I checked out McCormick’s. There was some McCormick’s at a vacation rental this summer and it seemed pretty old and flavorless, but that could have been because it was old and, well, flavorless.

But for me, flavor is most important, and the extra cost of Whole Foods is worth it, if even for a tiny improvement. Food is my highest priority (and it shows in my stomach). I feel this is the only life I have and food is an everyday part of it, so it is worth doing everything I can to make that high quality.

I think it’s kind of silly to stint on food. It’s so inexpensive compared to movies or eating out or most other things we do for fun. So I’d go for quality, and shop at specialty stores, if there are any, rather than see a movie or whatnot.

If food is a priority, then it’s worth spending more to get quality ingredients. If it’s just fuel for you, or you can’t really taste the difference, then I wouldn’t spend for the good stuff.

gailcalled's avatar

Ginger is easy; buy it fresh. There is such a difference and it is available all-year long. Ditto nutmeg…buy the seed and an adorable little nutmeg rasp.

I grew up with spices that outlived my father, who died at 73. Oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon..they were all the same grey dust.

RocketGuy's avatar

The generic stuff might be less flavorful than average McCormick. I would check if the spices were cut (diluted) with salt. That is the case with Safeway garlic salt vs McCormick garlic salt. The Safeway brand was more salt than garlic.

JLeslie's avatar

I can’t comment on Whole Foods, but I have found a difference sometimes between McCormick and really cheapy spices.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Not at all. I think that the degree of taste difference between ‘average’ and ‘good’ is so small that it isn’t worth it.

In that way, spices are like coffee or tea. There are snobbish pretentious people who aver that they can taste a difference (at least they think they can), but those of us who are mere mortals simply do not detect any different nuance in the taste.

But remember, money can buy you arrogance.

wundayatta's avatar

@elbanditoroso Even people without that much money can taste the difference. So you can be “arrogant” without money, I guess. Assuming that believing you can taste a difference that you (not arrogantly at all) have determined is not there, is arrogance.

I bow to your greater taste buds, and resolve to change my ways.

I do not taste a difference.
I do not taste a difference.
I do not taste a difference.
I do not taste a difference.

There. That ought to do it.

keobooks's avatar

If you get the spices “fresh” from the factory at McCormicks, there is probably no difference. However, you never know how long the spices have been sitting on the shelf as they have no expiration date. Spices DO eventually go bad and the taste is bland no matter where you got it from.

I find that Penzeys is fresh and better than McCormicks – and CHEAPER as they don’t force you to buy the container. You can just get the spices in plastic bags

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I don’t notice a difference at all, but I’m a smoker, so my taste is probably off.

jca's avatar

@gailcalled: I’m all for fresh ginger (and fresh nutmeg is great, too, but at least fresh nutmeg has a longer shelf life than fresh ginger). The problem with fresh ginger is that unless it’s actually “fresh” and purchased within about a week from the time you use it, you have to discard it. For spontaneous baking, I think having powdered ginger is helpful.

gailcalled's avatar

@jca: I agree. Here at our food coop, we can measure a small amount of dried herbs or powdered spices from a large container to a tiny plastic bag, thereby insuring purchasing small
amounts. Of course, no one knows how long the large containers have been sitting around.

It is the same with loose tea. Occasionally I’ll buy some and discover that the leaves are stale.

How long will fresh ginger last in the fridge?

Jeruba's avatar

My son likes to shop in Whole Foods’s bulk aisle. The unit prices are typically much lower for a small unmarked bag of this or that herb or spice, measured out by you in the exact quantity you want, than for tiny amounts that are sold under a brand name and that consist mostly of the glass jar they come in. The same goes for items such as bulghur and pine nuts, dispensed in quantity out of the bulk bins instead of in little labeled packages.

The last time we needed dried tarragon, my son bought some in bulk from Whole Foods and put it into the old McCormick’s bottle. It turned out to be coarse and twiggy. I actually had to pick little hard dried stems out of the food. I’m going back to McCormick’s.

That’s not typical of my Whole Foods experience, which is usually satisfactory, but it is a data point.

jca's avatar

I had purchased some ginger (powdered) from Whole Foods a few years ago and it seemed pungent and superior. I recently threw it out, feeling like it’s time for something new and that’s what prompted this question. My local Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell ginger powdered. I just bought some McCormick’s at the local discount store but am totally willing to invest in some better quality for fall baking, as soon as I get around to a better store.

@gailcalled: I think about two weeks and then it’s mushy.

Buttonstc's avatar

I second the reco. on Penzeys. Their products are certainly no more expensive than McC and frequently less since you don’t have to purchase a new container each time.

Fortunately there’s one within driving distance for me here in Mi. and there was also one in Philly when I lived there.

But they are also available by mail and you can order from their Internet site. However, you should also get their catalog. It’s absolutely delightful. Lots of recipes and little stories behind the various spice blends (they do some great regional ones). It’s the one catalog I actually look forward to getting in the mail.
This really is a family run business.

And the one product they have that I couldn’t live without is their granulated TOASTED onion. It’s like a distillation of French Onion Soup in ground up form. That great caramelized onion flavor usually only available after 30 minutes or more of pan sauteeing. So delicious. I’ve never found that in any store.

And their hot chocolate is fantastic also. Plus they have such volume and frequent turnover that you know they haven’t been sitting around in a warehouse for half of forever. Freshness does make a difference in flavor.

Once you give Penzeys a try, you won’t want to go back to the supermarket stuff. And you don’t have to pay Whole Foods (over)prices either.

www.penzeys.com

rooeytoo's avatar

I just heard a greek chef say dried oregano is much preferable to fresh. I don’t know how true it is but I found it interesting.

I love fresh basil, coriander, mint, chives, etc. so I grow them myself. Even here in the frigid south they thrive. I have big pots and as one bunch starts to dies out, I plant a new one.

I haven’t noticed much difference in the ones I buy. I usually buy small packets in cellophane and decant into old glass containers. The cost appears to be in the packaging as much as in the spices themselves.

josie's avatar

See above
Go with Penzeys

wundayatta's avatar

I dry my own herbs, too.

gailcalled's avatar

You can winter fresh rosemary in a pot inside without white flies, which collect on all the other herbs that I have tried to over-winter. I amin zone 4 b.

Adagio's avatar

Spices are far more pungent when they have just been ground, there is no comparison really, if spices feature a lot in your cooking I strongly recommend buying an electric coffee grinder and only grinding as much as you need at the time. Ground spices will naturally deteriorate, losing pungency, whereas unground spices last a long, long time.

jca's avatar

@Adagio: Yes, I have a coffee grinder with “Spices only” written on it in magic marker. Like I said to @gailcalled however, ginger is different and ginger is what prompted me to ask this question.

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