By Karen Gaudette Brewer

My love of baking is what made me start shopping the bulk bins of my local supermarket. Rather than shell out tens of dollars for entire jars of spices that can take years to finish, I spend pennies to buy just enough star anise, ground ginger, or nutmeg to bake with right now. The result: money saved from not paying for packaging, fresher ingredients, and less kitchen clutter. And most stores with bulk foods sections offer way more than just baking staples: think nuts, candy, cooking oil, fresh almond butter, flour, beans and grains, all available in as small or large a quantity as you need. Here are five easy ways you can save.

Photo by Karen Gaudette

1. Sample New-to-You Ingredients, Cheap

Never baked with spelt flour or cooked with garam masala before? Curious whether you'd prefer wheat berries in your summer grain salads over quinoa? Can't find just the right protein powder for your smoothies? Here's your chance to buy just the amount you need for your recipe without that extra bit hanging around in your pantry for months, waiting for you to find a use for it.

2. Buy The Amount of Liquids You Actually Use

Stores with larger bulk foods departments typically offer soy sauce, maple syrup, cooking oils, honey, and vinegars by the ounce. This means you can save without having to buy the family size of something. No more giant bottles cluttering your cupboards and fridge door shelves. No more wondering when exactly you opened that canola oil.

3. Stock Up And Save On Ingredients You Use All the Time

I eat a lot of oatmeal (steel-cut). I make a lot of grain salads (wheat berries) and bake a lot of cornbread (organic cornmeal/pastry flour). I also really love popcorn, mixed nuts, and dried cherries. Now I have large airtight containers of each of these staples in my pantry, always ready for action, for considerably less than I'd spend buying them pre-packaged off the shelf.

4. Shop For Food Gift Ingredients

When it's that time of year to make homemade vanilla extract, homemade mustard, cocoa mix, and other favorite holiday foods gifts, start your shopping in the bulk section. Not only will you save on ingredients, you'll likely find cool containers and labels to package your handiwork.

5. Save On Your Daily Caffeine Habit

While bulk coffee is nothing new to most caffeine swillers, bulk tea comes as a surprise to many. Here's your chance to sample a wide variety of flavors to find the very best oolong, darjeeling, or English Breakfast for you, minus the commitment to an entire box.


  • A note about storage: Most bulk sections carry a variety of jars and other storage containers. Mason jars in a variety of sizes work well.
  • Tare weights: If your local store allows shoppers to bring clean containers from home for bulk shopping, stop by the registers on your way in to get the "tare weight" of your containers (how much they weigh before you fill them). That way, you'll only be charged for your purchases, not the weight of the container.
  • Identification: Most bulk sections use numbers to identify ingredients. Use masking tape or dry erase labels on your containers so that you can easily label your ever-changing cast of ingredients. Not everyone can readily tell tarragon apart from thyme.

Happy shopping!

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