This or That: Which Ingredients Are Worth Buying in Bulk — and Which You Can Skip

Buying everything in bulk can be tempting, but some ingredients aren't worth the potential savings.

As we all work on keeping a well-stocked pantry and fridge, big box and restaurant supply stores are getting a lot more business these days, even from smaller households. It can feel like a win to score that giant vat of ranch dressing or the commercial sized spice container, but for the basic home cook, unless you have a huge family, not every item you buy for your pantry should be in bulk. Though if you're dead set on getting the cost savings for some of these items, see if you have a friend or family member who would want to split the item with you so that you both benefit.

Here's a breakdown by category of what ingredients are worth buying bulk and which will just be busting your budget:


Seasonings don't always have as long of a shelf life as we think, so choose wisely.

Always: Buy salt in bulk, since it never goes bad and you will likely go through it all eventually.

Never: Don't buy dried herbs or pre-ground spices in bulk, since they only have a three month window before they begin to degrade in quality.

Sometimes: Whole spices can be a good choice for buying bulk, but only if you know you will use that amount within 6 months. Do you put freshly ground black pepper on everything you eat? Feel free to get the big one.

Baking Supplies

This presumes you are a regular baker, think at least once a week or so. If you bake fewer than three times a month, buy everything as needed in regular sizes.

Always: Granulated sugar, vanilla extract, butter, all-purpose flour (or bread flour if you are a bread baker), and eggs are great purchases in bulk sizes. Just make sure you have room for 10-pound bags of flour or two dozen flats of eggs.

Never: Skip buying items you use in teaspoons (baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, or yeast) in bulk as they can spoil, or lose potency and effectiveness. Also buy cocoa powder as needed to prevent rancidity due to its high fat content.

Sometimes: Consider buying nuts, oats, baking chocolates or chocolate chips, dried fruits, heavy cream, or sour cream in bulk if you have a large baking project coming up or you know you will use them before their expiration date.

a woman shopping at the supermarket
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Condiments in bulk can be cost-effective, but suss out which ones will require space in your pantry versus your fridge, knowing the difference may determine if it's a good buy.

Always: It's worth getting vinegars, soy sauce, bouillon pastes or cubes, Worcestershire sauce, jams or jellies, honey, mustard, and hot sauce in bulk. These are items with long shelf life, and an ability to be stored outside the fridge.

Never: Avoid buying mayonnaise, salad dressings, or marinades in bulk.

Sometimes: Depending on how much your household uses and the expiration date, ketchup, BBQ sauce, and pasta sauces could be a smart bulk buy.

Pantry Staples

Keeping your pantry stocked is important, but some purchases can become a bigger headache than their savings are worth.

Always: Buy canned goods, pickles, boxed items like macaroni and cheese, and popcorn kernels in bulk. If you have space in your freezer to store, always buy coffee beans in bulk.

Never: Don't buy specialty ingredients, items or brands you have never tasted before, anything that has a limited shelf life, or foods that need to be refrigerated after opening. Your kids might very well pour ranch on anything not nailed down, but you do not need to figure out a game plan for storing a gallon jug of dressing in your fridge for the next three months.

Sometimes: Good options include oils, peanut butter, cereals, and microwave popcorn packets. Use your best judgment, you know how much of these your household will go through and what your storage situation is like.

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