Exploring the (better-priced) outer reaches of the spice aisles.
CHEAP + GOOD | Shopping for spices recently at the Superstore at Main and Marine Drive in Vancouver, I felt like the victim of a bait and switch con game. Little identical glass jars of McCormick Gourmet spices were being sold for identical prices even though the weight of their contents was vastly different—a 7-gram jar of bay leaves cost the same as a 43-gram jar of ground cumin—$6.69. A few feet away, Club House was selling a 13-gram bottle of bay leaves for $3.49.
On closer inspection, I was surprised to learn that McCormick Gourmet and Club House are owned by McCormick Canada, which means if you buy their “gourmet” product, you are paying almost twice as much buck for half as much bay, or, put another way, you are paying a whopping $4.87 for that little glass jar.
To add to this muddle of sizing and packaging, spices are also sold in bulk in another part of the store, and in a third place—the “International Foods” aisle—making comparison pricing a supermarket odyssey. Nothing if not intrepid, Frugalbits did compare the price per gram of all the ground cumin offerings and came up with some startling numbers: McCormick Gourmet weighed in at 15 cents a gram; Club House, 9 cents; no name, 2 cents; bulk, 1 cent; and from the international aisle, the Suraj brand, at less than a cent a gram.
Cheap spices are no bargain if they lack potency and freshness (i.e., flavour), so we did a quick and unscientific blind smell test of all five cumin brands. The Club House brand had the strongest, most pungent aroma, but without a lot of cumin’s distinctive earthy scent. The McCormick Gourmet and the bulk cumin were mild smelling, and not so much earthy as dusty. Both the no name and the Suraj landed somewhere in the middle, with testers agreeing that though not as strong as the Club House, the Suraj had more pleasant warm and earthy notes. For my money, Suraj is definitely worth the short sail to the International Foods aisle.—Terri Brandmueller
Visit The Real Canadian Superstore, 350 S.E. Marine Drive, Vancouver; or check the website www.superstore.ca.