When should I struggle against my frugal nature?
August 20, 2012 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Which groceries are worth spending more money on and which are not?

I am a fairly frugal (some would say cheap :) person and nearly always buy the least expensive of whatever item I need that I can find. That said, I am getting more and more into cooking and baking, and am wondering, what is worth spending money on in the grocery world and what is basically the same whether you buy the $2.50 version or the $8.00 version?

Example: I've been told that expensive, organic eggs are much much better than the cheapest version. On the other side, as far as I can discern, all milk tastes essentially the same.

Any ingredients/items are fair game.
posted by queens86 to Food & Drink (67 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Do you drink coffee? Unground coffee beans, preferably locally roasted near the time of you purchasing them, are much better than the likes of Folgers or Maxwell House. It should be ground right before adding the hot water. But even your average supply on unground coffee beans that you get at the grocery store tend to be a significant improvement.
posted by demagogue at 1:53 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Which is funny because I was going to say milk :) The super cheap ones don't taste as creamy as my normal grocery store brand one (yes, always 1%). But along those same lines, cheese. Cheap cheese isn't worth it. Also the bakery's bread tastes better and I always get my sandwich meats from the butcher not from the sandwich meat aisle.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree on the eggs. We get eggs with our CSA and the difference is incredible. I'm hooked.
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the other side, as far as I can discern, all milk tastes essentially the same.

I thought this too, until we started getting cream-on-top milk from a local dairy (it's pasteurized, not raw). And oh my god it's delicious. I hardly even drink milk straight anymore, but it makes my coffee taste better. And if you're going to make ice cream, buy the best-tasting milk you can afford.

Spending a little more for good cheese (like, a basic Cheddar or Swiss) will make a very noticeable difference in cheesy things.
posted by rtha at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the other side, as far as I can discern, all milk tastes essentially the same.

Not true—fancy cream top milk in glass bottles tastes much better for drinking. That said, I don't find the difference worth the extra cost.

I find the differences very personal. Sometimes there won't be a difference you can notice (because the products are identical but marketed differently). Sometimes there will be but I will not care about it. Sometimes the preparation you are using will change whether you can taste the difference. I'd urge you to do some experiments and find out how different price points for different foods fit your own taste.
posted by grouse at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2012

Meat is worth spending more on, I think. Some vegetables are a waste of money to buy organic, either because the skin is removed or pests generally stay away from that type of veggie. A web search can provide a more comprehensive list.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is going to be very subjective, and dare I say unanswerable. For example, although I see a difference between Folgers and gourmet coffee, I don't see a difference between freshly ground boutique coffee and store-brand grind-it-in-the-aisle bags the way demagogue does.

To me, pricey vanilla and extra-virgin olive oil are worth it to me (lighter oil for sauteing, I'll buy what's on sale).
posted by headnsouth at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

As a rule of thumb, pay more for things you'll consume directly, where you'll perceive differences in quality directly; pay less for ingredients.

That said, quality ingredients do make a difference, and this tends to be most obvious in meats and spices/herbs, less so in vegetables and grains, moreso in fruit.

Groceries are full of brand name taxes, though, so you'll need to compare A to B and see which ones are worth paying more for, and which aren't. This is an experience thing. It's worth making the same thing several times with different ingredients to see the effect--I found my cream of mushroom soup was just as good with the cheapest white mushrooms as with expensive portabellos.

Lastly, learn to tell where it's process making a difference, rather than ingredient. All fresh ground coffee is better, generally, than pre-ground coffee, so the cheapest bag of beans from Costco is better than expensive canned Italian stuff from Whole Foods.
posted by fatbird at 2:02 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd go with chocolate. I tend to buy the more expensive chocolate. I also second the milk suggestion. I buy the cream-top in-a-glass-bottle milk whenever I can. Its amazing.
posted by radcopter at 2:04 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are looking for better flavor and quality I think the best change you can make is to buy locally grown produce. Aside from the issues of organic versus not, locally grown produce is fresh and not treated to maintain shelf life. Most of your supermarket produce has been in transit and/or storage for significant periods of time. The same applies to meats and baked goods. Look at ingredients, but also look at where your food originates.
posted by uncaken at 2:05 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Real vanilla. Beans, paste or extract. Do not ever consider imitation.
posted by insomniax at 2:07 PM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Almost anything you can buy in bulk (grains, beans, nuts, salt, sugar) is going to be cheaper than the packaged version, and just as good, unless you're interested in some specific varietal.

Even if you don't have access to them in bulk, dried beans you soak overnight are better and cheaper than the canned ones.

Almost anything "fresh" (fruits and veggies, dairy, meat) gets better in quality as you spend more. Except organic bell peppers, which are very expensive compared to non-organic and indistinguishable from them, IMO.
posted by mkultra at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2012

Seconding chocolate.

I bake a lot. I use cheap base ingredients (vanilla, flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, generally purchased from Costco where the cheap stuff isn't very low quality); the ingredients I put in for substance (fruit, chocolate, nuts, cheese) are generally high quality and easily the most expensive part.
posted by phunniemee at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2012

posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never been able to tell a difference, by taste, between expensive, organic eggs and the cheapest ones on the shelf. The yolks on the expensive eggs tend to be larger and a darker yellow, which I suspect influences people's taste perception. I would go so far as to say, with the exception of a simply made over-easy fried egg, anything else served with the egg would overwhelm the taste difference.

That said, I pay well for olive oil, but only then when used in unheated applications. The important part is freshness. I never believed this until I had fresh olive oil from a artisan manufacturer. I find that Costco's Organic Olive Oil is particularly fresh for a reasonably priced off the shelf product. In addition, it is an example of what other people have been saying - pay for process rather than price/labels.

I make my own vanilla extract at approximately 2x strength per FDA requirements. I love the smell of it, but I mostly do it for fun, as the taste difference is extremely subtle/non-existant (and Cook's Illustrated agrees).

Finally, an off-the-wall suggestion is to pay for quality pickled products. I never liked, for instance, pickled peppers until I tried Mama Lil's Kick But Peppers (made a couple blocks away from me).
posted by saeculorum at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are getting into cooking and baking, I would have to say flour and more specifcally, the type of flour you are getting. Cake flour is much, much lighter and gives you way better cakes than regular old flour. And, because I grew up with it, I can totally tell the difference in performance and flavor when I use White Lily flour vs any thing else. I'm also very, very particular about my corn meal, but again, it's because I grew up with a specific brand and I've found that other corn meal doesn't have the same flavor and texture as what I'm used to.

Seconding vanilla extract v. imitation, once you go real vanilla you can tell the difference.
posted by teleri025 at 2:11 PM on August 20, 2012

For eggs if you can get like, actual local from a small farm eggs... like from a CSA, or something, they're worth it. (I get mine from a coworker that raises chickens) But I can't see a difference between even the 'cage free organic' grocery store eggs and their basic eggs.

Look for a CSA in your area for produce as well. I've had some of the best fruit and veg from one.

Good olive oil. Real butter not margarine. Chocolate, cheese...
posted by Caravantea at 2:12 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

local sourcing is my advice. I don't notice a damn difference in whole foods versus costco vs the local giant supermarket. But the tiny grocer by my home, owned by a local family that offers organic free range eggs grown by a neighbor, milk from local wisconsin cows and veggies from nearby farms has me convinced that the best bang for the buck I can get, snobby food wise, is local sourcing. Huge difference in my cooking and worth every penny. So yeah, agree with the above..vegetables, milk, eggs big time, cheese. Those are the ones worth it to me.

If it matters, one year ago I would have laughed at myself for saying the above...moving to the country has taught me a lot.
posted by supercapitalist at 2:14 PM on August 20, 2012

posted by Thorzdad at 2:19 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seasonal, locally grown (and typically organic) produce-- it will last longer and taste better than the conventional, imported stuff
Olive oil (but you have to watch out for fake Italian stuff with a steep price tag)
Bacon and sausage
posted by joan_holloway at 2:25 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bacon - cheap bacon is full of water. It stinks when you cook it and shrinks to nothing. Good bacon is light years away.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:26 PM on August 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

Cake flour is much, much lighter and gives you way better cakes than regular old flour.

This, very much so.

One of my local grocery stores has started selling a house-brand "European style butter" which is awesome. A little more expensive, but you get all the extra butterfat without having to pay for butter to be airfreighted from Denmark or France. My cakes don't stick anymore--my suspicion is that the cheap generic butter I had been using before had extra air or water content that was throwing off my recipes.
posted by gimonca at 2:29 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meat and booze - spend as much as you can possibly afford on very small portions.
posted by colin_l at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2012

Whatever the product, it's never necessarily better if it's more expensive; it's only better if it's better. There's a huge difference between basic and good cheese, chocolate, milk, coffee, eggs, meat and other stuff, but you can easily pay a lot for mediocre products.

Eggs are an easy example. The quality depends on what the chickens eat. A lot of expensive eggs come from chickens that are fed expensive, organic versions of feed that is otherwise very similar to the stuff that cheapo factory farm chickens get, and the eggs are accordingly almost indistinguishable. On the other hand, eggs from a small farm that lets its chickens scavenge much of their diet can be profoundly better, and may not be expensive at all. Until I recently moved, I was able to buy excellent eggs for $2/doz. from a small-scale farmer on the outskirts of a small town. 2 years ago they were $1/doz., but the farmer couldn't keep up with demand at that price. Organic eggs sold for twice that price at the city farmers' markets where I am now simply don't compare; they're not charging for taste, they're charging for feed, and for the gas and time it takes to bring these eggs from the farm to their little booth in the city.

The same farmer in my old town sells honey for $7 a pound, which is not much different from what you might pay for cheap imported honey in the grocery store but is also far better.

My local supermarket charges a mint for lousy domestic Parmesan cheese because the people in the neighborhood apparently don't know the difference. I can get real Reggiano from Italy for about the same price if I go to a better store.

There will be no reliable rules here. Be willing to take chances, experiment and learn about specifics.
posted by jon1270 at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Seconding bacon oh my god. If you're a fan, the really good thick-cut stuff is just SO MUCH BETTER, both to eat straight and to use in other dishes.

Another vote for cheese as well.

Sugar. I started baking with less processed sugar a few years ago, and it has a much richer, more complicated flavor, especially for milder dishes like custard-based pies.

Wine and sherry. I use cheap-ish table wine to cook with (think Yellowtail or similar) instead of the "cooking wine" you buy in a grocery store, which tends to be salty and disgusting. Makes a huge difference.

Butter, if you're cooking anything where it's very prominent.

It's very much worth buying fresh herbs instead of dried ones if your recipe calls for them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:45 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been told that expensive, organic eggs are much much better than the cheapest version.

Yeah, but what do you think? Can you tell a difference? That's the bottom line. Eggs are a good example of a type of food where some can taste huge differences, while others just say "Meh." If you can't tell any difference, why pay more for the high-priced spread?

In general, however, you'll get better value for your grocery money at Trader Joes.
posted by Rash at 3:03 PM on August 20, 2012

Good real aged parmesan.
Good dried pasta.
Both pretty much have to be imported from Italy.
I agree of course about olive oil, butter and good baguettes.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:09 PM on August 20, 2012

Within the catagory of cheese, Italien pecorino Romano and parmigiano regiano are considerably better than domestic varieties, and also much better grated fresh than pre-grated in either the deli cannisters or god forbid the green can. Seriously, have the real thing once and you're realise the Kraft version is cut with so much filler it's practically half sawdust, and the DiGiorno an other vacuum-packed domestic varieties aren't aged as long as the Italian originals and don't have as much flavour.
posted by Diablevert at 3:18 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I would add --- when it comes to produce, neither organic nor local is necessarily best --- not if the famer's market is picked over and wilted by the time you get there and the big supermarket chain has had that organic bell pepper sitting out for two weeks because they don't get enough turnover. Personally I've found I get the best produce from the small cheap store in my neighbourhood that seves a big immigrant population --- you know, people who still do a lot of cooking from scratch, unlike a lot of native born middle class folks around here. That store is a madhouse --- but it means that they're constantly restocking and nothing sits, so that it lasts a lot longer when you take it home.
posted by Diablevert at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's been said a few times, but cheese. To expand on that, if you are going to use shredded cheese for anything (cheese sauces, pizza, whatever), buy a block or wedge of the cheese you need and shred your own. The pre-shredded stuff is coated lightly with cellulose after shredding to prevent it from clumping, and it affects how the cheese melts. For cheese sauces in particular, this can make a VERY big difference in the quality of the finished sauce.

If you use a lot of shredded cheese, invest in a food processor with a shredder attachment, it will pay for itself in time saved fairly quickly.

Herbs are another big one for me. If you've got space for a small indoor herb garden, grow anything you use frequently (basil, chives, parsley, and cilantro are all staples in my kitchen). Freshly-harvested herbs are so much tastier than the ones that have been sitting in the produce department for weeks.
posted by RealBorg at 3:34 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

All meats.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:40 PM on August 20, 2012

Peanut butter. A good all-natural peanut butter is more expensive, but healthier and tastier. Compare the ingredients of Jif Creamy Peanut Butter: Roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides, salt, with the ingredients of Teddie All Natural: Roasted peanuts, salt.
posted by papayaninja at 3:59 PM on August 20, 2012

My rule of thumb (I love cooking/baking/etc) is to buy the best quality BASICS that I can afford. So I try to buy good spices, good vanilla, decent olive oil, eggs, dairy, etc and then I am "cheaper" with other basics because I also buy from the bulk bin or shop around for where I can find the best quality of an item for the value. I shop around for the best produce and have a general idea of where I am going to go if I want certain things.

When I do pretty much all of my own cooking it just seems like a better investment to break everything down as much as possible and buy the best quality of the components.

One specific thing that I would mention is that good butter is amazing. I love butter and buying something other than the grocery store brand sticks is a real treat - actually, I love butter so much that I either buy local butter or the nicer european style butter at Whole Foods/Trader Joe's for my everyday use.

I buy organic dairy - my mom actually can't drink regular milk in her coffee because it upsets her stomach but when she switched to organic she was fine.
posted by fromageball at 4:03 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Marshmallow brands don't matter. Krispie rice is OK generic style too!
For chocolate for cooking the Trader Joe's Pound Plus bar is wonderful. No need to spend more on that. Generic baking mixes are usually very good and I would not spend more for a brand.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:06 PM on August 20, 2012

As others have said, I think this is an area where it's going to be really hard to generalize, simply because people's tastes and habits and whatnot are so different. You think all milk tastes the same, but I do not. There are a bunch of continuums here. Experiment.

One thing that might you economize is making a point of shopping at multiple and different kinds of stores (e.g., mega-supermarket, Whole Foods/Trader Joe's chains, local co-ops and farmers' markets, ethnic grocery stores, etc.) Different things are cheaper, and more available, at different places.
posted by box at 4:09 PM on August 20, 2012

Marshmallow brands don't matter.

At my local farmer's market yesterday, I had an "artisan marshmallow," I kid you not. I can't say I thought it was noticably better than a store brand marshmallow, but then again, I don't really care about marshmallows.
posted by grouse at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2012

My gf, somewhere between a health nut and internet conspiracy theorist on this, says they do some terrible things to some fruits and vegetables, like spraying tomatoes and bleaching carrots. Thus, we try to get those organic/local when possible. Same sort of thing on meat. For an added upgrade, go bison meat. YUM!
posted by Jacen at 4:24 PM on August 20, 2012

Balsamic vinegar is another one. The cheap stuff does the job but the expensive stuff is a whole different experience. Like moving up to high quality genuine olive oil, it's worth the extra cost.
posted by wdenton at 4:24 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it's never a good idea to economize on trash bags; oh, the leakage! That, or toilet paper. Name brand may or may not matter, but certain thicknesses are way better for both those products; I don't get the cheapest of their category but of the subtype.

As everyone has said, the products themselves depend on your tastes and your sense of taste.

I propose the following approach to determine what does and doesn't matter:

Next time you're considering, buy one generic and one of the "name brand". If either one is appreciably better or worse, then you now know your preference, and the one-time price differential is fairly negligible.

The only time this breaks down is when you don't use much of a product or the price differential is huge.

However, it sounds like this question is more geared towards finding out what may be better to try this experiment on, so I propose the following: sea salt, vanilla, eggs, steak, bacon, apples, other favorite produce.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:28 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Olive oil.

What isn't well known is that a large percentage of European (specifically Italian) olive oil is often not olive oil at all. It's mixed with other oils or used with olives from countries outside Italy.

California Olive Oil is much less likely to have cheaper oils in it, and the taste is markedly better, though I don't know how widely available it is outside California.

Given this information, it's likely that a lot of people have never actually had extra virgin olive oil.

So, real extra virgin olive oil is worth the extra price.


posted by cnc at 4:39 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Real Cheerios. I buy generic other cereal, but generic Cheerios are gross for some reason. I don't even like smelling the generic stuff on my kids' breath -- real Os only!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:48 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Corn Tortillas. (for sure El Milagro Tortillas Blancas)
Loaves of bread and crackers.
Canned jalapenos in vinegar...Anything pickled actually.
If you must with the Mac and Cheese, only the original Kraft.
Meat, fish, seafood and tofu.
Canned tomato anything.
Extra virgin olive oil.
Spices and marinade.
posted by xicana63 at 5:27 PM on August 20, 2012

I'll nth vanilla, don't buy the imitation, it's just not the same.

I can't taste the difference between eggs no matter where they come from, but that's just me. As someone earlier said, it depends on what *you* like. I will never buy margarine for baking -- it's butter all the way, but I don't mind the margarine/butter hybrids on my toast. I hate the taste of "all natural" peanut butter.
posted by patheral at 5:42 PM on August 20, 2012

Hit post too soon... as I was saying. I hate the taste of all natural peanut butter and won't spend the extra money on it, so that's another example of pay more for what you think is worth it.
posted by patheral at 5:44 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Real Cheerios. I buy generic other cereal, but generic Cheerios are gross for some reason. I don't even like smelling the generic stuff on my kids' breath -- real Os only!

Have you tried the Trader Joe's O's? They're awesome and just as cheap as our regular store brand.

I don't splurge on much at all, but the one thing I do splurge on is spices. I buy all my spices (including vanilla) at Penzey's, and it's the best thing I've ever done for my cooking. There is a huge difference between spices like McCormick or (god forbid) store brand, and Penzey's. I'm evangelical about it for a reason.
posted by altopower at 5:46 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I cook for one. I was a professional cook for almost twenty years. The economies of scale are not wasted on me, but when I try to buy big, cook big and freeze big, I find that I end up throwing out (freezer burn) or giving away (tired of it) almost half, and whatever economy I might have gained is lost.

I shop daily, or every other day, eat seasonal stuff and try to buy exactly what I need for three meals or four. I go ahead and spend the money on the brands/origins/farming methods I have discovered that I like best, because I'm less likely to throw any of it away.

Staples have to live in the freezer - bugs are a fact of life. I spend for the brands that work best/taste best on those. All meats except boneless skinless chicken breasts are from the butcher, not the pre-wrapped meat case.

South Florida is lucky because Badia spices and mixes are made here, and are always fresh and flavorful. High turnover helps. They are one-third the price of regular store brands, so I capitalize on that kind of savings.

I also like Spanish olive oil; it seems fruitier and has a better flavor to me. I buy it in cans, and it keeps really well. Compare prices and be astonished.

My splurge is twelve or fifteen varieties of vinegars - all carefully cultivated brands/types over the years. I'm not a wine drinker, so I use these for acids in dishes and deglazing. Mustards are second-runners-up. I pick these items up once a week, adding or replacing one at a time so I'm not going home with a $50 bag full of vinegars or something.

Brand loyalty is helpful when it comes to coupon or BOGO deals. If I know I like it, I will stock up on long shelf life/non-perishables at the better price.

I find that the difference between a carefully price-shopped bag of groceries and buying what I really like is on average $18 vs. $21. For me, three dollars is worth it if I eat every bit of it.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:46 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Graham crackers. I cheaped out this weekend and bought the store brand and they were horrid. I had no idea. Get the fancy kind. Or at least the honey maid.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:19 PM on August 20, 2012

if you are cooking, canned tomatoes. seriously, muir glen organic canned tomatoes are delicious and not that much more than store brand. i'm not into organic stuff, but you can definitely taste the difference between fancy canned tomatoes and store brand.
posted by nanhey at 7:40 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Saltines. I bought the store brand once and never again.
posted by fishmasta at 7:53 PM on August 20, 2012

Olive oil and vinegar. Seriously changed my diet for the better because tons of vegetables were now delicious. I probably spend $75 a year on speciality olive oil and vinegar that I get shipped to me and it's worth every penny. I use it almost every day.

I am very particular about my coffee, but my favorite coffee is lavazza which isn't cheap, but also is certainly not high end boutique stuff.

I find that organic apples and organic lettuces make a huge difference.

Ditto bacon. Cheap bacon is bizarrely and consistently inferior to the name brand.

I'll agree with liquor as well. I keep trying all the niche brands that are supposedly just as good and I keep going back to ketel one and grey goose.
posted by whoaali at 8:06 PM on August 20, 2012

There's a dairy here that only gets milk from cows that have not been given rgbh. it's worth it to me. Good, thicker bacon. Good bread, beer, coffee, mustard and other condiments.

Store brand vegetable oil, peanut butter, mayo, canned fruit/veg.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 PM on August 20, 2012

Don't scrimp on shrimp.
posted by spasm at 9:49 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dried spices bought whole in bulk / in bags then ground to order are better than preground spices, and usually cheaper to boot. (By whole I mean sticks of cinnamon, whole nutmegs, etc.)

Things you add a small amount into a dish relative to flavour are worth it; garlic, jalapenos, lemon, soy sauce, mustard.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:01 PM on August 20, 2012

Meat. Berries. Good chocolate. Jam (farmer's market jam / jam that's mostly berries is sooo much better than jam that's mostly goop). Bread. Cheese. Fish.

I don't find that expensive is as important as 'nice'; there's a farmer's stand near me that sells the best fruits and vegetables but they're super cheap. Similarly, fruit tastes better when it's in season which is also when there's a ton of it available for cheap. Fresh fish tastes so nice compared to the stuff that's been in the grocer's case for three days and smells fishy, but it's often not more expensive - just less convenient, because you have to go to a specialty place or find out when the shipment comes in at the grocer.
posted by Lady Li at 11:11 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and on cheese it's also about 'nice' rather than 'expensive'. $5 cheddar vs. $20 cheddar has some differences but you should try a bunch of different things to find what you like; however, $5 cheddar vs. $2 processed cheese food is a big difference. Also, nonfat cheese is an abomination.
posted by Lady Li at 11:13 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

To expand on that, if you are going to use shredded cheese for anything (cheese sauces, pizza, whatever), buy a block or wedge of the cheese you need and shred your own. The pre-shredded stuff is coated lightly with cellulose after shredding to prevent it from clumping, and it affects how the cheese melts.

Weirdly, pre-grated cheddar sometimes works out cheaper int he UK supermarkets than the block stuff. Because I often cut myself when grating cheese, I usually get pre-grated parmigiano for my own sanity - it's a pain to grate and I *will* shread my fingers - but for me even the £4 extra-mature cheddar is a LOT better than the £2 economy range cheddar. I'm happy to buy economy brie, stilton or feta - it will do the job even if the premium range version is nicer - but hard cheese does taste significantly different in the value range version.
posted by mippy at 4:09 AM on August 21, 2012

Also, I find here that if you go to the baking section of the supermarket, nuts etc. are much cheaper than the snack size bags sold in the vegetable section. If the supermarket has a 'world food' section, where they sell 'ethnic groceries', you can buy a big bag of various Indian spices for less than the branded spices in bottles. I don't use spice quickly enough for this to be always worthwhile for me, but if it's something like coriander that I use a lot, I'll save money this way.
posted by mippy at 4:12 AM on August 21, 2012

Fage brand Greek yogurt is positively orgasmic. (Get the full fat, not the 2% or 0%.) It tastes more like high quality ice cream than yogurt.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:16 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

posted by lalochezia at 6:08 AM on August 21, 2012

Do you have a roommate or significant other? If so, you can do what I did and do blind taste tests of stuff. I did this with a roommate who disagreed with me that name brand chocolate chips were better than the store brand.

1. Buy a bag of each.
2. In turns, have one roommate close their eyes, extend their hands, receive, and eat a sample of each product. Write down your results before the other person tells you which sample was which.

Now you know which grocery is worth the money to you. Maybe you have hyper-sensitive tastebuds for vanilla, so you need to get the real stuff, but you can't tell the organic bananas from the standard. There is huge variation between humans on taste and preferences (see Vegemite, Existence of) so listening to other peoples' preferences here is pretty irrelevant.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:07 AM on August 21, 2012

Yeah, this is subjective. I can't think of any groceries that aren't better when you spend more money.
posted by zebraantelope at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2012

Seconded; pretty much all groceries are blind-taste-testable better - or at least different - than the very cheapest variety. Frozen vegetables might be the only exception I can think of here. Really, the next-grade-up from bottom is almost always noticeably better than the cheapest version; you don't need to spend 10x here.
posted by talldean at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Buying organic vegetables/eggs/meat is not a matter of taste. The vegetables aren't going to taste better, they just won't be covered in pesticides. Splurge on that. There are plenty of lists online (like this one) that tell you what vegetables have the most pesticide residue and hence, are probably better to buy organic.
posted by saltwater at 2:41 PM on August 21, 2012

I can't believe this hasn't come up: always Oreos, never Hydrox.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:52 PM on August 24, 2012

Boxed Mac n' Cheese. All are gross except Kraft.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:21 PM on August 24, 2012

As a rule, I am more willing to spend more money on food that is socially responsible. I pay more for food that is fair trade, and for animal products where the animal was treated responsibly. Tastes better because I feel less guilty.
posted by aniola at 4:14 PM on February 6, 2013

Buying organic vegetables/eggs/meat is not a matter of taste. The vegetables aren't going to taste better, they just won't be covered in pesticides.

They won't be covered in conventional pesticides. "Organic" pesticides are still allowed and may be harmful to your health or that of other creatures in the environment.
posted by grouse at 4:39 PM on February 6, 2013

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