If you're a home cook and you're not using fresh herbs, you could be making an unfortunate cooking mistake. Dried herbs should be used if you're adding them mid-recipe, but if you're seasoning a near-finished dish, fresh herbs are the way to go. Fresh basil is going to make any pasta dish taste more authentic, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary will add far more flavor to a cozy fall casserole than the dried stuff. Fresh herbs can be expensive, and you only use a small amount at a time, but if you store them correctly, they can last long enough to use up the whole bunch.
High-end extra-virgin olive oil
Olive oil can vary wildly in price, largely due to the drastic difference in quality and taste each type delivers. If you're simply using olive oil for sauteing or cooking, you should opt for the cheaper variety, such as a generic brand or mass-market olive oil. But if you're using it to drizzle over fresh tomatoes, make your own salad dressing or dip bread in, it's worth splurging for. High-quality olive oil, such as the kind you might find at a specialty store or that's sold in small batches, can noticeably elevate the taste of your food.
There's a big difference between buying bread fresh from the bakery and buying pre-sliced, processed bread sold in a plastic bag. While basic bread does the job for making an acceptable PB&J or a cold cut sandwich, it's worth treating yourself to the good stuff now and then. Not only is fresh bread often made with fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients, but it also tastes so much better. Spread some butter on a fresh, chewy baguette or upgrade your French toast by making it with a loaf of challah. From focaccia to naan, the world has so much good bread to offer, and when you see a good-looking loaf, you shouldn't feel bad about spending extra.
Life is too short not to find more reasons to enjoy good quality, authentic cheese. While using generic-brand shredded cheddar is just fine for making enchiladas or adding to an omelette, prepackaged, overly processed cheese has nothing on a delicate orb of fresh mozzarella, a slab of real farmhouse cheddar or a wedge of creamy Camembert. Thankfully, most supermarkets these days offer a wide range of high-end cheeses that used to be difficult to track down just a couple decades ago. Even opting for real Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of shelf-stable grated Parmesan can turn an average-tasting bowl of spaghetti into a dish that tastes just like pasta recipes grandma used to make.
Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, but too many people have only ever purchased the standard supermarket variety. Cherry tomatoes make great toppings for salads and beefsteak tomatoes are easy to slice and slap onto a burger or a turkey sandwich, but heirloom tomatoes taste nothing like the watery, bland sliced tomato you're used to eating. Heirloom tomatoes, which come in many shapes, colors and sizes, have a complex flavor profile because the seeds used to grow them have been specially cultivated by farmers for generations in order to obtain the ideal tomato taste. As a result, they're likely to taste richer and sweeter than basic grocery store tomatoes; all they need is a sprinkle of sea salt and a glug of good olive oil.
There's a time and a place for cheap, low-quality chocolate. America's favorite Halloween candies, for example, are almost all made with low-brow chocolate. But when you're looking for a rich-tasting dessert, you should go for the good stuff. Fancy chocolate is not only often healthier, since it usually is made with more cocoa and less added sugar, but it can also be a much more satisfying treat. The ingredient list will likely contain fewer items such as "milk solids" and "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil," which are often used to fluff up less-expensive treats, and you'll be able to taste the difference.
Avocados are pricey these days, so you might be tempted to skip this particular piece of produce. But these fruits are worth spending good money on. Not only can you use them in tons of flavorful recipes ranging from simple avocado toast to an avocado-based pesto sauce, but they're also so healthy, you should be eating them every day. And if you're someone who spends money on guacamole, buying avocados and opting to make delicious guac yourself is actually less expensive.
Fresh seafood,especially shellfish, is more expensive than other protein sources you might choose to cook. But every now and then, it's worth spending a little extra. Shellfish like scallops or oysters contain significant amounts of zinc, iron and vitamin B12, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids. And eating fish for dinner once per week is one of the eating habits that can lower your blood pressure. Look for sales and try to fit some seafood into your grocery budget when you can.
There's nothing wrong with drinking two-buck chuck if you're trying to get wine-drunk for as little cash as possible. But if you indulge in the healthy habit of drinking a glass of wine after a long day, you may want to spend a little extra on a higher-quality bottle. You don't have to go crazy and buy the most expensive wine on the shelf - but purchase something you can really sit and enjoy. Even if you're using the wine to cook with, never buy cooking wine. You should still buy a quality bottle because you'll be able to taste the difference.
There is a huge difference in taste and quality amongst beer brands and varieties - and oftentimes, you get what you pay for. The best-tasting beers in America are going to cost quite a bit more than a six-pack of Bud Light. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with drinking cheap beer, and you shouldn't apologize for loving it, but there's a time and a place for both. Tailgating a football game and drinking for four hours? You might want to go for a Miller High Life or PBR. But if you're looking to enjoy one or two quality beverages, it's worth paying extra for a great-tasting craft beer or a unique seasonal brew.
If you're like most Americans, you probably drink at least a cup of coffee every day. And even if you're so hooked on coffee you'll drink anything as long as there's caffeine in it, it's probably worth investing in a higher-quality brew. The world of coffee is just as complex as the world of wine, and if you're a coffee lover, it's one worth exploring. Treat yourself to coffee beans you prefer, whether they come from a rich, chocolatey dark roast or a full-bodied light roast (which actually has more caffeine than dark). While a single-origin, organic bean might be best, you don't have to try a bunch of obscure brands to find a roast you like. Some popular coffee brands actually make coffee that tastes pretty good.
Making the perfect Belgian waffles at home is an art worth perfecting; and once you do, you don't want to ruin your brunch by topping it with subpar syrup. It's well worth splurging for real maple syrup over the other types (like "pancake syrup" or "breakfast syrup") you see at the store. While real maple syrup is made exclusively from the sap that comes from trees, other types of syrup are concocted entirely from ingredients such as corn syrup, artificial colorings and other additives. You'll be able to taste the difference.
Greek yogurt might be more expensive than regular yogurt, but the extra cost comes with an extra nutritional benefit. Greek yogurt contains more protein than other types of yogurt, despite having a similar amount of calories. You can use Greek yogurt in recipes as well as for a satisfying midday snack. Make this snack even healthier by opting for plain Greek yogurt at the store and sweetening the yogurt yourself with fruits, honey and other ingredients that are more nutritious than the added sugars used by most brands.
You might have noticed that some balsamic vinegar is dirt cheap while other fancier bottles are much more expensive. Turns out, it may be worth dropping some extra cash on a pricier bottle. The bottle will last a long time, and a quality vinegar can make your food taste phenomenal. The quality of balsamic vinegar is highly dependent on how it was made. Balsamic vinegars of the highest quality will be labeled "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale," which means that the vinegar is verified and was produced in Italy using a complex multi-barrel process. You should also look at the ingredients label. Higher-quality vinegars are made with grape must, while imitation balsamic vinegars and lower-quality varieties will have ingredients such as vinegar, caramel and artificial flavors. The kind you should buy depends largely on the use. If you are simply using the balsamic to make a reduction or glaze, opting for the cheaper variety is probably OK. But if you're drizzling vinegar over fresh fruit or using it in a salad dressing, it's worth investing in a higher-quality bottle.
Certified Humane meat and eggs
Meat and eggs with this label are likely to cost more than their regular counterparts that you find at the supermarket, but it may be worth it to pay more. With these products, you can feel assured that the farming practices used were more humane than those for animals that come from factory farms. Certified Humane is a nonprofit animal welfare rating program. Products with the Certified Humane label have to live up to the standards set by the organization, including not keeping animals in cages, having shorter transport times and providing better lighting for animals. The Certified Humane website provides a list of producers who have earned the label.
Eating salmon, no matter which kind you buy, is a great way to get omega-3 fatty acids and help maintain a diet that supports your brain health. However, the method used to catch salmon makes a big difference in its nutritional value - and its price. Wild-caught salmon (typically more expensive than farm-raised) is caught in natural environments and allowed to eat organisms found naturally in these environments. Farm-raised salmon, on the other hand, live in pens or tanks that operate with varying levels of sustainability and are fed processed, high-fat, high-protein pellets. As a result, farmed salmon typically contains more fat, including both unsaturated and saturated fat, in the same number of grams of fish and contains fewer nutrients such as calcium and zinc, according to data from the USDA. While the larger amount of unsaturated fat may actually be a good thing, some consumers avoid farm-raised salmon due to the increased risk of contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), antibiotics and mercury.
You may think that imitation vanilla and real vanilla extract can be used interchangeably, but you'd be wrong. If you're making icing, pudding or another sweet treat, using real vanilla extract made from an actual vanilla bean will elevate your dessert to the next level. If you're whipping up a better-than-boxed cake recipe, on the other hand, it won't make much difference. Imitation vanilla and real vanilla extract will bake at high heats to taste very similar.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and cashews can be on the pricier side, but they're worth adding to your shopping list. These foods are filled with healthy fats, protein and fiber and can be used as a satisfying midday snack, thrown in delicious salads or used for baking. Serving sizes are relatively small, so you won't have to restock often. And one way to cut down on cost is to buy nuts in the bulk foods section of your grocery store rather than opt for prepackaged varieties.
There are so many different kinds of salt, ranging from plain old Morton to fancy sea salt blends. Any home cook worth their salt knows that the type of salt you should use totally depends on how you're planning to use it. If you're simply salting a quick dinner dish, table salt will do the trick. But larger granules of salt, such as those in kosher salt, are good for more than just margaritas. These salts are better to use for meat, since they won't just dissolve on the surface of the meat like table salt would. And finishing salts, which are perhaps most worth your investment, work as a garnish. They're often packed with mineral flavor (and aren't as "salty" as table salt) and are one of the restaurant secrets you should bring to your kitchen at home.
If you're going to treat yourself to a baked good (or three), commit to the bit and treat yourself. The quality of cupcake you get freshly baked from the bakery far exceeds that of the hydrogenated oil-laden one in the snack food aisle. And a mass-produced chocolate chip cookie has nothing on a freshly baked, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside chocolate chip cookie that costs a little more.
Did you know that spices can lose flavor over time, especially if they're not stored correctly? The spices at the grocery store, whether generic or brand name, have likely lost a lot of their potency before they even see the shelf and long before the bottle claims that they expire. Though it's a little pricier, you should consider purchasing your spices from a store that specializes in them or online through a supplier. The product you receive is going to work a lot more efficiently to spice up your dishes and seriously upgrade your home-cooked meals. Invest in some higher-quality spices and keep your spices organized so they last longer.
Though frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh, fresh produce always tastes better. And it tastes even better if you buy local. Local produce, unlike most grocery store produce, hasn't been sprayed with preservatives, shoved in a truck and schlepped across the country. That means that less time has passed since the tomatoes were on the vine, the carrots were in the ground and the fruit was on the tree. You'll be able to taste the difference. If you can't find local produce at your favorite supermarket, try hitting up a farmer's market nearby.
Coconut oil is somewhat of a luxury item; it isn't cheap, and you could go without it. But if you have the means, you should add this to your cart. Coconut oil can be used for cosmetic purposes such as skin and hair treatments as well as a number of culinary purposes. Roasted vegetables and rich-tasting side dishes can all be made with coconut oil. The healthy oil leaves behind a distinct, coconutty flavor. It's especially useful for vegans because, like butter, it's solid at room temperature and is therefore a viable substitute.
All butter tastes good, but some butter is so much better than others. If you want to know what butter is really supposed to taste like, try European butter, usually found at the supermarket in foil-wrapped bricks. European butter, typically from Normandy or Ireland, has a higher fat content than American butter - 82 percent is the minimum as compared to America's 80. Many European cattle are grass-fed, which greatly improves the taste of the milk (and the resulting butter). Spend a couple extra bucks on some high-quality European butter and spread it onto a fresh baguette - it just might change your life.
Some cheaper salad dressings are filled with emulsifiers, colorings, hydrogenated oils and sugar. Rather than resort to these, pay a little extra for a healthier salad dressing that will taste better too. Look for simple ingredients on the label and for higher amounts of unsaturated fats, such as those from olive oil. Of course, the best (and least costly) way to get high-quality dressing is to make your own. Salad dressing is one of many grocery items you should really stop buying and make instead.
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