Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I had total sticker shock in the nut butter aisle at Whole Foods last week.
Peanut butter prices had been rising because 2011 was a terrible crop. But then 2012 was a bumper crop, so I had seen a few articles that said that prices should be coming down, that consumers should see some relief from high peanut butter prices in 2013. But then there was also news about the closure of a peanut butter processing plant due to salmonella outbreak that was likely to affect organic brands, because the kinds of peanuts used in the plant were those used in natural and organic peanut butters (those without added sugar and fat). So then it seemed like that might make some prices go higher instead of lower. But I was still thinking that prices might go down.
The Whole Foods 365 store brand of peanut butter used to be $1.99 and then it was $2.19 and then it was $2.79. That’s a big jump. But still in line with peanut butter prices for comparable products at other stores, and still pretty cheap, so it hadn’t affected how I shop.
I generally like peanut butter in any form — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, the divine peanut butter cookie, my family Special sandwich — and I really like those peanut butter filled pretzels that Trader Joe’s sells, but I don’t make it to Trader Joe’s all that often and also they are not cheap, I think it’s around three dollars for a small-ish bag. Then at some point I had a revelation that I could just dip pretzels into peanut butter and it would be basically the same thing. Duh. So I started doing that.
Last week I stopped at Whole Foods on my way to work to pick up some snacks, and was thinking that some peanut butter and pretzels would hit the spot. So I picked up a bag of pretzels and headed to the peanut butter aisle and was stopped dead in my tracks by peanut butter at $3.39 a jar. Gah! That’s a twenty per cent jump! Since the last time I bought peanut butter!
I think if I’d been expecting an increase I might have dealt with this better, but I was actually thinking it was going to go down this year. So that really threw me. I decided I didn’t need peanut butter and pretzels after all (I didn’t) and would think about alternatives.
And then that made me think about what lessons were there for shopping on a limited budget. What do you do when the price of something suddenly goes up? What are the options?
(a) see if there is a brand that is cheaper and buy that instead,
(b) see if there is a different but similar item that is cheaper and buy that instead,
(c) check different stores to see if any of them have the item for less than the store you usually shop at and stock up,
(d) think about whether there is an item that is processed differently that is cheaper, and that you can finish processing on your own to make a comparable finished product,
(e) just go ahead and buy it anyway.
If you always do (e), your grocery bill will just keep going up and up. Most people start with (a) because it’s the easiest. I usually go with (d) because I think that buying less processed, cheaper items and finishing the processing myself not only saves money but also often results in higher-quality food.
An example of this would, of course, be buying dried beans and cooking them yourself instead of buying canned beans. But anything you can buy in a ready-to-eat form and also a raw-ingredient form would apply. Often prices of the raw-ingredient form increase much more slowly than for the ready-to-eat form. It just depends on how much time (and energy) it takes to get to the finished product, and whether that’s worth it to you.
There are some crazy expensive artisanal peanut butters for sale in shops around here, and there was an article in the N&O not too long ago about making your own nut butters starting with raw peanuts, and roasting them yourself, which sounded interesting to me. (As you might have figured out by now, I have a thing for making things from scratch that normal people just buy.)
So then I started pricing raw peanuts and I’m not sure if it would actually be cheaper than buying peanut butter.
Whole Foods had a three-pound bag of shelled raw peanuts for around twelve dollars, so that’s four dollars a pound. The Hispanic stores and Li Ming’s have small bags of raw peanuts in the shell for (I think) around $2 a pound. Stone Brothers & Byrd, which is mostly a garden supply store but also carries traditional Southern foods, sells raw peanuts in the shell in bulk for $2.80 a pound.
Roasted peanuts in the bulk section are about the same price as a pound of peanut butter. Trader Joe’s peanut butter was $2.79 a jar (Whole Foods’ previous price), and I was over there, so I bought a couple of jars. But I don’t like it as well as the 365 brand.
I did buy some peanuts from Stone Bros., and am thinking about roasting them and making peanut butter, but in the meantime, I decided to turn some of them into one of my new favorite things — Bill Neal‘s recipe for Hot and Spicy Peanuts.
If you like the spicy peanuts sold in convenience stores, make these. They are along the same lines, but a million times better, because they are fresh fresh fresh, they don’t have all those preservatives in them, and you can decide if you want them more spicy or more sweet or whatever tastes good to you.
The first time I made them, a couple of months ago, I followed the recipe exactly. The second time, I think I reduced the sugar slightly. This last time, I used three different kinds of Penzey’s paprika — Hungarian sweet, Hungarian half-sharp, and smoked Spanish — along with sea salt, Habanero salt, white sugar, and cayenne. And didn’t measure anything at all.
My strategy now is to mix the seasonings together in a small bowl and taste. When it tastes good — a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy — it’s ready to go. This is definitely a recipe that you can adjust however you want, and it is very easy. The only hard part is not eating all of them at once as soon as they are cool.
Hot and Spicy Peanuts
from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp (or more) ground cayenne
1/2 tsp (or more) sugar
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1-1/2 cups raw, shelled peanuts
1-1/2 Tbsp water
Combine the salt, paprika, cayenne, and sugar and reserve. Heat the oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the raw peanuts (in their skins), shaking the skillet frequently to prevent their scorching. When the peanuts are golden brown throughout (after 8 to 10 minutes), sprinkle the combined dry seasonings over all and shake well. Carefully, but immediately, pour in the water and agitate to help the flavorings coat the peanuts. Serve immediately or let cool. These will keep for weeks in an airtight container.
Yeah, right. Good luck keeping those around for weeks. That’s all I have to say.
I’ll let you know if I decide to roast the peanuts and make peanut butter. Still on the fence about that.