(ARA) - When you hear the term "bulk," do you envision cases and 5 gallon containers, and say to yourself, "I just don't need that much of anything?" You probably don't. But "bulk" means something completely different in food stores -- it refers to how the store offers the product, not how much you have to buy. Actually, one of the advantages of buying in bulk is that you can get as little or as much of a product as you want - literally a pinch or a pound.
The idea that you have to buy large quantities is one of the misperceptions about buying bulk. Ellen Bouchard, bulk manager at Frontier Natural Products Co-op, describes and dispels the following common bulk-food myths and provides shopping tips for consumers.
Myth No. 1: You must buy in large quantities to buy bulk. False. In fact, bulk offers an easy and economical way to expand your food horizons by letting you try small amounts of unfamiliar products. You can buy just a pinch of the exotic spice or grain called for in that magazine recipe, or experiment with small quantities of new spices and seasonings, like garam masala. If you think you might like to try something new, buy a small quantity without worrying about wasting money.
Myth No. 2: It's wasteful to buy in bulk. Quite the opposite. As mentioned above, you can buy just the amount you need. Keep in mind that prices for bulk products are considerably lower than the packaged versions, and the full amount of your purchase goes toward the product, not packaging or advertising. In addition, manufacturing that package wastes energy and resources. So when you buy in bulk and reuse storage containers, it's a positive contribution to the planet's health.
Myth No. 3: It's hard to know what's in those bins, and if it's fresh. Again, not true -- bulk foods are often of higher quality, fresher, more natural and are more likely to be locally produced. Good labeling practices by retailers will indicate the manufacturer or producer of that bulk item and if it's organic and/or Fair Trade Certified. For example, the bulk products from Frontier, available in most natural food stores and health-food departments of grocery stores, are natural, sustainably grown and many are certified organic. (Frontier also sells its bulk products online in 1 pound quantities at www.frontiercoop.com.)
Myth No. 4: The bulk selection is limited. Another misconception. You'll find a wide selection of items in bulk - everything from herbs, spices, gourmet nuts and granola, whole-leaf teas and even body-care items. You'll be pleasantly surprised to find just what you need in the bulk aisle, from organic smoked black peppercorns to organic fiesta black bean seasoning mix for quesadillas.
Myth No. 5: Bulk products are low-quality. Absolutely false. Bulk products are most often of equal or higher quality than their packaged counterparts. Many exotic and gourmet items are only available in bulk, as are some Fair Trade Certified and certified organic products. For example, do you know how many types of cinnamon exist? In some bulk spice aisles, you can find multiple varieties of cinnamon, ranging from traditional Korintje (3 percent oil) to premium Vietnamese (5 percent oil) to Ceylon from Sri Lanka.
Tips for buying in bulk
* Before you go shopping, look in your cupboards to see which items you usually purchase in packages or cans that you can now purchase your desired quantity in the bulk aisle. Glass is safer than plastics for food storage, so you might want to buy some airtight glass jars in various sizes.
* Explore the store's bulk section a bit, trying one or two new items each visit. Some products you'll likely find in the bulk aisle: beans, flours, grains, herbs and spices, pastas, teas and coffees, and household and toiletry items such as laundry detergent and soaps.
* When filling your containers, use the scoops or the dispensers provided. Take your time and be neat, but if you spill something, there's no need to panic. Just ask a staff person for help in cleaning it up.
Here's a fun recipe from Frontier's test kitchen that lets you try out the "buy a pinch" concept:
1/2 cup honey 2 cups buttermilk 2 eggs 8 tablespoons melted butter 2 cups whole wheat flour 4 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 tablespoon Frontier Cajun seasoning
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix liquid ingredients in one bowl (honey, buttermilk, eggs, butter) and dry ingredients in another (flour, baking powder, baking soda, Cajun seasoning). Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients and mix well. Pour into a buttered 9 x 12-inch pan. Bake 20 minutes or until bread tests dry.
Courtesy of ARAcontent