I get really annoyed when uppity publications like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, or even Food52 (which I love to death) start getting classist by making inane generalizations like “the more expensive your spices are, the better the quality you can expect.” No, guys. No, no, no, no, NO. This article even made the argument that when we get excited buying “cheaper” spices abroad, we’re actually also getting crappier quality. As someone who bought a considerable bag of some of the most fragrant dried bay leaves in Valencia in November and compared them to my sad, expensive (and empty) bottle of bay leaves from Whole Foods, I know this is a sad generalization to get us all to spend more, and in this case even worse, to be a bit xenophobic and question quality of product in other countries! This really is just not true, and I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has purchased a number of spices abroad and compared them to the ones I have here.
If I buy a bottle of McCormick’s ground cardamom at Fairway and it cost me $3 less than the same brand and bottle at Whole Foods — no, it doesn’t mean that the bottle at Fairway was sitting on the shelf for longer. If I buy cinnamon or cloves in bulk at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights for a dirt cheap cost (in an Indian / South Asian area where families and businesses are buying these in bulk constantly), it doesn’t mean my spices will be less fresh or fragrant than the ones I paid an arm and a leg for at a specialty spice shop like Kaluystan’s in Manhattan. Not everyone is cooking as a hobby and wants to spend $10 on a few pinches of a single spice; most of the people who are actually cooking (especially in Manhattan) are cooking for families that just need food on the table (and want that food to be good). More expensive does not always mean better quality. Sometimes it does, but in this case, it definitely does not.