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The Pantry: Store-Bought vs. Homemade

Photo by StearnsPhoto


One of the secrets of delicious home-cooked meals is having a well-stocked pantry of spices, oils, vinegars and sauces. But before heading off to replenish that bottle of salad dressing, have you given thought to try making it from scratch? We looked at a couple of popular pantry items that are easily (and healthily) replicated in the home kitchen.

Salad Dressing

The occasional salad of my childhood was always dressed in a creamy white dressing squirted out of a Heinz Thousand Island bottle. It wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered how easy and delicious it was to whip up my own dressing.

Danielle Tsi

An eight-ounce bottle of vinaigrette at Trader Joe’s ranges from $1.99 (for a basic balsamic vinaigrette) to $3.99 or more for fancier combinations (raspberry, cranberry-gorgonzola, etc.), or a 16-ounce bottle of “365” brand organic salad dressing at Whole Foods.

Number of ingredients listed: Usually between 11 to 14, featuring ingredients like soybean oil, xanthan gum and corn syrup. There are exceptions: Whole Foods’ 365 brand of organic Caesar dressing has 19 ingredients, including “natural anchovy flavor” and “citric acid.”

Cost: negligible. All you really need for a basic salad dressing is olive oil, a vinegar or citrus juice, and salt and pepper. Whisk them together and you’re ready to go. To dress things up, add a spoonful of chopped fresh herbs, a dash of mustard or a handful of toasted nuts.

To try: Fava Bean Salad with Lemon Mustard Dressing;  Spring Salad with Chive Blossoms and Squash SeedsScallop and Potato Salad.


Granola is the perfect pre-yoga snack and the only topping I add to my morning bowl of yogurt. The problem is, grocery store granola is excessively sweet and somewhat lacking in personality. And if you eat it everyday, it starts to add up, too.

Danielle Tsi

A 16-ounce box of granola at Trader Joe’s ranges in price from $2.99-$5.00. Granola from the bulk section at Whole Foods costs anywhere from $3.99/lb (non-organic) to $8.49/lb for local organic options.

Number of ingredients listed: Anywhere from 10 to 20, including items like “ascorbic acid”, “juice concentrate” and “natural flavor.”

It depends on what’s already in your pantry. The initial cost for your first batch of granola is likely to be high if you need to buy all the ingredients and is also influenced by whether you use organic or conventional olive oil or vegetable oil. I based my calculations on ingredients bought from the bulk section.

Number of ingredients: As little as eight, and as many as your imagination allows! Begin with the basics: oats, a sweetener of your choice, an oil, and a spice, before selecting your nuts and/or seeds and dried fruit. I like to add salt to my variations, too, and I also stir in dried cranberries. Inspired? Be sure to read these tips and tricks for perfect granola before diving in.

To try: Olive Oil and Maple GranolaChocolate Crunch Granola.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

Also known as Nutella (or everyone’s favorite all-day snack). If you’re looking for more ways to put your food processor to use, here’s a condiment that you’ll enjoy.

Danielle Tsi

Nutella costs about $5 for a 16-ounce jar; other brands range in price from $5.99 for 10 ounces to $8.99 for eight ounces.

Number of ingredients listed: Across all brands, there were about eight to 10, all of them featuring soy lecithin.

Does a basic chocolate spread really need upwards of eight ingredients? Here’s a breakdown of the basic ingredients and their prices. Tip: to save on the price of hazelnuts, check out an ethnic grocery store.

To try: “Grown-up” Nutella with Espresso and Cocoa Nibs;  The Kitchn’s Homemade Nutella.



Having a jar of pesto on hand makes for quick and delicious meals. Stir it into a bowl of quinoa. Slather it over a piece of white fish or chicken breast. Drizzle it over an egg: the possibilities are endless. And don’t limit yourself to just basil pesto — you can literally turn anything into a pesto with a few cloves of garlic, olive oil, some nuts, shredded cheese and a food processor.

Danielle Tsi

A 6.7-ounce jar of basil pesto at Trader Joe’s retails for $2.49, while freshly made pesto at Whole Foods costs around $8.00 for an eight ounce pack.

Number of ingredients: Eight to 11, including potatoes and lactic acid (in Trader Joe’s product); spinach, miso and ascorbic acid (in the pestos at Whole Foods).

Pesto is one condiment where the store-bought version is undoubtedly more cost-effective, unless you have a herb garden that needs trimming.

To try: Broccoli pestoCilantro pestoRamp pesto.

The abundance of the grocery store aisle has lulled us into the notion that making food “from scratch” is time-consuming and expensive. Here’s the thing: there is a cost involved in each of our actions, financial or otherwise. The challenge is to find the sweet spot between our pocketbooks and our schedules where we can start building a pantry that enables us to eat a healthier diet and choose what we consume.

Have you every tried making pantry staples from scratch? Do you think it’s worth it?

More Food Posts

About the author: Danielle Tsi grew up in Singapore, a tiny, food-obsessed island on the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula, where every waking minute was spent thinking about what her next meal was going to be. Landing in the United States with her well-traveled Nikon, she turned her lifelong love affair with food into images and words on her blog, Beyond the Plate. When not behind the lens or at the stove, Danielle can be found on her yoga mat perfecting the headstand.

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