What cooking ingredients can you actually scrimp on?

8th Dec 18 | Lifestyle

Whipping up a tasty meal doesn't have to break the bank, and these simple hacks will help your ingredients - and money - go a lot further

culinary background with spices on wooden table

There’s no doubt about it –  cooking can be an expensive process.  Sometimes you look at the list of ingredients in a recipe, sigh, and decide it’s probably going to be cheaper to get a takeaway or ready meal.

We’re often told we need to get “good” ingredients too – free-range this, organic that – which can really make the costs add up.

But to make your meals taste delicious, surely not every element you buy has to be the most expensive option out there? We decided to investigate what cooking items you can actually scrimp on and what hacks you can follow, without having to compromise on flavour.

Spices

“Filling up the spice rack can be pretty costly, especially when considering more exotic dishes like curries,” says Pia Varma, food entrepreneur behind culinary alcohol brand Just A Splash.

There are few things worse than buying a whole bunch of different individual spices only to use them once and never again – which is why Varma recommends buying spice kits.

“A jerk spice mix is great for Caribbean/Jamaican flavourings, or a Mexican fajita mix,” she says. “You can go Indian with a masala mix or Middle Eastern with a harissa mix.”

Parmesan cheese

With so many things in life, you’re paying for the name rather than the quality. For Varma, this logic applies to Parmesan cheese from the Italian regions of Parma and Reggio Emilia.

She says: “Scrimp smartly with a wedge of Grana Padano instead, which is made from a nearby region and produced much in the same way. It’s a bit milder and nuttier, but they’re pretty much the same taste and texture, and Grana Padano will save you around £1.”

Pancetta

Italian bacon can be irresistible, but a 180g pack of Tesco Finest smoked pancetta can set you back £2.50, and you have to consume it within three days of opening. This is hardly economical, but what if you still want to add a meaty flavour to your cooking?

Varma says: “Enjoy all the great flavours that pricey pancetta adds to dishes, but scrimp with streaky bacon instead. It’s a brilliant alternative, but you’ll need to cook it with a touch more oil to get the full effect.”

275g of Tesco streaky bacon (which is significantly more meat) costs just £1.17.

Garlic

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"Organic Garlic"

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Some food snobs will tell you that fresh ingredients are always better, but that’s not always the case.

“Save money and energy (and smelly hands) with cheaper and more practical alternatives to garlic bulbs,” Varma advises. “Cheat with garlic powder or garlic paste, which will last for much longer.”

Chilli oil

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Fancy oils tend to come in spiffy looking bottles, which could very well explain why the price is often marked up so much. They might look great on your kitchen shelf, but they’re undeniably expensive.

Instead, you can very easily make your own with the help of olive oil (much less expensive than its flavoured counterpart) and some chilli peppers. All you have to do is cook some fresh or dried chilli pepper or flakes in some oil for a minute, add the rest of the oil to warm through, then cool and store in an airtight bottle. And voila! Your own chilli oil.

Herbs

Particularly if you’re cooking for yourself or just two people, it can be frustrating how fast fresh produce can go off, especially when it comes to herbs.

Varma sympathises says: “Fresh herbs are delicious but they don’t last long and you’d be surprised how much we spend in a year on fresh bags of parsley or coriander.

“Don’t spend £1.50 every week or two, save a lot by opting for frozen herb packets so you can use a little bit whenever you need it, and keep the rest on ice. These can last months and months, and they’re just as tasty.”

The same logic applies to other foods like spinach. A whole bag of the fresh version is reduced to what looks like a single leaf when it’s cooked, but you can get so much volume from its frozen counterpart. 500g of Tesco’s fresh spinach will set you back £2, whereas a whopping 900g of the frozen version costs a measly £1.50.

© Press Association 2018

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