If you're not yet acquainted with your supermarket's bulk aisle, there's no time like the present. Assuming your market has high turnover, bulk items are generally fresher, more economical — particularly when you need just a bit of an ingredient — and allow for eco-friendly shopping, as they reduce and can even eliminate disposable packaging from the equation. Add to that the variety of snacks, staples, and even spices on offer in some stores, and it's no wonder many swear by this section. But before we get carried away, keep these tips in mind:
- Stock up on storage containers: Transfer your newly bought loot to a sturdy storage container — whether it be a pop-top container for grains, nuts, dried fruit, and the like, or small jars for spices — to avoid a pileup of flimsy plastic bags and an organizational headache. That said, if you're planning to use up the contents of your purchase within a few days, don't sweat it.
- Don't get too carried away: It's easy to get excited by the plethora of options on offer, snapping up a bit of this and a bit of that, but keep in mind that like at a buffet, the bulk aisle's variety can lead to overconsumption, overspending, and even waste. Buy what you think you'll use in a few weeks (longer if you're shopping for spices, oils, or vinegars) — unless you're shopping somewhere unusual and don't think you'll find the ingredient elsewhere. You can always come back for more!
- Think outside the box — or bag, rather: Not only is the bulk aisle a great place to stock up on the usual suspects like grains, nuts, snack mixes, and dried fruit, but also, some markets also offer up freshly ground nut butters, spices, dried pasta, oils, and vinegars, making for a near one-stop shop.
- Try making your own trail or snack mix: Ditch the overpriced prebagged trail mix, and concoct your own blend using your favorite ingredients — no filler ingredients need apply — with a little help from the bulk bins, of course. Try combining nuts, seeds, dried fruit, crackers, yogurt-covered pretzels, or even crystallized ginger for a truly custom blend.