Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Great Fresh Herb Rip-Off


I've banged on about this before and probably will again but I just wanted to have another moan about the extortionate price of fresh herbs in supermarkets. Witness this 25g bag of flat leaf parsley that was on sale at Waitrose yesterday for 89p. That's £35.60 a kilo, more than the cost of fillet steak.

I can buy a bunch roughly 10 times that size from my local greengrocer for just over £1 and so, I'm sure, can you. It's really time supermarkets stopped ripping us off.

That said I did find quite a useful product in the frozen cabinets as part of Waitrose's Cooks Ingredients series which was a pack of Thai mix - a mixture of lemongrass, coriander, ginger, chilli and garlic - which would be quite handy to keep in the freezer. It won't pack quite the punch of fresh ingredients but is probably more economical than buying them individually, certainly for a single dish. Normally £1.49 a pack at the moment they're on offer at 2 for £2.50. You can also buy frozen coriander that way.

Do these pesky packets of fresh herbs annoy you too or is it just me?

23 comments:

Kavey said...

I agree completely.
I seldom buy them unless I'm really stuck as I always feel they're such poor value.
I'm more likely to buy the ones in pots, which I can at least keep alive on the windowsill for a while afterwards. I've read a tip for keeping them going longer which is to thin them out into larger or multiple pots - they're planted very densely to produce a full head of leaf at point of sale, but that means the roots are too crowded for them to survive well, longer term. Thinning gives them a better chance.

Jo Romero said...

No they annoy me too, I paid about £1 recently for a supermarket packet of thyme with just a few woody sprigs. My old greengrocer used to be great, sometimes chucking in a huge bunch of fresh herbs for free if you were a regular, but then we moved :(

Sam said...

Absolutely agree. I get all of my fruit and veg from my work supplier now and she brings me great big catering bunches of herbs straight from the market. I'm a veggie and a lot of the recipes I love call for large quantities of fresh herbs. Before working in a cafe I was always frustrated in making them because of the piddling packs that by necessity make herbs either an expensive indulgence or else a garnish, not an ingredient. Our local green grocers follow the supermarkets' example and repackage to smaller, over-priced packets. Thank goodness for the good quality, honest wholesaler!

Anonymous said...

I will not buy the herbs in the plastic!! I have taken to planting herbs here and there in the garden. I pay for the potted plant and then tuck it in somewhere. My basil died in a cold snap and must be replaced. I do have thyme, dill, parsley, rosemary and culantro (the Mexican kind)as well as an abdunance of scallions or walking onions as they are sometimes called since they have little bulbs growing from the tops of the onions which bends over the onion so the bulbs touch the ground where they root and begin to create new plants. I will not be at the mercy of my supermarket.

Fatima Malagueira said...

I am SO with you on this!! Such an incredible rip off, if I don't grow it I get myself down to my nearest market!

Amee said...

It's the same in Irish supermarkets and it makes me so cross. In france you get huge luscious armfuls of greenery for the same price - so unfair.

Fiona Beckett said...

Good tip about repotting @Kavey. I frequently find potted herbs just curl up and die in a few days though. Maybe my lack of green fingers.

It's obviously a no-brainer if you live just near a traditional greengrocer or ethnic shop or can get to a market - the problem is if you live miles from one. I just think supermarkets should look again at what they're charging for herbs. They simply can't justify those mark-ups

laura@howtocookgoodfood said...

You are so right on this, I begrudge spending such a silly amount on packet herbs but do not have any good local shops selling decent bunched herbs near me. Strangely the little potted supermarket herbs I find have very little flavour and are so flimsy. Sometimes Asda do have big bunches of herbs in their Asian ingredients section but not all branches offer them.

yahny said...

The herbs in packets are very frustrating and I've had no luck in keeping the herbs in pots alive, except for a basil once I believe.

We've got rosemary and thyme in our garden, hopefully I can add some more to it in the spring.

Shey Crompton said...

£35/kg is unreal. With devils advocate hat on I can understand some form of mark up due to the added cost of washing and packing, but that is unbelievable.

We obtain our fruit, veg, and herbs (where possible) from our local market and green grocer. Fruit can be a bit hit and miss, but veges are cheaper, and usually higher quality, tastier, and last longer. Plus, we are supporting local business, a sector which is suffering greatly in the current financial climate.

DMinTransistion said...

I grow a lot of herbs in the garden and actually grow my own version of "growing herbs" for the kitchen windowsill, for the more tender herbs such as coriander and basil. A pack of seed will cost about the same as one supermarket pack/pot but probably keep you going all summer. Look out for the coriander variety that is grown for leaf rather than seed (can't remember what it's called off hand).

Deepa Mistry said...

I hadn't thought of it in terms of price per kilo! I do begrudge how expensive they are but I am also useless at keeping them alive. Although I have found purple basil is a lot hardier than normal basil and it grows really fast.

Erin said...

Oh the price of fresh herbs is so frustrating. I do love those Waitrose frozen ones though, so handy. Especially for things like lemongrass and lime leaves that I don't use very often.

Crumbs said...

Has anyone tried frozen herbs? Are they any good?

Fiona Beckett said...

I find them a bit wet (unsurprisingly) @crumbs. Makes you realise that herbs aren't just about flavour but texture.

There is nothing to beet growing them yourself I agree. If you remember that coriander variety @DMintransistion let us know

The Grubworm said...

They're not great, particularly compares the big bunches available in groers. But they can, sometimes, be convenient for last minute shop when there is nothing else available. And that price is totally unbelievable, even taking into account the washing and packing.

Mel said...

I read this post ages ago, and had nothing to add - discovering bunches of herbs in my local market was a brilliant stop gap for when my herbs are overwintering.

Anyway, it just occurred to me that we have been hoisted by our foodie petard in this regard. We are always advocating the purchase of spices in small amounts, because fresher is better. Since many people could not tell you why a herb is a herb, and not classed as a spice, it seems a stretch for the supermarkets to educate. Especially when they can see high margins in allowing for the continued confusion.

I am not saying that this is justifiable, but almost understandable when I have just looked at it from this perspective.

Perhaps we should be encouraging chefs and writers to give weights of herbs in recipes, so that people start to realise that you need more than a few leaves of basil, or whatever. Perhaps if people demanded quantity, because their recipes no longer call for "a bunch" then this nefarious practice would end.

Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

my waitrose parsley pots always die.

Nancy said...

I totally agree! I tried buying myself the herb plants and kept them in my kitchen but they keep dying. Why do supermarkets think they can charge such ridiculous prices!
Another thing that really annoys me is the price of peppers, one red pepper for 80p in Tesco, are you having a laugh!!

raghav said...

Glad someone agrees! I'm studying in Edinburgh, and am from India originally, so we're pretty used to paying arbitrary prices for most things (most things quite expensive relative to back home). But the herbs are really pushing it! Not only those, something like ginger or garlic paste is so expensive in a supermarket, it's a clean ripoff.

I've got most of my spices from home itself, since the ones available here, like the laughable 'curry powder' or 'balti gravy' are a real joke (these things have no equivalent back home- they're a figment of someone's imagination). They don't have any flavour and are really expensive too.

Too bad I don't have the time to visit a greengrocer, must rely on Asda most of the times.

Just came across your blog while trying to figure out wines :)

Anonymous said...

Just about to use the last bunch of flat leaved parsley, I bought last week at St Albans market, carried back to north west. ..it cast £1 for a massive bunch. I've made several meals with it already..thinking how healthy and great it is to have omelette and masses of greens with toms, onion etc. Came on line to work out how I can continue this healthy enjoyable snack...after eating the last parsley. Oh dear..missing London (I used to live there) and the ethnic grocers..who said it was cheaper to live outside london..what a joke. There is a grocer near us, with organic stuff, but expensive and I've not seen any parsley. What happened to the days of vegetables spilling out on the pavement in front of wonderful shops. They're a dying breed. Maybe I'll start a chain of supervgrocers name? vintage green. Could they compete with the supermarkets...what does anyone think?

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, they are very annoying! Here's why: herbs are weeds. They will grow in the worst conditions with no attention and still produce abundantly. I live in the South in zone 7. My herbs grow year round, all of them. Rosemary, parsley, thyme, mint, lavender winter over as if nothing has changed. Many, like rosemary and basil,can be rooted in water. Do it! Mine are in pots (big pots) outside my kitchen door. And if you know a gardner ask for some. If they are like me, they share. Plants are natures gift to us and should be free. And that reminds me it's time to plant basil from the seeds I saved last year...

adam said...

Im struggling with herbs. I cant grow them, the supermarket pots die, and I refuse to pay £1 for a few bunches just for one meal.

Maybe I need to start growing from seed?

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