Imagine the possibilities. Take something everybody uses, such as pepper, and find a way to charge breathtakingly higher prices for it, as in “peppercorn mélange.” We’re seeing this every day. Food processors are turning to exotic versions of common condiments to up the prices and margins.
Imagine the possibilities. Take something everybody uses, such as pepper, and find a way to charge breathtakingly higher prices for it, as in “peppercorn mélange.”
We’re seeing this every day. Food processors are turning to exotic versions of common condiments to increase the prices and margins.
McCormick Peppercorn Mélange costs six times as much as common black pepper in a 1.62-ounce bottle, and you do the grinding.
Table salt costs about 49 cents for 26 ounces. French gray sea salt fine crystals (grains is too common) runs about $5.50 for the same amount. Sicilian fine grain? Ask for the market price, but expect to pay at least 20 times more than for common salt.
And then we have balsamic vinegar, made for many centuries in Italy but suddenly discovered eight years ago. Word is that a fabulous Paris restaurant took a chance on it and a famous food magazine hopped on in a review. In a year, balsamic became a darling, but at a price. It was about 10 bucks an ounce, compared with $1.99 for 24 ounces of domestic red-wine vinegar.
We all know what happened to mustard. French’s yellow, excellent on anybody’s list, is about 25 cents per ounce, as good a mustard as you can find. Dickinson’s Family Stone Ground is almost two bucks an ounce in their thumb-size jars. Imported French mustards run seven to 10 times French’s cost.
Then something happens. These products get a mention on a TV cooking show. Overnight they suddenly have a mass market. In the food business, that can mean only one thing: Competition.
So the pepper blend is available on other labels for less than half of the McCormick price. Sea salt is mainstreaming in at $1.75 for 26 ounces of Roland’s Mediterranean. Balsamic vinegar has gone from astronomical to a down-to-earth $2.50 for 17 ounces, imported from Italy.
Prices for gourmet mustards in fancy jars have held up, but some gourmets have made the jump to the standard and are selling at standard prices. Grey Poupon is one, originating as a French delicacy, now produced by the ton at Kraft Foods. Cleveland’s fine Ballpark mustard once was a neighborhood favorite, now produced for the masses at low cost.
One more: Olive oil. Fine ones can run $30 an ounce or more. Still, oils imported from Italy without fancy bottles can run $2 an ounce.
The question always is of worth. Granted, the cute jars cost more than plastic squeeze bottles, but should you invest in luxury?
We’ve consumed black pepper for decades. The blends will open your eyes, and your nostrils. If you like pepper, you’ll love them, and be sure to grind your own. Pepper oil, their source of flavor, is fleeting, so buy in reasonable quantities. WORTH IT.
OK, there’s less sodium in sea salt, so it’s better for us, plus a lot of trace minerals that may be beneficial. Still, I think the emphasis should be on removing salt from our diet, not increasing it. I cannot tell the difference when cooked. NOT WORTH IT.
This is vinegar at 100 mph, created from waste wine grapes in Italy. It is a treat after a lifetime of our tepid vinegars. The difference between cheap and costly is strength. You can make cheap as strong and smooth as expensive by boiling some of the water out of it. WORTH IT.
Good old common French’s yellow and Gulden’s classic brown consistently score high in taste tests against their costly brethren. Price has no relation to quality in this business. (Don’t pay premium prices for the addition of horseradish. Mix your own.) It’s more the atmosphere of the container than anything else. Of course, if what you love is costly, then it’s worth it. Otherwise: NOT WORTH IT.
You can buy imported olive oil that is so diluted with vegetable oil that it might as well be sold as it. Then there are expensive oils fine enough to eat raw on a piece of bread. You should have at least one expensive bottle in your pantry and use it for dipping only on extravagant occasions. WORTH IT.
The Repository (Canton, Ohio)