Friday, March 09, 2007

Cheap spices: cinnamon

When I discussed my paprika taste test, Marie invited me to try premium Watkins cinnamon. For comparison, I bought a 50-cent bottle of Walmart's Fifth Season cinnamon, along with a sample of Fresh Market's bulk cinnamon.

Fifth Season Cinnamon is the cheapest by far, at 21 cents/oz. Its color was more brown than anything else. It also had a slightly grittier texture. Its smell was clearly half as pungent as the other samples.
Fresh Market's bulk cinnamon costs 62 cents/oz. Its color was closer to orange than red. It had the finest texture of all the samples. It had a strong, clean cinnamon smell.
Watkins cinnamon boasts the highest price: $1.17/oz in the signature tin. Its color was closer to red than brown. The aroma was close--if not identical--to the bulk cinnamon.

But what about the flavor? We buttered some toast and sprinkled each slice with an even amount. After clearing our palates (my, aren't we fancy!), we tested a little of each raw cinnamon, too. As we suspected from its smell, the Fifth Season cinnamon had the least flavor by far. I suspect this brand and its cohort, Encore, are older spices repackaged for the discount market. I still buy them occasionally. However, leafy seasonings and spices which should be potent are more of a gamble. After all, cinnamon rolls are defined by their cinnamon flavor.

We were undecided between the bulk cinnamon and the Watkins brand. Both had a similarly great cinnamon taste. For half the cost, I think the bulk cinnamon is the better value, particularly if your store offers consistent, fresh quality. With the Watkins cinnamon, you are paying extra for the (incredibly cute, old-fashioned) tin.

I'll admit, I'm a sucker for fancy food purveyors like Watkins. Madagascar vanilla isn't something I'd buy for myself, but these small luxuries make great gifts. Easy to mail, consumable, and under $10, gourmet ingredients beat body lotion any day!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! I've wondered what I was missing by nearly always buying the bulk at my local coop, which does turn over often enough to keep fresh. I had a couple bland experiences with spices from the Dollar Store and Big Lots so skip them now. For those near a Trader Joe's, my experience is very limited selection but great price and value for what they do have.

Marie said...

So fun to see my little Watkins packet next to the other stuff there in your own home! Glad you liked the cinnamon, and my motto is, if you can get better (or the same) for less, go for it! If not, I am always around...

Susan said...

I would like to reference you in an article I'm writing about Wal-Mart products. I can omit any reference to your taste test, but would like to mention it to attribute your guess that 5th Season seasonings are so weak b/c they are old but repackaged for Wal-Mart. By the by, their onion powder has less taste than the plaster on my walls, but don't ask me how I know. Susan