Shopping the bulk bin can be an intimidating experience. So many items to choose from, a bunch of foreign ingredients you may never have heard of, and then what the heck do you do with them once you get home? Let me help break it down for you.
First, why shop the bulk bin?
- Cost. Buying in bulk is usually less expensive than buying packaged goods – especially when buying organic.
- Freshness. Bulk bin items are replenished frequently so ingredients tend to be fresher.
- Less wasteful. Buy as much or as little as you need, when you need it. Plus, no additional plastic or packaging if you use your own reusable containers or bags. Just weigh them before adding your bulk item.
What can I buy in bulk?
- Beans (legumes)
- Lentils (pulses)
- Rice (white, brown, wild, basmati, jasmine, etc.)
- Grains (many gluten-free options)
- Flours (many gluten-free options)
- Oatmeal, cereals & granolas
- Nuts (raw, roasted, flavored)
- Seeds (raw, roasted, flavored)
- Nut butters
- Dried herbs & spices
- Dried fruit & superfoods
- Oils & vinegars
How do I shop the bulk bin?
Familiarize yourself with what items your local market carries in their bulk bin. It makes it much easier to plan your shopping list ahead of time.
Buy glass or stainless steel containers to store what you intend to buy. Start small so you don’t feel overwhelmed. You can always buy more as you need them.
What bulk items do you usually buy prepackaged? Think about replacing those first. As you get more confident in the bulk bin aisle, branch out and try some things you haven’t had before. So many delicious options to choose from!
If package waste is a concern for you, take your storage containers to the market rather than using the plastic bags that are provided. Be sure to weigh the containers before you fill them and jot it down on the sticker, so that weight can be deducted from your purchase.
How do I store my purchases?
As a general rule, store all your dry goods in a cool, dry, dark place. This helps extend their shelf life. Using mylar bags inside storage containers is also a great choice.
- Beans have a shelf life of 1 to 10 years depending on storage.
- Rice has a shelf life of 1 to 3 years with the exception of brown rice. The husk (or bran) that covers brown rice is delicate and will only keep from 1 to 6 months.
- Lentils will retain their best flavor for up to 1 year.
- Grains (other than rice) are less stable than other dry goods. Because of their oil content, they can become rancid after just a few months. Make sure to smell them before use to ensure they’re still good.
- Nuts are best kept in the refrigerator or freezer if you have the space. Their high fat content makes them particularly susceptible to warm, humid conditions, and turns them rancid fairly quickly. They will last about 6 months in the fridge and about a year in the freezer.
- Seeds that are raw will last about 2-3 months if kept in the pantry. Storing in the refrigerator or freezer extends their life to about a year. Grinding seeds will cut their shelf life to about 3 or 4 days.
- Flours are best kept in the refrigerator or freezer. Just make sure they are in a sealed container to ward off moisture and to keep them from taking on the flavors of other items in your fridge. Depending on the type of flour, shelf life can range from 2 months to a year if stored properly.
Above all, shopping the bulk bin is about trying new things and having fun. Enjoy your adventure and let me know how it goes!