Let us, for a moment, set aside the fact that if you’re a decent cook and you have decent ingredients, whatever you make at home WILL taste better than its packaged counterpart from the store. Similarly, ‘making it’ is usually a better fiscal decision than ‘buying it.’ But there’s still a gray area in the make vs. buy debate that needs to be addressed. The question needs to be asked: Is it really worth it to squeeze those 50 oranges for the Sunday brunch, or will Tropicana do? We visited supermarkets around Brooklyn to price-check a few kitchen staples. Then we explored making them ourselves and did some math. Here’s what we found.
We recognize that you may be able to find a lower price, use different ingredients or eek a bit more out of that jar or bottle than we did here. Recipes and prices vary, so treat this as a general guide.
Sadly, juice is expensive no matter how you squeeze it. Take Tropicana: A gallon of Tropicana (128 oz.) will set you back $6.99 at Wyckoff Food Bazaar while its half-gallon counterpart is a disproportionate $5. And for the fresh-squeezed stuff (undeniably superior), it takes six to eight oranges (size/juiciness dependent) to make an 8 oz. serving. At three oranges for $2, that’s upward of $4 per glass ($64/gallon!). Now you understand why some OJ costs more than cocktails in restaurants.
VERDICT: a resounding, but reluctant, BUY
A 24 oz. jar of Newman’s Own, Ragu, or Barilla ranges from $2.99 to $3.19, but these usually don’t hold a candle to the home-made stuff, which is easy to make with a few basic ingredients.
You’ll need: (prices from Wyckoff Food Bazaar) two 28 oz. cans of tomatoes ($3.78); one yellow onion ($0.99); a bag of fresh garlic ($1.50); olive oil ($2.99 and up); spices (basil, oregano, black pepper, whatever else is around) (negligible).
Recipe: In a large pot over medium-high heat, saute the chopped onion with a few cloves of minced garlic in two tbsp of olive oil. As the garlic starts to brown, dump the canned crushed tomatoes in. Stir, turn the heat to low, add spices and let simmer for 1-2 hours. You’ll get a whopping half-gallon (64 oz.) of sauce, and you’ll need only a fraction of the garlic and olive oil, making the total closer to $5.50. Note: this method is ultra suitable for crockpots.
TOTAL COST: $9-$10; $5.50/64 oz. ($8/64 oz. for store-bought)
VERDICT: a resounding MAKE
Making ice cream is a labor of love and commitment, which we’ve never attempted A) because we don’t have an ice cream maker and B) because we understand it takes a really, really long time. According to Ice Cream Club, the sweet stuff is made from three main ingredients: heavy cream ($3.99/quart), whole milk ($1.39/liter), and sugar ($2.50/5 lb. bag). To make something beyond the ‘sweet cream’ flavor, you’ll probably need vanilla extract ($3.99 and up) and other ingredients, like cocoa powder, nuts or fruit. Plus, there’s the cost of the maker ($30-70 even in the low-budget range). Ok, we didn’t do all the math here, but since you can snag two pints of Häagen-Dazs or Ben and Jerry’s on sale at Food Bazaar for 2/ $5.00, leave homemade for the more financially stable.
Making bread requires a lot of patience. There’s the mixing, the kneading, the proofing (letting the dough rise) and sometimes you just don’t have the time. Admittedly, buying a baguette can be cheap—$2 to $3 from Sahadi’s to Choice Market to… most grocery stores. But cheap only counts for so much—when it comes to a nice bread, there’s nothing like taking your own from a hot oven.
You’ll need: (prices from Associated): bread flour ($2.79/5 lbs., but you can usually replace it with cheaper all-purpose.); yeast ($2.49/three packets); sugar ($1.19/1 lb.)
Recipe: Use this great recipe for a baguette from Epicurious.
TOTAL COST: $6-$7; $1.63/recipe.
VERDICT: MAKE (unless you’re in a hurry)
Making yogurt can produce mixed results, but as with anything, practice makes perfect. Mainly, it’s just kind of awesome to cause a bacterial fermentation in your apartment. Of course, to make yogurt, you have to start with yogurt, but that itself isn’t too expensive.
You’ll need (prices from Pioneer Market): two 6 oz. organic yogurts ($1.38); one quart of 2% milk ($0.99); 4 oz. powdered milk ($1.99); honey: $2.99-$5.99.
Recipe: We love this Food Network recipe (yes, they actually know their stuff) for fresh yogurt.
TOTAL COST: $5.75. You use almost all the ingredients on this one, except for the honey.
VERDICT: MAKE (it’s just more interesting!). A store-bought quart (32 oz.) of yogurt runs anywhere from $2.99 to $6.99, so it’s a financial toss-up.
Guacamole goes well with everything from baby carrots to pita chips, has a nice kick to it and miraculously pleases both vegans and meat-eaters. With 12 oz. of store-bought guac at just under $4… for your next big party (be it dinner or a big game), try this concoction.
You’ll need: (prices from Wyckoff Food Bazaar)four avocados ($6); red onion ($1.59); tomato ($0.99); lime ($0.15); spices (garlic powder, black pepper, and a tbsp of whatever hot sauce you have available) (negligible).
Recipe: Mash up the avocados in a large bowl. Dice a small red onion and a large gutted tomato, add to the mix. Add ¼ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp black pepper, and a full dose of hot sauce of your choosing. Squeeze the lime over everything and mix together. Our concoction makes at least 36 oz. Per 12 oz., that’s a dollar less than the store-bought stuff.
TOTAL COST: $8-$9; $2.91/12 oz. ($4/12 oz. for store-bought)
Beer can be made with a ton of different flavors, but for the most part, it all has the same base: water, a starch source (such as malted barley), yeast and flavoring (like hops). On their own, barley costs $1-$2 per pound, hops around $3-$11, and yeast costs $1.50-$3.50 (prices found online). But if you don’t know anything about brewing beer, Brooklyn Brew Shop has a one-gallon (128 oz.) brew-it-yourself kit for $40 ($3.75/12 oz.) in a variety of flavors: blackberry red ale, IPA, Grapefruit Honey Ale and more. A six-pack at the bodega will run you around $6 for cheap beer (PBR) or $10-$12 for the more expensive varieties (Pacifico, Brooklyn Brewery).
VERDICT: BUY for now. Make… somewhere down the road, maybe with that ice cream.