I’ve always taken it for granted that home-preserved food is healthier, more frugal, and generally more desirable than store-bought. But is it true? I’ll put pencil to paper in this article, comparing costs and health concerns from ingredients and processing perspectives. My figures come from a local store. Your prices might vary, of course.
I’ve been preserving my food since 2012. Technically, I have been since I was 10. My grandmother insisted I help her in the kitchen. I was the flunkie: I washed jars, sorted vegetables, snipped ends, and ran to the store multiple times per day for whatever she needed. Little did I know how valuable these lessons would be! Now, as I’ve said, I preserve my own. I source it from several places: my garden, my CSA, and the farmer’s markets.
Spaghetti with meat sauce
Pressure Canned: One batch = nine-pint jars.
- Tomatoes, bell peppers: $0 sourced from my garden
- Ground beef, 5 lbs @ $3.50/lb: $17.50, farmer’s market
- Herbs: parsley, oregano, garlic, bay leaf $0 from my garden
- Sugar & vinegar: a few tablespoons per batch. Call it $1
- Total: $18.50/9= $2.06 per pint
Note that having to buy ingredients will raise the cost. This recipe requires 5 lbs, plus 24 oz of tomato paste, made beforehand.
- We’ll use the same meat: $17.50
- Ragu pasta sauce, 24 oz. $2.19
- Total: $19.69/9 = $2.19/ pint
- Newman’s Own organic tomato basil pasta sauce: $3.39/ 23.5 oz
- Total: $20.89/9 = $2.32/pint
Not a huge price difference between the three, and making my own is usually 4-5 hours of labor. Canning supplies do cost initially, but I’ve used my Presto canner and jars for nine years.
Consider, However, What Else Goes Into Processed Food
Ragu pasta sauce contains:
Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Salt, Olive Oil, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Dehydrated Garlic, Spices, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder. https://www.ragu.com/our-sauces/old-world-style-sauces/old-world-style-traditional-spaghetti-sauce/
Not bad. Checking the nutrition information shows 400 mg of sodium and 600 mg of potassium! Other than some calcium and iron, there’s not much else. Tomatoes contain a lot of potassium, but why is there so much sodium? The Ragu site doesn’t say anything about preservatives, but processed foods usually contain a great many preservatives and dyes. Even Newman’s Own sauce contains 380 mg of sodium in addition to:
Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste, Citric Acid), Organic Diced Tomatoes, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Basil, Organic Carrot Puree, Organic Onion, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Fennel. [source]
The term “organic” is generally highly misunderstood
At its most basic, organic simply means “containing carbon.” As it relates to food production, it means “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides” There are several pesticides, for example, copper fungicide, that are considered organic by virtue of its derivation.
Organic farmers are allowed to use such pesticides and still retain their certification. So, in short, that term may not mean what you think it means. Grocery stores charge a great deal more for things in the Organic Produce section. Are you truly getting what you’re paying for when you shop? Frugalites want to know!
Regarding the items we’re evaluating, those on low sodium diets may wish to consider store-bought sauces carefully. For myself, I’ll trade the labor for the lack of strange chemicals. And the pennies I’m saving make dollars over time!
I freeze most of mine, which is a very cheap and easy way to preserve them. I use 1-quart freezer bags to freeze my favorites: broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Although I freeze a few other vegetables, we’ll focus on those three.
Cauliflower: 2 heads @ $3 each = $6, sourced from the farmer’s market. I do get these in my CSA, but I really like cauliflower, so I buy more for freezing. Total was 4 quart bags = $1.50/ bag. I usually get six meals per bag which results in a cost of $0.25/serving.
- Bird’s Eye Fresh Frozen Select: 14.4 oz., $2.39. The label estimates five servings, so $0.48/serving.
- Pictsweet Farms Farm Favorites Steam’ables: 10z, $2.29. The label says 3.5 servings, so we’re paying $0.65 per serving.
- Food Club frozen: 1 lb., $2.19. 5 servings = $0.44/serving.
My broccoli and carrots come from my CSA box, which is $25 per box and usually contains 5-6 items. I eat the fruit fresh and preserve the vegetables that freeze well. It’s a bit difficult to quantify, but from the farmer’s market, broccoli is usually $1/head and carrots $2/lb., which results in a 1-quart bag of each, six meals. So, home preserved broccoli is $0.17/serving, and carrots are $0.33. Also, I use the entire broccoli head, including the stem. That part is good for soup-making and doesn’t hurt my plate either.
- Birdseye premium broccoli florets: 10.8 oz., $2.39. The label says 3.5 servings, so $0.68 per serving.
- Cascadian Farm Organic: $2.79/1 lb. That’s 16 oz., which is a one-quart freezer bag. So, 6 servings @ $0.47 each.
- I’ve also seen no-name broccoli, 12 oz., in my store for $0.99. So four meals for $0.25 each.
- Pictsweet Farms Simple Harvest sliced carrots, 12 oz./$1.69. Estimated four servings, so $0.42/serving.
- No-name frozen carrots $1.19/14 oz. Let’s figure about four servings, so $0.30/serving.
It seems that when it comes to carrots, it can be cheaper or equivalently priced to buy in the store rather than sourcing locally and processing one’s own. For broccoli and cauliflower, home preserved wins the price comparison. Happily, vegetables in the poly bags are not processed and tend to be the higher grade product, unlike canned items. Those will have sodium added, at least.
Since I grow all of the ingredients, the cost of the product is labor only. My recipe calls for tomatoes, bell and chili peppers, garlic, onions, and a few miscellaneous herbs. Having to purchase ingredients will raise the cost accordingly, of course. My recipe usually makes 18 pints and takes a full day, but again, I know every ingredient in my jars. There are no added dyes or preservatives, much less a crazy amount of added salt. As a bonus, the taste varies depending upon which varieties of each ingredient I’ve grown. You won’t find this variety in industrially produced food, where the goal is to taste the same no matter where it’s bought and by whom. I prefer the wonder of variety, though I grant this is subjective.
Here’s Daisy’s “recipe” for Hodge-Podge Salsa.
Home preserved food is cost-effective AND better for your health
Through the illuminating mechanism of mathematics, we’ve discovered that growing and processing one’s food can be very cost-effective. At the very least, it’s equal to store-bought foods and, in two of the cases we’ve examined, spares us the ill effects of processed. I also find that working with my food reconnects me to the source of my food. I’ve learned to eat and preserve in season rather than by convenience.
As other articles have pointed out, eating in season gives our bodies nutrients needed at that time. Foods that have traveled great distances were likely picked before fully ripe and sprayed with chemicals to keep them from becoming too ripe before reaching their destination. Therefore, there are less developed nutrients in addition to chemicals.
The supply chain problems we’ve had are likely to continue. With that, there’s no longer any guarantee of availability, so I prefer to source locally as much as possible and preserve for later enjoyment. I find it a very satisfying form of self-care. It’s also much easier on the wallet overall. My single-sized CSA costs me $400 per year for 16 boxes. Between that, the farmer’s market, and my garden, I have all the vegetables, spaghetti sauce with meat, salsa, and a few other things that I require for the year. And none of it contains the excess salt, dyes, or preservatives that store-bought items have.
Isn’t that worth a few hours on the weekend? I think so! What foods do you put up? What methods do you use? What are your favorite things to preserve? Let’s talk about it in the comments.