When it comes to both pantry and specialty items, we know the costs can stack up. But, given our desire for high-quality ingredients, we’ve learned over time which ones are really worth spending the extra dollar (or five) on. From household staples like olive oil, butter, and sea salt to life necessities like spices, chocolate, and cheese, we’re providing some insight into why we really believe in springing for these items.
In compiling this list, olive oil was the first thing that came to mind. It’s one of the most commonly used ingredients in our recipes across a myriad of dishes. Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil has a delightfully olive-y flavor. We believe in throwing down a little bit more for a bottle of the good stuff, especially if you’re using it in raw preparations like salad dressing or pesto. If you’re using it to cook, we still recommend a high-quality olive oil, though the flavor will be less pronounced.
Spices and seasonings are irreplaceable in the kitchen and exist in various forms from all corners of the world. We choose to spend a bit extra on spices for a few reasons. Freshness means flavor, which is of the utmost importance to us when we’re in the kitchen. Using old, dried out, and overly processed spices will really mute the flavor in your dishes, and will often be much cheaper than their fresher, smaller batched counterparts.
As cheese lovers, we feel obliged to say that a few extra bucks go a long way in this realm. Instead of buying chunks of processed, low-quality Fromage, go for the higher quality stuff, and you’ll notice a massive taste difference across the (cheese)board.
All chocolate is not in fact created equal. When it comes to eating it straight, we almost always choose some splurge-worthy chocolates and are rarely disappointed (although, on occasion, we scarf down a bit too much convenience store candy—who can resist?). With regards to baking, though, one has a bit more leeway—particularly if it’s chocolate chips you’re buying. We don’t really discriminate in cookies, but for dense, chocolate-forward cakes and other desserts, we do prefer a higher quality bar.
Let’s be honest, butter (like chocolate…or burgers, for that matter) is hard to go wrong with. But, also like chocolate, the caliber you should buy depends on what you’re using it for. For cooking, we use regular, non-fancy, widely available butter. When it comes to spreading (very thickly) on bread, we up the ante with a more expensive, specialty butter, generally of the French or Irish persuasion. Though we always cook and bake with unsalted butter, sometimes a stick of bougie salted butter on toast is exactly what’ll turn your day around. Trust us.
Leah Bhabha is a cookbook co-author, recipe tester, and food writer who has written for numerous publications including Food & Wine, New York Magazine, The Guardian, and Food52. She is a recipe editor at Plated and pursuing a masters in creative writing.