Smart Shopping 6: How I Save Money on the Ingredient I Use the Most

In our sixth installment of our Smart Shopping series, Lindsay talks about one of her favorite ingredients and how she makes it worth it to by in bulk.

My parents probably think it’s hilarious that onions are the ingredient I use the fastest at home. I used to hate everything about them. In fact, I avoided them like the plague and picked them out whenever possible. I was that kid that took forever to eat meatloaf because I had to separate out all the onions!

Flash forward, and guess what? I love everything about onions (well, except that they make me cry). Once I discovered that their presence turns seemingly ordinary meals into something extravagant, I started using them in practically everything. And, while onions aren’t terribly expensive, I fly through them so quickly that the expense starts to add up. So I started looking for ways to make my dollar stretch further.

Why bother buying so many onions?

onions curing in makeshift greenhouse #moretoharvest #somanyonions #onionlove

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Onions are amazing. Seriously. They’re perhaps the most versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Almost every sauce, stock, soup, or braise I make begins with sautéing onions. Fry ‘em up to serve as an appetizer (or as a burger topping). Slow roast them in cream for a deep, rich flavor you won’t believe comes from the same raw onions embedded in your salsa.

Caramelize them for sandwiches or pasta. Finely chop them to add raw astringency to tacos. You can even make them sweet by turning them into jam! No matter how you choose to cook them, onions are sure to add a depth of flavor that will take your cooking to the next level.

So how do I save money when purchasing my most used ingredient? With a few tricks and tips: buying in bulk, storing them properly, and prepping them ahead of time instead of buying pre-prepped onions.

1. Be a Savvy Shopper

The real truth about marrying the farmer's daughter. … #onionstorage #freshproduce #stockhouse

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I’m always on the lookout for a good sale, but mostly I save money by buying onions in bulk. Whether it’s at the farmer’s market or at a warehouse store like Costco, onions can often be purchased in 10-, 25-, or 50-pound bags.

Sound like a lot? Just think about how you’re shaving dollars off your purchase by buying in bulk. And, if you use onions like I do, you’ll be through that bag in no time.

2. Store Them Properly

Now that you have a boatload of onions, you want to make sure they don’t spoil before you can use them. With proper storage, onions can last for up to eight months!

Store onions in a well ventilated, cool, dry area. Never store them in plastic bags – they need to breathe, and plastic can make them rot. Pantyhose are a great way to store onions. Cut off the legs on a clean pair of pantyhose, drop in an onion, and tie a knot. Hang it in a cool, dry place and cut out the onions as you need them. If you’re careful in cutting your slits, you can stuff a new onion back in the hose for next time.

If you don’t feel like being that person that has pantyhose filled with onions around the house, place them in paper bags (like the ones you get at the grocery store). Poke a bunch of holes with a hole punch and clip the top closed with a paper clip.

No matter the method, avoid storing onions near other produce. The other fruits and vegetables can absorb the flavor of onions (and no one wants onion-flavored apples!).  It’s especially important to keep them away from potatoes, which will give off gases to accelerate spoilage.

3. Prep Onions Ahead of Time

Brb crying #chefproblems #onions #deargodwhy

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Have you heard that myth that cut onions absorb bacteria? Well it’s just that: a myth! The surface of a cut onion actually has sulfuric compounds that inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Save yourself time and money by prepping a bunch of onions ahead of time (this is especially quick and easy if you have a food processor or a chopper). Keep those chopped onions in a sealed container in the fridge for up to seven days.

4. Freeze Your Onions

Onions also freeze really well, but make sure you chop them first and pack them flat in a freezer safe plastic bag. You can buy pre-chopped onions, but they’re much more expensive than the ones you chop yourself.

Once they’re frozen, all you have to do is break off a chunk directly from the bag. They won’t be quite as crisp when you pull them out, so I wouldn’t use frozen onions for raw applications.

5. Grow Them Yourself

可以準備採收了 😏😏 #growgreenonions

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You can really save money by growing your own! Green onions will grow back in 3-5 days by placing the root ends in water, and regular onions will grow back in five months when placing the root end lightly covered in moist soil.

What ingredient do you use the fastest at home? And what tips and tricks are you using to save money?

Watch: How the Pros Chop an Onion