CLEVELAND, Ohio — Kitchen staples like mayo, hot sauce and hummus keep getting more expensive. Would it be cheaper to make items like this from scratch at home?
To be blunt, no. With a few exceptions.
After trying to make many things from scratch this week, I wouldn’t recommend it even if it did save you money.
Take it from the guy who has moved a dump truck’s worth of mulch, fixed a snowblower and did surgery on a cooler to try and save money. Trying to make hummus, yogurt and almond butter at home is one of the most soul-crushing endeavors I’ve taken on to try and cut costs.
I get that arguing against making fresh, delicious food at home seems absurd. But I think I have a point.
The internet has romanticized the idea of making things from scratch. It’s time for a reality check.
Yes, some things like mayonnaise and hummus are much better when made at home. They’re almost entirely different kinds of food.
They’re also not easy to pull off. Emulsions break. Fermentations go moldy. Almonds get burnt. Chickpeas get mushy. And at the worst time, your kitchen sink gets clogged.
Even when things go well, making things from scratch is both time consuming and tedious. But you won’t see any of these cons mentioned in a 60-second TikTok video.
I concede that there’s plenty of reasons to make things from scratch. But people claim saving money is one of them. And I can’t tell if these people are lying or just bad at math.
One of these online lists even suggests that rotisserie chicken is cheaper at home. That’s baloney.
When you break out the recipes, list the ingredients and crunch the numbers, it’s usually about even. Sometimes you can save money, but many other times you lose money by DIYing your kitchen staples.
So, what is worth making from scratch?
Here’s some things you can make at home, how much they cost and whether trying to make them from scratch is worth it — in my opinion. Send complaints to [email protected].
Some ground rules. The prices are from Walmart (unless they didn’t have the item) and we’ll compare the homemade versions to brand names for a fair fight.
I also highly recommended having a food processor if you’re going to attempt most of these, which itself is a pricey piece of machinery.
Mayonnaise | About $2.20 per cup vs. $1.30 in store
I hated mayo. Then I tried making it myself and I was converted. But I’ve still found myself reaching for the store brand out of convenience.
Emulsifying things is tricky. And making mayo has about a 50% success rate. Sometimes you can whisk a batch a second time and save it. But you can also buy the name-brand mayo cheaper.
Verdict: Doesn’t save you money, but it is worth it taste-wise. Just be prepared to mess up.
Yogurt | About $1 per quart at home vs. $2.36 in store
The ingredients to make yogurt are relatively inexpensive. But coaxing milk into becoming yogurt is tricky. It involves “incubation” or in simpler terms, getting bacteria to grow in lukewarm milk.
It’s a long process that I did unsuccessfully.
Verdict: I say that it’s too much effort, despite the savings. But I’m clearly not a yogurt expert. If you do attempt it make sure you have cheese cloth on hand.
Pickled red onions | $2.20 for a quart at home vs $4 a pint in store
The only slam dunk on this list. Pickled red onions might be the closest thing to sour candy that’s still a vegetable — and they go well on everything. It’s also super easy.
You can pickle almost anything once you find an all-purpose brine you enjoy (it’s basically just white-distilled vinegar, water and salt).
Find a vegetable, be it a red onion, carrot sticks, peppers or whatever and then cut it up before throwing it in a mason jar. Boil your brine, cut the heat and then pour it over your veggies.
The only thing I wouldn’t pickle is cucumbers — which is what everyone usually calls pickles. By the time you buy the dill and everything else making a jar of your own costs about $5.10.
A better bang for your buck both on price and flavor is to pickle things you can’t find on grocery shelves.
Verdict: Quick, easy, tasty and cheaper than the store.
Hummus | $2.84 at home for a 10-ounce container vs. $3.97 at the store
Hummus is cheaper at home, if you compare it to name-brand Sabra. If you’re OK with store-brand hummus at $2.87, it’s a wash. But many will contend that homemade hummus is far and away better,
There’s also an easy and hard way to make it. The easy thing to do is throw a can of chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and salt into a food processor. And that will get you good enough results.
If you want smooth, restaurant quality hummus you’ll have to cook the garbanzo beans and take the skins off. This removes a lot of fiber and gets you a smoother final product. It’s also a pain.
Verdict: I concede that it’s probably worth making hummus at home.
Hot Sauce | $7.50 to $16.50 at home vs $2+ at the store
Making your own hot sauce is simple, but can get pricey, depending on what ingredients you use. The recipe I used calls for a variety of ingredients but the most expensive is 1.5 pounds of peppers.
For the red Fresno peppers the recipe calls for, that’s about $15. If you use green jalapeno peppers, it’s only $6. It’s a wide range. I used home-grown peppers.
All that said, at home hot sauce costs anywhere from $1.05 to 50 cents an ounce. That’s more expensive than most bottles in the store, although it varies widely, because hot sauce comes in big squeeze bottles, little glass jars and everything in between. I think the most expensive store brand is Cholula at 77 cents an ounce.
Also keep in mind that you’ll need to taste test your sauce and add things until it tastes good. Depending on how spicy your peppers are, it can be a really painful experience.
Verdict: There are dozens of hot sauces available in your local grocery store. You can’t beat them on price. But if you think you can beat them on flavor, go for it.
Nut butter | Anywhere from $1.50 to $4 at home for 16-ounce jar vs $5 or more at the store
All you need to make peanut butter, or any nut butter for that matter, is nuts and a bit of salt. And if you don’t burn your almonds like I did, it should come out fine.
Like pickles, it makes more sense to make specialty nut butters at home. You can make cashew butter and almond butter for anywhere from $3.50 to $4 per 16-ounce jar. And buying a jar of even the cheapest stuff is usually $5 or more.
On peanut butter I’m partial to Jif — which you can get for about $3.
Also keep in mind that homemade butters can split and need to be refrigerated.
Verdict: Expect trial and error. Try it if you want to feel fancy. Buy it if you don’t want the fuss.
Saving You Money is cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer’s column about saving money. We want to know how we can help you save money. Send your questions and comments to [email protected].
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