10 Pantry Staples You Should Buy Generic

updated May 1, 2019
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A child of the ’80s, I grew up thinking that brand-name anything was always best. It was, after all, the days of the Cola Wars, the Burger Wars, and the Chicken Wars. Yes, those really did happen. (Coke, McDonalds, and KFC — if you really want to know which sides I was on.)

Big brands, however, no longer hold major sway with me. After much trial and error, I’ve found that there are plenty of pantry staples that are just fine to buy generic. Here are the 10 times I definitely don’t care about brand names.

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1. Flour

I’ve purchased fancy-pants flour and generic and never really noticed a huge difference in the end results. The thing to keep in mind is this: The best way to measure flour is to weigh it. Because millers differ in how they grind flour, you may get inconsistent results based on incorrect measurements. One cup of flour could result in different amounts. Buy whatever flour fits your budget, but then weigh it when you bake.

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2. Sugar and other sweeteners

Honey, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar — they’re all different in composition. Some honey has corn syrup added; beet and cane sugar differ in their makeup and GMO-status; brown sugar is processed differently.

As long as you’re comparing apples to apples, a like sweetener to a like sweetener, I’m not convinced that the brand name really matters. For instance, if the generic is processed the same way as the big label, does it make a difference? I don’t think so.

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3. Soda crackers

When you’ve got the flu or just want an easy side for chicken noodle soup, any soda cracker will do, as long as it’s not stale. Check the dates and buy what’s cheapest.

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4. Beans

While there is some texture difference between brands — I did not like those name-brand black beans I bought at Costco — generic beans can hold their own. Because beans typically are mixed in with other ingredients in chilis, soups, and burritos, they don’t really have to stand alone. Go with whatcha got.

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5. Chopped green chiles

I am so old, I remember when chopped green chiles could be purchased for pennies a can. Since then, I’ve seen the small cans as high as a buck-fifty. I could buy a lot of fresh chiles for that same price. So, I do. Use chopped fresh chiles as a substitute for canned green chiles or just buy generic. The brand names are not worth your dollar and a half.

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6. Ice cream cones

Interestingly enough, generic ice cream cones are the only ones I can find on a consistent basis. Perhaps there’s not a large ice cream accessory market? In my experience, generic cones are just fine.

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7. Herbs and spices

When it comes to herbs and spices, generic or name brand isn’t nearly as important as freshness. A fresh, new jar of store-brand spice is likely more flavorful than that jar of herbs you’ve had in the cupboard for five years. In fact, ethnic grocery stores can offer you killer deals on potent, flavorful spices for less.

Don’t miss: How To Buy, Store, and Use Spices

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8. Frozen fruits and vegetables

Blended into smoothies, baked into desserts, or cooked into soups and casseroles, frozen fruits and vegetables don’t typically exert distinct characteristics that would be noticeable between generic and name brand or even between big names. The prices, however, can vary widely. Watch for sales and stock your freezer with the best deals.

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9. Dried fruit

Used for tossing into salads, mixing into protein bars or baked goods, or stirring into trail mix, dried fruit is concentrated flavor. It takes a lot of grapes to make a small cup of raisins, so you can understand why the price is concentrated as well.

In my experience the texture of the fruit is more important than the label. Squeeze the package to see how soft and pliable your raisins, cranberries, or apricots are. The softer bag? That’s the bag to buy.

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10. Nuts

I keep nuts on hand for snacking, salads, and baking. And I’ve bought hundreds of bags, often from stores that specialize in generic, like Trader Joe’s or Aldi. I’ve never found a bad nut.

Except in the case of cross-contamination (i.e., avoiding certain allergens, like peanuts when you’re buying almonds), the bag of nut you buy really doesn’t matter.

Put Those Nuts to Good Use

What pantry staples do you buy generic?