Most modern grocery stores have an ethnic food aisle. Most people, however, don’t pay much attention to this aisle and assume it’s purely there for ethnic groups that want a taste of home.
You may be surprised to learn that there is a whole world of ingredients and produce available from the ethnic food aisle, or from an ethnic store, that can save you money as well as introduce you to a different culinary culture.
Yet, this isn’t a ploy to make Americans embrace ethnic communities, this should already be happening, but is in fact an observation of how produce is sorted in the grocery store.
What are the differences between the products you get in different stores? Why are some stores cheaper than others? Why are ethnic food stores often cheaper? All these questions and more will be answered in this guide.
The Benefits Of The Ethnic Food Aisle
The ethnic food aisle at your local grocery store has a lot of advantages and uses that you may not have explored. Often, these aisles can be full of cheap but quality goods that have been exported from their origin country. While they are made to accommodate those who want a taste of home, they can benefit anyone.
The concept of having an ethnic food aisle is a little strange when you think about it. If you want to make a curry, all the ingredients aren’t marketed as ‘ethnic’, nor do they appear solely in the ethnic aisle. To cut a long story short, you may be able to find all the ingredients you need in your ethnic food aisle: they will be cheaper, perhaps of higher quality, and will be fit for purpose.
Yet, many people shy away from these aisles and buy the Costco brand rice that is double the price but half the quantity, buy spices that are half the quantity and double the price and pay double for fruit and vegetables that are aesthetically perfect.
If you are cooking something specific to a culture, why not consider going to that ethnicity’s local market or locating their section in the ethnic food aisle? The ingredients, such as spices and jarred goods, etc., will all be directly exported from that country. More often than not, they will also be much cheaper and often higher in quantity.
Obviously, always use your best judgment and try different things. Being open to different production companies abroad could turn you on to your new favorite spice blend or jarred goods. I know I can’t have a sandwich now without having polish spicy mustard on it – nothing else is quite the same.
Why Are Ethnic Food Stores And Aisles Cheap?
One thing to preface this discussion with is that purely because produce is classed in the higher tier, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the lower classes of products are less quality – it’s a way to categorize the produce rather than rank it.
Once fruit and vegetables, as well as other produce, are picked from the plant they go to a packing company who have workers that sort the products into different categories depending on how blemished they are and how they fit market regulation sizes.
While there are many ways they are categorized, we will outline the most pertinent to this guide.
Class 1 (Export Market)
This product is considered to be top tier and is often exported to other countries to make money from an export market. Aesthetically, the product will have almost no blemishes or marks and must fit specific size requirements.
The product must have no more than 6% defect and sizing error. As more labor goes into sorting and growing these more ‘desirable’ produce, the price is premium.
Class 2 (Domestic Market)
This is the ‘American grown’ produce you will find in most common US grocery stores such as Costco, Safeway, Target, and so on. This is usually a product that could have some marks and blemishes and irregularity in size, but no more than 8%. This reduces price as the labor and aesthetic perfection of the goods are less than the first-class stuff.
Class 3 (Peddler Market)
This product is all the stuff that is left. Produce that isn’t perfect looking but still passes USDA inspections of safety. This is simply fruit and vegetables that aren’t perfect, they have simply grown a little wonky and maybe don’t look exactly the same as all the others.
This product can still be of the same quality that Class 1 is, it simply isn’t as perfect looking or may have some blemishes. Certain produce may fall into Class 3 from the other two classes when it is overripe or has gone past what the premium buyers consider saleable, but in reality, can still be sold for a lesser price.
You may have already guessed that ethnic grocery stores often buy Class 3 produce. Certain cultural approaches to food in addition to economic concerns mean that these ethnic stores will buy Class 3 produce over the more expensive stuff.
Some cultures find it outlandish to pay a lot for fruit and vegetables, many Asian and Latin cultures rely on these wholesale markets to buy their fruit and vegetables, understanding that what they buy will cost double the price in the premium grocery stores. Often, this Class 3 produce is totally fine, if a little wonky.
So, next time you’re thinking about making a tomato sauce or a curry, consider going to your local ethnic market. You may find produce that is cheaper and better to buy in bulk, and you may find some new products you may never have tried before.
The ethnic food aisle in most grocery stores is full of pantry ingredients and jarred goods exported from other countries, which are often cheap and varied.
In many cultures, the concept of paying lots of money for premium produce just doesn’t make sense to them. Buying stuff you can grow yourself should be cheap. This translates into the spice world too, as many of these ‘ethnic’ cultures see things like basic spices as cheap commodities rather than luxury or exotic items.
What this demonstrates is how Western culture is often built on capitalism and a free market economy, making a profit often comes ahead of practical sense. For instance, the best fruit and vegetables the US produces actually go to other countries rather than our own.
We think embracing this market culture, which is still present in parts of Asia, Latin America, and all over Europe, is a way to move to support workers rather than corporations and also help to solve the hunger crisis that is still ongoing in many Western first-world countries.
A box of Class 1 fruit could cost up to $100 while Class 3 fruit could be as low as $20. A family that is worse off could live off these wonky veg cuts for next to nothing and still get all the nutrition and satisfaction we get from fruit and veg.
As we live in a free-market economy, it’s possible that our own demands have shaped the industry in this way. Class 2 products are sold in our grocery stores as a marketing tactic more than anything else.
We are perhaps more likely to buy a tomato that is perfectly round and red rather than a tomato that has a funny shape or color – even though they both will taste the same.
Supporting local farmers, growing our own produce, and not shying away from markets can help our country move towards becoming more environmentally friendly, curtailing food waste, and feeding those who are worse off. You can be a part of this revolution, maybe your first step is to simply step into the ethnic aisle in your local grocery store. Try it today!