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Premade vs. homemade: What foods to buy, and what to make from scratch

Some things are cheaper when you make them from scratch, and some things just taste better. But not everything is worth it.

There is just something about scratch cooking; it can be extremely Zen to measure and mix and whip things up, plus there’s a little bit of satisfaction in the braggadocio that cooking from scratch can provide.

“Wow, you make your own bread?” people will exclaim. And you’ll say, “Of course. It’s no big deal, really.” But it is a big deal. You know it, they know it. You are the master of your kitchen, goddess of scratch cooking.

There are other times when it’s cheaper to make something from scratch. I remember the time I figured out how easy it was to make whipped cream — and how cheap it was — and I never, ever looked back.

But the fact is, sometimes scratch cooking just isn’t worth it. We looked at eight common pantry staples and judged them by three criteria: cost, time and taste.

More: 7 French cooking terms and techniques every home chef should know

When it comes to cost, there are a lot of moving parts. For this post, I went to Kroger, which is a common grocery store in the South, and wherever it was possible, I looked for ingredients that were store brand to keep costs low across the board. That’s why cost can vary so greatly; your local food might be more (or less) expensive, or you may be loyal to a certain brand, or you might want to choose ingredients that are whole and organic — a common reason people cook items from scratch is to control what goes into them. I also chose to scale scratch-cooking recipes up or down to match the store-bought quantity. For instance, you can make a small batch of butter relatively cheaply, but getting to a pound of butter is going to cost a little more. Also, I didn’t factor in supplies, like containers for steeping or pasta-making attachments, because that’s just pedantic and obnoxious.

Then there’s time. Just because something costs less, if it’s time prohibitive, it may not be worth the effort, and there’s no way around that.

Finally, does it taste better homemade? Well, that’s also going to be relative, but whether the scratch-made food tastes much more superior than its grocery store counterparts — or if the difference is negligible — will definitely factor in.

So, should you buy it or make it? Find out what it takes to make common pantry items from scratch.

Next: Homemade vs. store-bought — butter

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