Jul 22

Top 5 Storecupboard Essentials

As promised, I have visited a local food bank.  The volunteers were amazing, but sadly they were suspicious of me.  They have had some bad publicity in the past, and are wary of anyone who might be a journalist.  I therefore promised to send them the post I would write so that they could approve it before publication.  So although the post is written I can’t share it with you just yet.  Please bear with me while it awaits approval.

In the meantime I have been thinking about store cupboards.  I am not sure I would have completed my week on £10 if it were not for a few bits and pieces I had before I began.  I am talking about condiments and seasonings that make basic foods more interesting, and allow one ingredient to be cooked many ways.

So here are 5 items which I consider to be essential for a store cupboard to support budget cooking.  Perhaps you know someone who is cooking on a budget, for example a student living away from home for the first time.  If so, you may want to make them a gift of some of the following:

1. Oil
On a budget, it is tempting to buy cheap vegetable or sunflower oil.  Unfortunately such oils contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, excessive intake of which may be linked with inflammation and heart disease (1).  Furthermore, vegetable and sunflower oils tend to have a low smoke point, meaning that when they are heated above that point, some of their fat is converted into trans fat, which is widely agreed to be harmful to health (2).  Of the cooking oils which are readily available and reasonably economical, rapeseed contains the most favourable ratio of omega 6: omega 3 fatty acids, and only a little over a third of the omega 6 fatty acids of sunflower oil (3).  So although it has a relatively low smoke point, I would prefer to cook with it than with a blended or sunflower oil.  Olive oil is useful for livening up salads, and has a relatively low level of omega 6 fatty acids.  A few drops of sesame oil are fantastic for flavouring oriental dishes.  As you only need a tiny amount, a 250ml bottle lasts a long time, and can be reasonably priced in Oriental supermarkets.

2. Tomato Puree
Squirt into soups, stews, curries and more for an instant tomatoey hit.  A little goes a long way, and it requires no special storage.  A true budget kitchen essential.

3. Stock Cubes
Value stock cubes can be bought at any of the major supermarkets for very little money.  Half a cube will add instant flavour to a dish, and for a quick economical soup, dissolve a stock cube in water and add some cooked rice, pasta and/or leftover vegetables.  Use sparingly, as they have a high salt content, but they are well worth having to hand.  Stock powders are even better, because you have more control over how much you use, but are generally more expensive.

4. Spices
Dried and ground spices add instant interest to a meal.  If you are going to use them regularly, the most economical way to buy them is in large bags from an ethnic grocer.  Once opened, store in an airtight container such as a jam jar.  On a budget, it may be necessary only to buy a packet at a time and build a collection over several weeks.  In that case, I would recommend starting with either curry powder or paprika, as these are the most versatile.  Then add ginger or cinnamon, as these can be used for sweet and savoury dishes.  After that, cumin, coriander, chilli and Italian seasoning are excellent staples.  Most spices lose their potency after a while, so try and use any spices you buy within a year.

5. Lemon Juice
I really missed lemons on my challenge, and although bottled lemon juice is not quite the same, it is an acceptable substitute.  It can be used with salads, to liven up a glass of water, or to balance the flavours in a dish such as a curry, or as part of a marinate for fish or meat.  Easy to store, and non-perishable, it is an important addition to the budget store cupboard.

In my next post I report on my experience of visiting a food bank.


1. Lawrence, G.D., (2013).  Dietary fats and health: dietary recommendations in the context of scientific evidence.  Advanced Nutrition, 4, 294-302.

2. Okreglicka, K., (2015).  Health effects of changes in the structure of dietary macronutrients intake in western societies. Polish National Institute of Public Health 66(2), 97-105.

Orsavova, J., Misurcova, L., Ambrozova, J.V., Vicha, R., & Mlcek, J., (2015).  Fatty acids composition of vegetable oils and its contribution to dietary energy intake and dependence of cardiovascular mortality on dietary intake of fatty acids.  International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 16, 12871-12890.

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