Buying From Bulk Bins

by Anna

What is buying in bulk?

Buying bulk in the grocery store doesn’t mean buying a lot – it means buying ingredients from large bins – the bulk bins. Each bin has a scoop. Scoop the desired amount into a bag (they are provided or you can bring your own), and write the PLU number (from the bin) onto the provided tag. Tie your bag with the PLU tag. I also write the specific type of rice, flour, or bean on the tag, as well.  The cashier will weigh your bags at checkout. When you get home, store your rice, beans, flour, or spices in airtight containers to ensure they stay dry and clean.

Why buy in bulk?

1. It is an easy way to green your life – no wasteful packaging!

2. Variety – There are so many more types of rice, beans, lentils, flours, nuts, and spices available in the bulk bins. Because there is no packaging, you can buy a small amount of something new to try. If you like it, come back for more. If you don’t, you haven’t wasted any money, and there isn’t a whole package of it slowly spoiling in your cupboards. I was first introduced to many new grains when I discovered 101cookbooks. The beautiful photographs and inspiring, all-natural recipes prompted me to try such grains as millet, quinoa, and wheat berries. I headed straight to the bulk bins, and bought just enough for each recipe.

3. Freshness – Ingredients in bins are usually replenished often. I especially love buying spices from bulk bins. They are SO much fresher than bottled spices. When I first smelled turmeric in a bulk bin, it changed the way I cooked with it. I had no idea what its subtleties really were. Bottled spices are so much flatter, older, dustier.

Where can I buy in bulk?

Not all grocery stores have bulk bin sections. Some bulk bin sections only offer candies and snacks. Whole Foods Market has a great bulk bins section. There are local natural food stores in many areas, as well, like La Montañita Co-Op in Albuquerque, that have great flour, bean, and spice selections.

Where can I find cooking instructions for beans and grains?

The only problem with buying in bulk is that if there is no packaging, there are no cooking instructions. Some grocery stores, like Whole Foods Market, provide free booklets with cooking instructions and grain-to-water ratios for this purpose. Some cookbooks, like Better Homes and Gardens, provide cooking information and instructions for the basic (but not all) types of rice and beans. Don’t let that deter you! I will post information about cooking different types of rice, beans, and grains on this blog. Look for them soon in the Rice, Grain, Bean Info & Cooking Charts category.

Photo Credits: Another beautiful photo from Carlos Porto. Find more of his work at