Why Some Recipes Don’t Always ‘Work’

by Amie on August 19, 2013

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now because it seems that no matter what cookbook you read, website you search or recipe card you follow- the recipe will taste differently every time.

Why is that?

Ever wonder?

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Well, it’s pretty easy if you think about it.

Let’s start with an extreme example to get my point across. Sound good?

Great.

So, let’s say Betty Sue in Italy is trying a recipe in a famous cookbook that she just purchased. The recipe is quite simple but calls for balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt, pepper and canned tomatoes. Easy right?

So, Betty Sue goes out to her local market in Italy and purchases an expensive bottle of pure balsamic vinegar, fresh meyer lemons, expensive Himalayan Pink Sea Salt, organic mulit-colored peppercorns and a can of her favorite and expensive can of organic tomatoes.

Then, across the world another woman named Lauren lives in Tennessee and sees the same recipe in the same cookbook and decides to go to her local food store. She purchases a cheap bottle of balsamic vinegar because that’s the only thing the store sells, a bottle of murkey lemon juice, table salt, cheap pepper and a can of .99 cents tomatoes.

What do you think happens here?

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It’s pretty obvious that the woman in Italy’s recipe would turn out and taste better than the woman in Tennessee, right?

And on a less extreme level you could say that you and I have similar food stores but by purchasing a different brand of balsamic or canned tomatoes or salt would make our recipes taste completely different, as well.

Crazy, isn’t it?

I wanted to bring this up because last week I purchased a beautiful bottle of organic cinnamon and it tasted amazing and I only needed a pinch to create fabulous flavor. But, later that week I was going through my pantry and stumbled upon a cheap brand of cinnamon that I once loved- but it tasted so bland and blah. So, if I used this blah cinnamon in a recipe- it simply wouldn’t taste as delicious as if I used the organic flavorful cinnamon.

Such an interesting experiment, don’t ya think?

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I like to do taste tests of numerous foods to see which ones I like the best. You can try it for yourself, too and you may be surprised which brands taste terrible and which taste great when you go from a spoonful of one to a spoonful of another!

Try setting up a taste test each week for yourself and your family. You can use staples such as salt, pasta, vegetable broth, tomato sauce, peanut butter, beans and breads. Place each brand of the item (such as salt) into small ramekins and mix them up so you have a blind test with the name of the brand on the bottom of the ramekin. Then taste each one and see what you like the best. You’ll be surprised to taste subtle and strong differences amongst the brands you choose.

Could be a fun idea for a salt-tasting party? Don’t ya think?

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Invite over your friends and have them taste the different brands – it will create fun conversation and bring back memories of tastes when you were growing up or dining out or traveling to other states and countries.

What do you think? Do you taste a difference in staples that you purchase? Have you ever gone to the store and they didn’t have your favorite brand of peanut butter so you bought another one and were so grossed out that you threw it out? I’d love to hear your stories!

 

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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Dembowski August 19, 2013 at 7:32 am

This is a really interesting post, Amie! I totally agree that things always turn out different. The weather and the oven can affect baking, as can how much you stir. It’s really fascinating actually. If a store is out of a brand I love, I’m so set in my ways I typically go to another store! Have a great week :)

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Suzanne August 21, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Laura,
Absolutely the remedy I use. However, I live in a very small community and often cannot find just the right product….finding it difficult to achieve the quality or taste I want. I’m also in the early days of restocking Good with Bad condiments. It’s really quite fun and a real challenge at the same time. I think we could use some of those old spices in soaps or sachets. Do you think an inferior quality cinnamon could be used in an apple cider without disappointment in taste?

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Lisa August 19, 2013 at 8:07 am

So many variables…gas vs. electric stove….my mood…sunny vs. cloudy. And with g-free baking everything I thought I knew has changed! But it’s all good…new things to learn. But I’m totally with Laura…if my brand is out I either go to another store or pray that the craving passes if I can’t get what I need.

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Tess @ Tips on Healthy Living August 19, 2013 at 8:19 am

This is so true. I also feel like this happens when I try to cook my grandmother’s recipes. She almost had a certain magic in the kitchen that I don’t think I could ever imitate. But that’s also what makes them so special to me.

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Suzanne August 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Tess,
I bet her ingredients contained less preservatives than we find in foods today…do you think that was part of the her ‘secret’?

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Carolina Ihli August 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm

This is so true! Especially with Olive Oil! Thanks for the post!

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Lee H August 20, 2013 at 8:20 am

Amie, I’ve been purchasing more organic spices, which usually come in these little bags. I don’t think that’s the best way to store spices. Do you have any container recommendations? Thanks!

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Amie August 20, 2013 at 9:14 am

Lee,
I use glass Ball jars or I purchase Simply Organic and Frontier Organic spices in glass jars!

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JoAnna Lord August 20, 2013 at 9:08 am

I find a difference for sure. There was one recipe in particular that required “juice of a lemon,” so I thought “oh, bottled lemon juice.” Nope, it needed authentic lemon juice, from an actual lemon. Lesson learned there – much too lemon-y!

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Rose D. August 20, 2013 at 9:11 am

Interesting and true! I have some really nice nutmeg that you only need a pinch to add a ton of flavor, but my husband found and used some old nutmeg and couldn’t figure out why it didn’t taste as good until I showed him the good stuff.

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Janice August 20, 2013 at 9:11 am

I agree about the difference, but price doesn’t always equate with quality. You can substitute for something less expensive, but it really depends on the brand. Sometimes it’s up to trial and error to find that perfect one.

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Jennifer Harris August 20, 2013 at 9:11 am

Hi Amie,

I am very picky with ingredients and tend to regret purchasing something cheaper, or off brand. Great post!

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jennifer c. August 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

this is an interesting post. I use many different kinds of salt in my cooking and I like the idea of a salt tasting for my friends.

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Michele R. August 20, 2013 at 9:17 am

Great post, I totally never thought about this. I never really considered that a better quality item would make that much of a difference in food, but I am definitely going to try. PS: I’d LOVE to know what the brand was of cinnamon that you bought!!

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Cheryl Christian August 20, 2013 at 9:22 am

I am a firm believer if it isn’t broke then don’t try to fix it. Same with recipes don’t try to change something, or change brands when it really works with the original ingredients. More failures than success with changing brands..etc. Quality matters. I love reading your posts by the way.

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Kelly Martinek August 20, 2013 at 9:24 am

So true! The better quality always shines through!

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Kimberly A. August 20, 2013 at 9:28 am

There truly are so many components to baking/cooking. It’s a science of actions, flavors, and heart.

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Debra Lee August 20, 2013 at 9:29 am

Big difference in taste. I try for fresh herbs when I can!

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Stuart Jackson August 20, 2013 at 9:34 am

We are ALWAYS learning and learning , I have done a lot of temp work in many different kitchens , the bread , biscuits, cakes etc always turn out that LITTLE bit different even if I stick to my moto “stick to what you know” the oven temps humidity of the kitchen and of course the ingredients . I am turning into a food snob (ingredients wise) great article , good reading , always is !

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Tori L August 20, 2013 at 9:39 am

I’d love to win the sandwich maker to use for healthy breakfasts!

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Jeri August 20, 2013 at 9:40 am

Great food for thought! I always try to use quality ingredients in my cooking, but my husband is much more dollar minded when he does the shopping. I love the idea of setting up a taste test to see how he reacts to the differences. Thanks, Amie!

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T.J. August 20, 2013 at 9:42 am

I know for me the items I grew up on, even if they are cheap and not organic bring me such comfort that they taste better than the healthier and/or expensive options. But in the end since I am a sap, nothing tastes as good as anything made with thought and love.

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Maggie August 20, 2013 at 9:42 am

I love this sooo much! It’s so darn true. Thanks for shedding some light on it Amie. Cookbooks need a disclaimer, as do blogs :) Sharing this!

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Marta August 20, 2013 at 9:46 am

However outré it might sound, I find that my state of mind affects the way foods taste to me at a given moment. Maybe it’s being impressionable but if I’m happy my dishes always come out better no matter what ingredients, :)

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Margaret Clegg August 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

I know I much prefer recipes made with the veggies from my garden than canned items. And I MUCH prefer the eggs that we buy from a church member that are from non-caged chickens that are not given a whole host of antibiotics. Eggs that would make great breakfast sandwiches in the cool sandwich maker that you’re giving away!

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Alison August 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

I have found the same thing with cinnamon and lemon. It is so easy to juice a lemon for juice, and get the zest as well. You know it’s fresh… who knows how long that lemon juice has been sitting in that little plastic lemon?! And cinnamon? Who knew? I visited our local Penzey’s spice store and tried out all the different varieties of cinnamon — I never imagined one could be so different from another.

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Judi August 21, 2013 at 11:32 am

Vanilla is the same way. Some are better for baking. Some are better not heated. It’s kind of interesting.

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Jessica Dennis August 20, 2013 at 10:06 am

Great post – my recipes always come out different too and I always wondered why! I hope I win the breakfast sandwich maker :)

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Davis Bliss August 20, 2013 at 10:20 am

On another note, how about trying out a new recipe which includes an ingredient or two you’ve never used, and when all is said and done you can’t even tell if your finished product came out the way it was supposed to. Last night i made a soup for dinner, was a bit ‘confused’ by the finished product, but haven’t a clue whether or not i even hit the mark! It could havr been the fact that i substituted 1/2 veggie stock for all of the chicken stock…or maybe i just didn’t like the soup!

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Mel Sum August 20, 2013 at 10:29 am

I truly appreciate this! I am a chef, and have taught classes teaching a healthier cooking methods for the cooks for the boats/barges on the river. This subject is something that would be of help to me, as it is something few have thought about, and would definitely benefit to the cooks. Thank you!

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Nicole Trevisan August 20, 2013 at 10:32 am

this is interesting. i haven’t really experienced it yet, though…..good to know!

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Julie in GA August 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm

A spice tasting party is a great idea!

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Darlene Rose August 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm

We recently sold our home where I cooked on natural gas for 36 years. Where I live now we have propane for cooking. Its So different. I never know whether to put the heat a little higher or just make the cooking times longer. Its trial and error like I am learning to cook all over again!

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Beth Duggan August 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Interesting read!! I recently bought all new spices at a locally owned spice market- I really noticed the difference with the fresh spices- especially oregano!

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Blessie Nelson August 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm

This is a very interesting thought. Sometimes we subconsciously suppress the dislikes to keep up with our budget as long as it doesn’t overly distaste our taste buds. Many times, people just adjust with the prices of their groceries and live with it.

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Donna August 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Interesting article. I have also found this to be true because the growing season each year is different too. For instance, a wine from 2010 that you really liked was just not as good in 2012.

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Hannah Ticoras August 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I’ve found this especially with peanut butter. Once I started using Organic and Sugar-Free peanut butter, I can’t even stomach Jif anymore.

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Heather M August 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I try not to keep any spices and oils etc… for too long so the flavors of my food isn’t altered a lot. I am bummed when I expect it to taste a certain way and it doesn’t.

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April Watson August 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I like to experiment when cooking, and sometimes it works out for the best! (I have had my share of kitchen disasters though;) I have a spinach and artichoke dip that I make,and it never tastes exactly the same.

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Jackee August 20, 2013 at 4:30 pm

All products are not created equally. My husband recently bought me an oil and balsamic vinegar set for me from a great Italian store. OH MY! What a difference. It will be nearly impossible to return to the old stand by’s. Tomatoes make a large difference too. Fresh in season heirlooms or gas sprayed to ripen, both look great but the difference in taste is insane.

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Jessica Berry August 20, 2013 at 5:01 pm

When I go to the store it seems that even some of the health food stores I go to don’t have a lot of the products I use in stock.

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Allison (Spontaneous Tomato) August 20, 2013 at 5:29 pm

This is all so true! (And that’s why it’s very frustrating to live in one of those places where it’s harder to find many of the better quality—or more rare—ingredients… even if only temporarily.)

p.s. I would get so much use out of that breakfast sandwich maker! : )

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James Kennedy August 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Fresh Tomatoes are probably the one item that is the most different from any thing you buy. But you don’t have them year round so it pays to experiment with what’s available near you. I like several brands of tomatoes that are organic and packed in aseptic cartons. They’re the closet thing to homegrown and way better than canned. Your favorite best quality ingredients and love make all the difference when cooking for others. And it’d be cool to have another kitchen gadget, like the breakfast sandwich maker, to keep things interesting. :v

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Mary Smith August 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Growing up Italian we always ate olives…ESP. Black canned olives…in salads, on pizza or just a bowl of olives. Store brands make me feel sick and even some better ones are “off” when it comes to flavor. My favorite ‘go to’ brand is Linsay …just plain good taste. Anything less in your recipe and you risk that the entire dish will be poor.

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Mina Joshi August 21, 2013 at 4:03 am

What a lovely post and I love your photographs!! You are so right!! Some recipes don’t turn out the way they should and it could for all the reasons stated on your article. Food cooked in the microwave also tastes different to food cooked slowly on a cooker or Agha. However a lot also depends on how hungry you are – Often the food cooked simply with the least amount of spices etc. tastes great when you are hungry. For example – a simple beans on toast could taste like the meal from a 5 star restaurant if you are hungry.

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stefania August 21, 2013 at 7:01 am

Oh lordy, What a great comparison because this even happens if 2 people, side by side with the same ingredients cook or bake the same recipe. One may like one spice more than the other, thus altering the taste and texture, puree more or less changing the consistently, etc. different oven temp meaning gas or electric. even fridge or freezer can change how it thickens, chill or hardens. but totally on the different countries.

Great topics for new foodies to understand the why

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amanda gumpper August 21, 2013 at 7:21 am

this is so true!

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Natash Matveev August 21, 2013 at 7:26 am

This might be a whole different conversation, but I think the biggest thing for me is food quality overall in the US. Our culture is so used to mass produced, processed food, that many don’t even know what the real food tastes like. Even regular vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes from the store taste great, until I try the ones from my parent’s garden. We all know that fruits such as pineapple and bananas taste way better in the countries they come from. Even fast food tastes different in Europe, is that because they use more ‘real’ ingredients? We live in such a great country with so many opportunities, yet it seem like our standards for quality are so low.

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pat pelland August 21, 2013 at 10:16 am

When buying processed foods such as canned tomatoes, I read the labels to see what additional ingredients are included. My rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients the better. I’ve found high quality items at the 99cent only store, so quality doesn’t have to be expensive.

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Jenn August 21, 2013 at 10:19 am

This is so true. It’s amazing how much better food tastes when quality food items are used instead of cheap generic brands. And with veggies, homegrown always taste so much better than the store-bought ones.

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Tammy August 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

Totally agree, was just talking to my daughter yesterday about this . She had made a raw food smoothie and commented on how good it tasted, I asked what brand of one Green Powder she used in it, since some don’t taste good in smoothies, she was under the impression that they were all the same and for me to “just buy one doesn’t matter”. I on the other hand , mentions that: not sure that they will all taste the same, not all vitamins/herbs etc are equal, but will do some research on it. So I totally see how certain ingredients can differ so much from one area to the other , one country to the other, and climate does affect things as well. Thanks for such Your blog and your post on this subject. :-)

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Tammy August 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

oh , forgot , it was Wheat Grass Green Powder she was using.

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Holly Johnson August 21, 2013 at 10:36 am

There are so many variables that can change a recipe completely. A tasting party would be fun!

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Maya August 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

Great post!

We started using Pink Himalayan Salt and I can really taste the difference.
It’s less salty somehow and therefore I get to decide to either use more of it in a recipe, or learn to live with less saltiness in my food :)

Option B chosen.

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Ron_L August 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

Makes sense to me

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Judi August 21, 2013 at 11:26 am

I created a yummy simple red chili recipe on a whim a few years back. It was a huge hit in my family because it turned out SO well! When I wrote it down for the future, I made sure I wrote the brands I used as well. I definitely agree – truly does make a difference! Thanks for the post.

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yummychunklet August 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Great post!

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Julie Crum August 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I agree that quality makes a big difference, especially with spices/seasonings.

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Laura Gay August 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm

That why I’ve never been able to duplicate my grandmother’s homemade chocolate cream pie. She cooked the filling and whipped the cream for the topping. Cool whip will never replace the real deal.

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Shadell Faircloth August 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I never thought about how ingredients from different regions and different brands would cause a recipe to taste different. We are going to try this experiment this weekend as a family!!

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Tracey A August 21, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Changes in recipes can always make a difference. It isn’t always the best to make it too. Yes, changing types will make it taste “new”. Different concepts, different styles. You have a nice website.

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Julia s. August 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Yes, I more often then not notice differences in flavors of the various brands of food I buy. It can also change depending on where you buy it from (especially produce.) But even with that, I still generally buy just what I can afford.

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Colleen August 21, 2013 at 6:48 pm

…and another reason recipes don’t turn out tasting the same is that lots of us refuse to measure! :D Oh well variety is the spice of life!

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Robin Chesser August 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Another reason why recipes don’t always work is the person giving the recipe leaves an important step or ingredient out…sometimes on purpose in the South!

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Lisa August 22, 2013 at 9:34 am

I am in complete agreement with this article. Cheaper ingredients most of the time do not work as well. Oven temperatures also vary. And at times sometimes the cook, has an off day. All of these can be contributing factors. Thank you for bringing to light this issue.

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Niccole Tapp August 22, 2013 at 9:47 am

I love this post so much! I’ve always wondered why my recipes come out different, and then I read this, and now I am more then informed!

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Lisa P August 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

I agree. There is also a huge difference when using fresh, real ingredients. For instance, fresh herbs and lemon juice from a lemon tastes so much better than dried herbs and bottled lemon juice!

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Mark Absher August 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

Great post!

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Amie August 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Thanks Mark!!!

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Leeza Nechay August 22, 2013 at 10:49 am

Totally agree! When I made the switch over to all organic ingredients, I definitely noticed a richness in flavor that you just don’t get with run of the mill, processed, chain grocery store products. Great post! Also, the breakfast maker!! I didn’t even know a thing like that exists, so you just made my life!

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Holly August 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I am very picky on certain brands of food. Canned pumpkin for example. It has to be a specific brand or else the end product doesn’t taste good. Weird….it’s just pumpkin, right? Almond butter is another one. I have throw out jars (expensive ones I might add) just because it tastes different than my usual brand. Same thing….just almonds. But some brands taste weird. BTW, thanks for the giveaway! :-)

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Karen August 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I agree Holly … and it’s too bad that organic & GF item are more expensive .. makes the learning/tasting process tough on the wallet!

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Karen August 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Being that I live alone I might not really notice if my spices, etc started to “go bad” or lose flavour. I’m wondering if anyone has a guideline for how long certain staple items (baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, chilli, onion & garlic powder, are my main go-to’s) should be kept before swapping them out for fresh stuff … any thoughts or suggestions? :-)

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Marilyn August 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Its funny. There are some items that I just cannot replace and others that it doesn’t make much difference to me. I am always buying fresh over canned or frozen. My husband has learned to ask which specific brand I want before heading off to the grocery store.

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Susan spooner August 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Absolutely! Quality over price any day!

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Donna August 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm

The quality of the food we buy makes such a difference! I always splurge on high quality organic spices in glass jars, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I have been cooking gluten free for a few years but still think my baked products come out better when I buy a mix rather thn making it completely fom scratch….but. I keep trying!

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Amelia @ Eating Made Easy August 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm

My favorite part about this post is that “Betty Sue” is Italian ;)

But really – such an important distinction and SO true! Quality of ingredients is key!

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Amie August 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Haha; thanks Amelia! xooxo Love you darling!

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julie vandolen August 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Yes! Every peanut butter I grew up with tastes horrible now! Funny how that happens…and thank goodness it happens! I grew up hating brussels sprouts (boiled into oblivion) and now we can’t get enough of them… roasted with almonds, roasted with maple…OMG…trying all kinds of new toppings for them. Now I’ll have to branch out and try some new spices! Never really thought about my cheaper brands and I bet you’re right. Must get some better paprika, cinnamon, and a good garlic salt!! Oh– and to comment on your FB post– GRILLED avocado with sea salt. Lots of sea salt. Love your thoughts!

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