As with last week's piece, these price comparisons come from two stores in my neighborhood: one, an Associated supermarket, part of a 130-store New York City-area chain, and the other, Naveen Halal Market, a small, family-owned store. Given that both of these stores are in New York City, their prices are higher than pretty much anywhere else in America. However, having shopped at international grocery stores across the country, I've found that the price ratios between large chain supermarkets and small groceries are pretty consistent.
Also, it's worth noting that not all international groceries are the same. Naveen focuses on Indian cuisine, which helps explain its impressive spice offerings. However, most international markets with significant Asian or Latin American clienteles will have a good selection of spices.
In many cases, the brands at Naveen and the Associated were identical. Generally, though, the prices at the chain store were significantly higher. For example, the Associated charged $2.29 for a 1.5-ounce jar of allspice, 14% more than Naveen, and its prices on onion powder and nutmeg were similarly inflated.
Where the international grocery really shined, however, was on spice sold in larger quantities. At Naveen, for example, 7 ounces of cloves cost $2.99, (about 43¢ per ounce) while the Associated charged $2.29 for 1.5 ounces (about $1.53 per ounce) -- three and a half times more pricey. Cinnamon at the supermarket was over 70% more expensive, paprika cost six times as much, and cumin cost more than five times as much. In fact, for every one of the dozen spices that I was able to directly compare between the two stores, the international market was far cheaper. In addition, the international grocery had a wide selection of spices that weren't available at the mainstream supermarket.
Admittedly, shopping at international groceries may require a touch more bravery than mainstream stores. They tend to be smaller and more cramped, with odd smells and occasionally bizarre products. But if you are willing to brave a little weirdness, you'll probably find that they're your best choice for spices.