Once upon a time, you could find organic food only in health food stores. Now, you can buy organic everywhere, from Walmart to the corner gasoline station. And while there are many benefits to eating organic foods, the biggest downside often is the price. According to Consumer Reports, organic foods are 47 percent more expensive than their conventional counterparts.
Organic foods are usually pricier because of costs that go into getting certified and maintaining organic farming practices. Not only does it take more time to raise food in this way, but farmers are restricted in what chemicals they can use to kill overgrown weeds or control infestations. Plus, limitations on waxes and preservatives can lead to greater losses that organic farmers must absorb.
While some organic produce will expose consumers to fewer hormones and chemicals, that isn’t the case for all your favorite foods. So, before you blow this month’s grocery budget, check out these organic foods that may not be worth their organic price tags.
FRUITS WITH INEDIBLE PEELS
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When it comes to fruits with inedible peels — such as avocados, oranges, melons, bananas, mangoes, pineapples and kiwis — organic practices won’t necessarily offer you protection from pesticides. While fruits with soft or edible peels do often carry pesticide residue, it’s generally safe to eat conventional fruits with inedible peels, because pesticides usually don’t get transferred to the fruit inside.
But the price difference between organic and conventional avocados is significant: Organic avocados cost about 30 cents more per pound. Additionally, organic cantaloupe is about 50 cents more per pound, and bananas are about 10 cents more.
While pesticides may not penetrate the inedible peels, you should still wash the peels before cutting into them to avoid transferring potentially harmful residues that can linger on the outside.
VEGETABLES WITH THICK SKINS
Just like fruits with inedible peels, vegetables with thick skins don’t absorb as many pesticides. Additionally, people remove many of the “dirty” layers before consuming the produce. Layers of onion and cabbage are often peeled away before the vegetables are cooked and consumed; sweet corn is husked; and sweet peas are shelled. Carrots even make the list of safe vegetables if you take the time to peel the skins, where pesticide residue can linger.
Along with offering low pesticide exposure, conventional vegetables with thick skins are significantly cheaper than their organic counterparts. For example, organic sweet corn costs anywhere from 10 percent to 200 percent more than the conventional variety.
On the other hand, experts advise eating organic versions of vegetables without peels, as well as those with soft exteriors. Many of these foods are listed on the Environmental Working Group’s 2016 “Dirty Dozen” list, which includes celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
Once a niche ingredient, quinoa has become a popular source of protein. However, you don’t need to buy organic quinoa to avoide pesticides. Because quinoa has a natural coating that tastes bitter to pests, farmers don’t need to spray this crop to keep insects away. Most quinoa packagers remove the bitter coating during production, but it’s wise to give the grain another rinse before you cook and serve it.
Conventional and organic quinoa have the same nutritional profiles; it’s actually the color that makes the difference. While red and white quinoa have similar calorie counts, vitamins and minerals, red quinoa is a better source of riboflavin — it has a whopping 15 percent of the daily value per serving, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
The cost of quinoa, organic or not, has skyrocketed in recent years because of limited supply from importers, according an article in The Washington Post. Currently, Eden Organic red quinoa costs $12.59 a pound, while regular red quinoa from Roland is about $9 a pound. Since even conventional quinoa has little risk of pesticide exposure, you can enjoy significant savings by skipping the organics.
Organic and regular maple syrup are produced in basically the same way and usually don’t require pesticides or fertilizers — but trees used for organic syrup must still be raised using organic practices. Both conventional and organic maple syrup producers are required to have state licenses and be inspected by the USDA.
Currently, a 25-ounce container of organic Crown Maple Syrup costs nearly $38, while the same amount of MacDonald’s Maple Syrup is about $16. That’s a $22 difference. Because there is little difference in pesticide or fertilizer use between organic and conventional producers, maple syrup lovers should consider saving their money.
If you see organic seafood for sale, be wary — there are no federal regulations that make seafood organic. Hence, you’re paying a pretty penny for a potentially false claim.
Labeling farm-raised seafood as wild-caught is an issue that dates back at least a decade. In 2005, The New York Times ran a story revealing that fish sold as wild salmon by several high-end New York City markets was actually farm-raised and selling for as much as $29 a pound, while actual farmed salmon sold for $5 to $12 a pound.
The USDA is working to create guidelines that would allow for the sale of certified organic seafood, but that could be a few years away. For now, if you want to eat seafood that’s safe for you and your family, look for varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, trout and catfish, and focus on buying seafood that’s caught using sustainable practices.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to buy organic eggs to enjoy food that’s free of hormones. Unlike other farm-raised animal products, such as dairy, beef and lamb, chickens cannot be given hormones — it’s against the law.
Experts disagree on whether factory eggs have a higher risk of salmonella contamination than the farm variety. Currently, hens that lay organic eggs must be free range, which means they are not housed in cages and have access to the outdoors. They must also be fed an organic diet and receive no antibiotics.
When it comes to nutritional value, it’s actually the hen’s diet that matters most. Look for eggs that have high levels of omega-3s, a status that comes from improving a hen’s diet and increasing time spent outdoors. Buying conventional eggs will help you save at the grocery store. Organic eggs run about $6 a dozen, while conventional options are about $3 a dozen.
Think twice about paying double for those organic spices. One of the world’s most expensive spices, saffron is more expensive per ounce than gold. And when it goes organic, the price skyrockets. Compared with regular saffron, which runs about $1,000 per pound, organic saffron costs a budget-busting $3,100 a pound.
Since you’re not likely to eat a lot of saffron, the risks in eating the conventional version is minimal.
Other common spices are more affordable than saffron, but the organic label will still set you back. Simply Organic Grind to a Salt is about $10 for 5 ounces. Morton table salt, meanwhile, costs less than a dollar for 26 ounces. And Simply Organic garlic powder is about $4.75 for just over 3.6 ounces, while McCormick garlic powder is only $3 for just over 3 ounces.
Moreover, NPR reported several safety issues with organic spices. In 2012, a number of large grocery retailers recalled organic celery seed because a batch tested positive for salmonella. Organic spices can become contaminated with bacteria and insects because, in order to comply with organic standards, they aren’t treated with radiation to kill pests.
Even if you buy regular spices instead of organic ones, you might spend a pretty penny for just a tiny jar. To save money stocking your spice cabinet, experts recommend grinding spices up yourself.
Produce with higher absorption of pesticides
Based on results from more than 35,200 samples tested by USDA and the FDA:
▪ Sweet bell peppers
▪ Cherry tomatoes
▪ Hot peppers
▪ Kale/collard greens
Source: Environmental Working Group’s 2016 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce