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The Vegetarian Conundrum: How to Stock Up and Save Money

Every now and again a “vegetarian movement” rears its head on the internet and gains a few followers. In some parts of the world it’s nothing noteworthy. Vegetarianism has strong links in certain religious practices, most famously in Hinduism and Buddhism.

The vegetarian movement we know of today may take some inspirations from Hinduism’s principle of nonviolence towards animals. But there are many people today who have switched to a vegetarian diet simply for its purported health benefits.

As a whole, due to the influence of various cultures and religious practices Malaysia is quite a vegetarian friendly nation. Not only do we have plenty of vegetarian restaurants scattered all over the country, vegetarian ingredients, particularly vegetarian proteins are common food items here even for non-vegetarians. Penang has quite a surprising number of vegetarian restaurants for such a small state. In fact, there are almost as many vegetarian restaurants in Penang as there are McDonald’s! A good reason for that would probably be the high percentage of Buddhists in the region that practices vegetarianism. There are also Hindus that practice vegetarianism on certain days.

One of the major problems of being vegetarian is keeping a stockpile of fresh (and therefore delicious) vegetarian produce. When your meals are predominantly vegetable items, freshness becomes more important. Unlike most animal proteins that can be frozen easily, many vegetables and fruits don’t take up freezing well. Most produce only last 3 to 5 days even when refrigerated, with the exception of eggs (3 to 5 weeks), milk (about 7 days), and honey (almost indefinitely even at room temperature).

Shopping twice or even three times a week is often a necessity. Overall a vegetarian shopping list is cheaper, but of course there are exceptions. In some regions in Malaysia some vegetables can indeed be quite expensive. Green beans is quite notorious for being rather expensive in many parts of the country. Tomatoes too can be expensive in some places particularly ones without farmland, and the brinjal or eggplant can sometimes be as expensive as poultry in Penang. This cost is exacerbated for end consumers who do not buy these vegetables in bulk as that is not a practical thing to do for most people. The only way to overcome the markup is to buy those particular items in bulk or wholesale. But, without the luxury of long term storage vegetarians are stuck with this conundrum. Or are they?

Buying vegetables wholesale

If your favorite vegetable is one of the most expensive where you live the only way to save money is to find a local wholesale vegetable supplier. Unlike supermarkets and grocery stores wholesalers allow you to buy them in bulk. In fact that is the only way they sell. There is a minimum order quantity when buying from vegetable wholesalers, but the smallest bulk purchases are quite manageable. They will sell in kilograms rather than in bunches or units. Three kilograms of brinjal may get you 10 to 15 of them depending on their size.

But what about storage? Individuals rarely eat kilograms of anything in a single week let alone be able to consume a few kilograms of vegetables within their freshness period of 3 to 5 days.

Stockpiling vegetables

Before this we mentioned that vegetarians don’t have the luxury of freezing their stockpiles of food, but that is actually untrue. It is not a very common knowledge and not a common thing for people to do. But, you can in fact stockpile vegetables and keep them fresh for months by freezing them. It can be done with minimal damage to quality. Frozen vegetables can last at least 3 months.

The general rule for freezing vegetables is that ones with lower moisture content freezes the best. Coincidentally, green beans and brinjal - the two expensive examples mentioned - are perfect for freezing. Green beans require virtually no preparation. Simply place them in airtight containers before putting them in the freezer. Brinjal would need to be blanched for best results. If you don’t know what blanching is you can search on the internet on how to perform them.It’s basically a brief (typically less than 60 seconds) scalding of vegetables with boiling water or hot steam, followed quickly by thorough but brief cooling in a cold or ice water bath. Blanching intensifies the color of the vegetable which helps counteract the effect that being frozen has on color.

You can experiment first on small batches of different vegetables to practice the techniques. Most vegetables can be left frozen in the freezer for up to 6 months with minimal degradation to quality and freshness.

Plan your storage and diversify your palate

While the rule of thumb is to freeze fruits and vegetables with low moisture content, with a little diversity and creativity you can freeze just about anything. Buy wholesale fruits and vegetables that you consume most often and plan on how you would like to use them. Some can be used within 3 to 5 days for regular consumption. While others can be used as ingredients. Fruits such as apples, bananas, mangoes, tomatoes, and eggplants can have a mushy texture once thawed. Rather than eating them as is you can plan on allocating portions of your stockpile to use as base ingredients. In other words, you can use them where their original texture will play no part in the final product.

You can make appropriate smoothies with the sweeter fruits. Useful for a quick breakfast. Just thaw a few in the refrigerator section overnight and you’ll have fruits that are ready to be turned into a nutritious smoothie in the morning. They would be cold too and have some ice crystals so you can use less ice for more intense flavor. You can now buy your favorite fruits wholesale and enjoy them for weeks without having to worry about spoilage.

Other than freezing you can even pickle some of the vegetables, and make sauces or jams with the fruits. You can enjoy a wealth of diversity and save money in the process. If you’ve never made pasta sauces before now is the chance to try. If you like pasta then you’ll be glad to know that it can even be cheaper than store-bought ready made sauces (and it’s easier than you think to get that authentic flavor).

Don’t hesitate to buy wholesale

Buying fresh produce wholesale may seem like a wasteful and impractical shopping practice for regular home users. But, with the right planning and mindset it can be done. You can get even more savings while at the same time increase you cooking knowledge and further diversify your menu. The latter is important for newly converted vegetarians to stick to the diet to keep things from being too routine and bland. Look for a wholesale fruits and vegetables supplier near you for the best deals on your favorites.