I could spend quite a bit of time singing the praises of Penzey’s Spices. There are so many things to love. If you’ve never been to one of their stores, you are in for a treat!
At any given supermarket, you’ll be met with a small section of spices in the baking aisle. Most of these contain fillers like corn starch or salt, which makes them cheaper to produce and dulls their flavor– but most people don’t know any different. It’s also up to you, the consumer, to guess or do your research ahead of time if you want to know what each herb or spice smells or tastes like.
Penzey’s is a different haven entirely. Walk in and you’ll see every single spice they carry on display, with helpful descriptions and a jar full of said spice that you can open, see up close, and smell. It takes so much of the guess work out of buying spices.
They also take care to organize their spices in such a way that it’s not overwhelming to look at all of them. They’re categorized into salts, peppers, spices, seasonings, herbs, baking spices and extracts, soup bases, curries, and accessories, like pepper grinders. They also have a section of gift sets (hint hint, everyone).
My spice rack is never without some of their unique-to-Penzey’s spices. They’re staples in my kitchen, which is why quite a few of my recipes call for them. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Toasted Onion Granules
Starting with my very, very favorite, which I buy in bulk: toasted onion powder is so versatile and it adds excellent depth of flavor wherever it’s used. It has a flavor similar to lightly caramelized onions without all the added fat and calories. Penzey’s also carries minced toasted onion, which is the same thing but not ground.
- Roasted Garlic Granules
It takes about 45 minutes to roast a head of garlic. This is a shortcut if you only want a little roasted garlic flavor, or want to boost some garlic flavor that’s already in your dish. I would estimate about ½ tsp (scant) is equivalent to one clove of roasted garlic.
- Powdered Rosemary
I remember when I was a kid, I hated it when whole dried rosemary leaves were used in cooking, because the texture is unpleasant. I still maintain that; just because rosemary is one of the most euphoric herbs does not mean those leave are meant to be eaten whole! This is why I love powdered rosemary; it’s all the flavor goodness without the texture. Sometimes I still like some flecks of rosemary in my cooking for aesthetic reasons, which is when I like to use Penzey’s cracked rosemary leaves. They are more broken down and therefore not as noticeable when bitten.
- Powdered Lemon Peel
For some reason I talked myself out of buying this one for a long time, and now I don’t know why. Fresh lemon zest is heavenly, but it’s not especially easy to keep fresh lemons on hand at all times. Powdered lemon peel is perfect if you don’t have any fresh zest or don’t want to add extra liquid, like lemon juice, to whatever you’re cooking.
- Curry Powder
So bold, so complex, so delicious. Thanks to Penzey’s, I went through a curry powder phase in my early 20’s. I sprinkled it on sandwiches, salads, pizza, soup, wraps, veggies, and anything else that made even a bit of sense. Both the hot and sweet curry powders are fantastic, and so much more flavorful than any other supermarket brand I’ve had. Penzey’s also carries some other curries like Tandori seasoning and Garam Masala, but admittedly, I have yet to try those. It will be a little while before I stray from the beloved standard curry blend.
- Crushed Jalapeño
I don’t always have fresh jalapeño in my fridge, so this comes in as second best once in a while. My favorite use for it is queso, which I almost always make after a couple margaritas on an impulse. I also used them in a tortilla soup I made last week. Sometime I want to mix them into some cream cheese and see how that goes.
- Ground Chipotle
I feel fairly strongly about this: I don’t know why cayenne is still as commonly used as it is when we have ground chipotle. I have a true love for spicy food, but with spice, I insist on flavor dimension. Piquante heat with no flavor is like a horror movie with no plot. Cayenne has no game when it comes to taste. This is why I don’t even have the stuff in my pantry, and I always use chipotle powder in its place. It has some warm heat but is also smokey and peppery and it takes me on a trip.
Honorable Penzey’s mentions:
Extra bold black peppercorns
Any and all cinnamons
Dutch Process Cocoa
Sweet Ginger Bits
Jerk Chicken & Fish blend
BBQ 3000 seasoning
Northwoods Fire seasoning
Creamy Peppercorn dressing base
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I also hear their vanilla is the best you can get. I have yet to try it, for which I should hang my head in shame. Every time Martha Stewart uses vanilla on her cooking shows, she scolds her audience to use the best there is, and then picks up a bottle of Penzey’s vanilla.
Penzey’s has retail locations in about 29 different states, but if you don’t live near one, you can order anything they carry online!