Where to Get the Best Spices

Where to Get the Best Spices

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  1. Snobs, puritans and elitists who sneer down their noses at those who eat “processed” foods, meals served at anything less than a four-star restaurant or anyone who consumes delicious, wondrous, nutritious and succulent animal flesh will scoff at those who don’t go through the pain and time of using fresh herbs in everything they cook. Of course, the aforementioned jerks have hired staffs to do all their cooking, so why would they care how inconvenient and time consuming it is to use garden-grown, pesticide-free, purely organic and free-range herbs?

    We, the normal people, must rely on spices shaken out of a bottle for our daily cooking. If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with convenience, especially when you have to cook your own meals three times a day (or, if you’re like me, as many as five times a day). Besides the convenience, dried spices are generally far more potent than their fresh cousins are.

    Of course, for some recipes, there’s no substituting dried herbs for fresh, but in most cases, your meal will turn out fine, even delicious.

    I’m not a stickler when it comes to most spices. I’m the first to admit that the higher the quality, the better the results, and often higher quality is matched by higher prices, but when it comes to the basics (like thyme, sage and oregano), cheap powders sold in little plastic bags in your local 99 Cent Store work just fine.


     However, there are blends of spices that simply can’t be found anywhere but very specific stores; to obtain these I hope you have a Penzey’s Spices store in your area. Unfortunately, there are only 45 such stores in all of the United States combined, and most of them are in Wisconsin, the home state of the founder (for a list of all the retail stores, go to http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/penzeysstores.html.).

    While Spice Islands dried herbs are top quality, and McCormick’s spices are the next best thing, the very best dried herbs and spices are sold at Penzey’s, and at prices you’ll find surprisingly affordable, considering the quality.


     I go clear across Los Angeles to Torrance specifically to buy three of the blended spices sold at Penzey’s: the Turkish Seasoning, the Sunny Spain seasoning and the Bicentennial Seasoning. I use the somewhat spicy Turkish in many recipes, especially in my locally famous savory sticky rice; it’s also excellent on chicken, pork, beef, fish, vegetarian dishes, salads… pretty much everything other than ice cream. My citrusy and peppery Bicentennial chicken always leaves my guests asking for seconds and thirds; it’s also superb on pork chops and in soups.


     I’ve been addicted to good lemon-pepper as a seasoning for grilled or baked chicken most of my life. I usually use McCormick’s lemon-pepper, which is very good, but whenever I can, I go for the Penzey’s Sunny Spain seasoning, which is like a glorified version of the McCormick’s but with no salt. Other excellent blends sold at Penzey’s include North Woods and Southwestern seasonings.

     Penzey’s retail store is the best smelling place on earth. The combination of aromas wafting through the air is enough to buckle the knees. At every station, you will find large sample jars to open and sniff; after a lap around the store, you may be hard of smelling for a while, but the experience is well worth it, and you are bound to leave with several purchases in hand.

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