Recently, The Angry Chef and I went on a spice hunt. We headed out to Penzey’s Spices in the sleepy town of Arlington, MA. We’ve relied on them for spices—first by catalog, then online, and now in person—for years now.
Penzey’s quality is always top notch. The prices are decent. Their selection is huge. And they make a few custom blends that we really like.
Their Northwoods Seasoning—an almost-all-purpose blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipotle—has been a staple in our kitchen for quite some time. For a five-alarm version, try the Northwoods Fire. I also have yet to find better prices for high-quality Madagascar vanilla beans (3 for $7.25) around Boston.
All that said, I started to wonder how other spice shops might compare and decided to do a little investigating.
Here are five I’d like to try.
1. The Spice House
Established in 1957, The Spice House has an impressive pedigree. Its owners are Tom Erd and his wife Patty, a second generation spice merchant who is the daughter of Bill and Ruth Penzey (different family members own Penzey’s as a separate business).
The Spice House sells spices online and in a handful of retail shops in Illinois and Wisconsin. These guys grind small batches of spices every week, which means they should have really intense flavor.
Their website is well organized, and the main page for each spice also offers recipes for using it. They seem like a very traditional spice shop, selling everything from arrowroot to za’atar. And since they charge $5.25 for 3 Madagascar vanilla beans, I’ll definitely be giving them a try.
2. TSP Spices
Run by two friends, one a former art historian and the other an ex-journalist, this company has a unique spice angle. They package their organic spices in individually sealed, teaspoon-sized packets designed to keep your spices fresher than one large container. The packets are sold in tins of twelve.
Now, I’m not sure that this is entirely practical for how I cook (I imagine having lots of half-opened packets floating around in my spice cabinet), but I’d be willing to give them a shot since I’m a bona fide sucker for nice packaging. I can see this working best for me with spices I don’t often use but want to keep on hand.
In terms of selection, TSP definitely has fewer spices than Penzey’s and The Spice House, but they have all the basics more than covered.
Twelve teaspoons is equal to a quarter cup. All tins (no matter which spice) are $9. Spice refills (no tin) are $5. They also sell gift boxes for $16-$42.
3. JR Watkins
JR Watkins is an old-fashioned apothecary that sells herbs, spices, and extracts—along with a variety of products for personal and home care. Looking for lemon extract? Check. Lemon Cream Hand & Body Lotion? Also check. I’ve seen their bath products around, and am excited to see what they have to offer in the kitchen.
Based in Minnesota, JR Watkins has been selling all-natural apothecary products for 140 years. They have a good selection of organic and all-natural herbs and spices and sell almost all the basic extracts. Spice tins run from $4.99 – $6.49 each, and hold varying amounts of product.
4. Savory Spice Shop
Run by husband and wife Mike and Janet Johnston in Colorado, Savory Spice Shop sells all the basic herbs and spices—along with 130 spice blends. They also have an impressive and rather exhaustive list of extracts.
The ultra-yummy-sounding Park Hill Maple & Spice Pepper caught my eye. Made with real maple sugar, black pepper, coriander, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, and a whole bunch of other spices, it sounds like a great thing to try on a pork roast.
Each spice is available in a variety of sizes and prices. They also sell spice gift boxes, as well as a pretty good selection of gear, including mortar-and-pestle sets.
5. Whole Spice
Whole Spice grinds your spices to order, so it sounds like they really couldn’t be any fresher. A family-run business based in California, they have a long list of all the basic spices along with some harder-to-find Indian specialties.
I’m really intrigued by the Moroccan Meatball Mix, a blend of white pepper, ginger, allspice, mace, nutmeg, rosebuds, and cinnamon. Spices are available in a range of sizes and prices.
And how about you?
Where do you guys get your secret weapons? Shoot me a note if you’d like to add a local prize to the list.