Kitchn Love Letters

This Spice Company Has Been My Family’s Go-to Brand Since the Late ’90s 

published Feb 2, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

A jar of seasoning is a jar of seasoning, regardless of the name on the label, right? That’s what I thought, until I discovered Penzeys Spices. I first heard about this spice brand from my sister-in-law Rebecca, who was gifted a Penzeys catalog in the late 1990s by a friend who knew Rebecca loved to cook.

Back then, that catalog once was the spice brand’s main sales vehicle, and it rivaled the J. Peterman catalog in its quirky charm: part recipe booklet, part geography lesson, and part political discourse (owner Bill Penzey has always been outspoken about human rights and injustice). I haven’t seen the catalog in a few years; today, the company sells its products online and across more than 50 stores scattered throughout the country, including one not far from my home in Atlanta.

Credit: Jessica Harlan
There’s a Penzeys product for everything — even making frozen pizza better.

As with any of their dried herbs, ground spices, peppercorns, or seasoning blends, just one taste is enough to know that a Penzeys jar is above average. Flavors are bright and balanced, without any of that dusty, muddled flavor that often makes other options disappointing.

Credit: Jessica Harlan
I used Penzeys Southwestern Spice and Chicken Soup Base to make a quick posole, and topped it with a couple shakes of Aleppo Pepper.

A trip to a Penzeys store is a real treat, too: Salespeople are helpful and knowledgeable and eager to share their favorites. On a recent (masked) visit, I was looking for something that would give a bowl of chicken broth and rice noodles a boost. The salesperson pressed a small jar of Bangkok Blend into my hand and promised I wouldn’t regret it. And I didn’t — the combination of ancho chile, galangal, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and cilantro gave my noodle soup a nice complexity, and because the blend was salt-free, it didn’t add any more sodium. 

That Bangkok Blend is just one of dozens of spice blends that the company offers, to suit virtually any culinary situation. There are multiple blends for seasoning barbecue, Indian food, Caribbean dishes, baked goods, and more. For individual herbs and spices, there’s an exhaustive selection that I didn’t even know existed: five different varieties of cinnamon, and an extensive selection of peppercorn varieties, for instance. 

Credit: Jessica Harlan
Shopping for ground cinnamon? Penzeys has five options.

Some of my favorites include Cinnamon Sugar (sure, I could mix this up myself, but my homemade version probably wouldn’t include two different kinds of cinnamon and ground vanilla bean!), Lemon Pepper for sprinkling on my kids’ lunch veggies, and Fox Point Seasoning, a mixture of salt, shallots, garlic, and peppercorns, which my mother-in-law — also a Penzeys fanatic with more than 50 jars in her pantry — says is her secret ingredient in zucchini sautéed in butter. My husband refuses to make pizza sauce if we don’t have the Pizza Seasoning on hand (It also makes the best garlic bread I’ve ever had), and even though it’s pricey, I’ll splurge on Double Strength Vanilla for holiday baking and birthday cakes

Credit: Jessica Harlan
For commitment-phobes, shoppers can opt for a trial size packet of Penzeys spice blends before committing to a whole jar.

Prior to discovering Penzeys, I was partial to buying spices in bulk, which turned my pantry into a disorganized mess of plastic baggies and mismatched tins and tubs. Ever since I decided that Penzeys spices were the only ones worth buying, my spice cabinet would  make Marie Kondo proud; its neat tiered rows of clear glass jars all emblazoned with the company’s trademark beige labels. I love that you can buy the spices in large and small stackable jars, and in bulk for refills. You can even pick up sample sizes for a blend you only need a little of or want to taste test.  

Buy: Penzeys Spices Cinnamon Sugar, $4.79 for 1.8 ounces at Penzeys

Knowing that Penzeys will always have just what I need (and even things I didn’t know I needed!), and that the quality will be exceptional, I’ve pretty much cleared all those dusty old jars and tins from my cabinets and replaced them with Penzeys. Sure, they’re a little spendier than the average grocery store brands, but my food has never tasted better!

Do you have a favorite spice brand? Tell us about it in the comments!