I love to bake and cook with spices and herbs. I have tried to fill my pantry with all sorts of spices from the grocery store. When I realized how expensive some spices could be I opted to find some at the dollar store or somewhere just as inexpensive (and all the chefs of the world just cringed!). Needless to say, I was not thrilled with most results: bland tastes, or total loss of flavor, to many stems, not enough leaves. I was apprehensive about ordering online. Even though the prices were pretty decent, I just didn’t want to order something I couldn’t sample.
One day while visiting my mother, she showed me a Penzeys Spices catalog that she had gotten from someone else. She had already ordered some spices (she was much more adventurous than I) and invited me to smell them.
One of the first I smelled was Tung Hing Cinnamon from China. I was immediately taken back to school lunch at LakevilleMiddle School when they actually had bakers who went to the school kitchens early in the morning to make fresh dinner rolls and the most luscious of cinnamon rolls for lunch that day! I could not stop smelling that cinnamon. I have never smelled any store brand that had the bold, yet warm smell of that jar. I already had cinnamon on my shopping list from that catalog and I wanted my own catalog!
As I looked through page after page of alphabetically listed herbs and spices, my mouth watered, my heart raced and I saw my bank account dwindling because I wanted it all. Not only were there treasures to be discovered, but recipes to embellish with those very jewels. And there were stories by real people who talk of cooking and eating and special times with loved ones. Then I saw the page that changed my pantry forever – the store listings in the United States! Yes!!!! There was a store in Michigan, actually two. And one was close enough that I could visit, regularly.
I made my way to the Beverly Hills, Michigan, store on a day when I could take my time and go through everything the store had to offer. I have never wandered through an entire store, section by section, checking out EVERYTHING, but in here I did. And it was worth it! I started at the door and made my way around the outer walls. There were signs with descriptions of everything on the shelves. There were sample jars of all the herbs and spices that you were encouraged to sniff and inhale to your heart’s content. Then I meandered through the middle aisles, almost overwhelmed by all the choices. The staff was very helpful and extremely patient since I mentioned it was my first time to visit this paradise. I noticed the staff too as I was looking about as they dealt with other customers. They offered suggestions, answered questions, helped put together gift ideas, and directed customers to new or undiscovered items. Once I got through the store I realized that the store was just as organized as their catalog, alphabetically by category: seasonings along one wall, herbs in the middle, baking supplies and gift sets filling the other two walls. The last wall housed the cash registers and refillable glass jars of all sizes that you could purchase. (The Indianapolis, Indiana, store has all its baking supplies set up in a kitchen with a stove, cupboards and window displays – cute! I got to stop by there on the way down south.)
I really tried not to go overboard on my first visit; otherwise I would not have an excuse to return. So I bought only the most frequently used herbs and spices (you know cinnamon was in my basket!) and one new-to-me spice. I did throw out all my old and inferior dried herbs and spices when I got home because I had all new goodness to replace them. I will return to Penzeys in future product reviews, but for today I will focus on that lovely Chinese cinnamon.
I use cinnamon quite a bit since it is one of my favorite spices, but I have two favorite uses: sprinkling about ¼ tsp. in batter for cinnamon pancakes and in fruit salad. Cut up 2 cups of fresh fruit, 1 tablespoon honey and as much cinnamon as you like. I sometimes add a pinch of ground ginger too. Stir together and let it sit in the refrigerator for about an hour. My favorite fruit combo is peaches or nectarines, kiwi, mango and blueberries.
This company offers several cinnamon products and no, I did not purchase them all. But I have tried the Penzeys Korintje Cinnamon from Indonesia. It has a milder smell and flavor than the Chinese cinnamon, but still way better than any store bought variety. Penzeys also offers its own blend of the two aforementioned and Ceylon and Vietnamese cinnamons. Wow! Cinnamon rolls are beckoning me! I have also tried the Penzeys cinnamon sugar – just the right combo of Chinese and Ceylon cinnamon flavors, sugar and a flavor boost of vanilla beans. It is absolutely scrumptious on top of lightly buttered toast or on the crust of any fruit or berry pie before baking (a trick of Grandma Bacon’s to make any frozen pie seem more like homemade).
I have been receiving the Penzeys Spices catalog for over a year now and every month or two the company offers free merchandise coupons. One month it was a free gift set with 2 spices, a recipe book, a pin, and bumper sticker. Sometimes it is a new spice blend or an old favorite. There have also been coupons for dollars off a reasonable purchase. I have had up to 3 different coupons because the expiration dates many times overlap or span 3 or 4 months and I was able to redeem all of them in one transaction. Really impressive was the fact that I had been able to redeem a coupon which expired in April 2012 in October 2012 for a product they just couldn’t keep in stock. (I am not sure how that would be handled for online orders. But if you decide to order online, they do offer free shipping on orders over $30.00 all the time.) The products come in a variety of sizes from ¼ cup and ½ cup jars to bags of all sizes. The bags are the best deals. The prices are very reasonable and comparable to any online market. The gift sets, however, are somewhat overpriced. They do add extras to some sets, such as: usable bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmegs, or star anise, but you could buy them separately and create your own boxes, baskets or bags cheaper.
I was very pleased with my Penzeys experience and will return to the store real soon. I will keep you informed about other products I have tried. I hope you have the chance to enjoy Penzeys too!
I am not being compensated by this company for this review. It is my personal opinion ~ Correen Coultas
(Photos by Correen Coultas)
Inner Chef Note: You can visit Penzy’s Spices online at: http://www.penzeys.com/