Changing Allegiances? (Part 1)

My birthday is later this month, so I was able to use that as an excuse to make a few fun food purchases that we can’t afford on a regular basis. Spices, which I stock up on about once a year, are always high on this list, and I was running dangerously low on a few crucial items, such as cinnamon, thyme, allspice and cumin. As you will know if you have followed the blog for any length of time, I have been slowly converting the majority of my spice cabinet to Penzey’s spices for years, using up dusty grocery store jars for vastly superior—and vastly fresher—options. I am also trying to buy fewer pre-ground spices, since whole spices store much more successfully over time and I now have a little spice grinder to take care of business as needed.

My spice cabinet: I organize from front to back by frequency of use, and label the tops of all the jars to make it easy to identify stuff way in the back. The container holds refill bags of spices and whole dried chiles. The jar of orange powder on the right side of the top drawer is my homemade tomato powder, and the Rancho Gordo Mexican vanilla is so new I haven’t even opened it yet.

When I got ready to order spices this time around, of course I thought of Penzeys immediately. But then I came across a random-draw contest at the Foodie Blogroll offering sets of free spices from SpicesInc, which I had never heard of before. A cursory examination of this relatively new company turned up a long list of favorable comparisons to Penzeys:

  • Excellent prices: Nearly all of their spices cost less than the same amount from Penzeys, and in some cases even their organic option was on par price-wise with the non-organic Penzeys version.
  • Comparable offerings of both individual herbs and spices as well as custom blends; SpicesInc also offers specialty items like grains of paradise, or Himalayan salt blocks and plates.
  • A greater range of package sizes compared to Penzeys: Most spices have two options for purchasing in glass jars, with a much larger choice of weights in resealable bags.
  • A good selection of organic offerings, an area in which Penzey’s is entirely lacking.
  • Good prices on shipping, with free shipping offered for orders over $35: The expense of shipping was one of my pet peeves when ordering with Penzeys.
  • Accounts with available order tracking and history.
  • Excellent customer service: Not only was there a handwritten note on my invoice thanking me for my first purchase, I was given two sample products and a coupon for my next order. All of the labels had the date of purchase handwritten on them, a very handy reference for time-sensitive items like spices. When I joined their Facebook page and left a note, the owner of the company posted a response, even though the page was being flooded with comments coming from Foodie Blogroll members; the man’s personal email and cell phone is even listed on the SpicesInc website!
  • Giving back: SpicesInc donates 1% of all product sales to Feeding America and facilitates additional donations from their customers.

As with any company I have never purchased from before, I did have some reservations, but these were completely addressed by their lifetime guarantee and a very helpful photograph with detailed descriptions of their packaging types. I ordered on a Sunday, my package shipped on Monday, and I received it on Saturday morning, a reasonable length of time for free cross-country shipping. The packaging was nice and snug, and all the bagged spices were actually double-bagged, with the outside heat-sealed to prevent leakage. This is good practice since my 8-oz bag of cinnamon was so full that it didn’t quite seal on one end and some of the cinnamon was starting to work its way out. The majority of my purchases were in these resealable bags, which lowers the cost somewhat, but I would have liked to see a 1/4-C jar option also. Finally, I have to wonder about the availability of replacement lids, since I once received a package from Penzeys with several of the lids cracked or broken, and took a big chip out of my cinnamon jar’s lid last year when I dropped it.

As I fine-tune my spice cabinet, I am hoping to keep the bulky herbs and whole spices in refillable 1/2 C jars and the ground spices (whether pre-ground or made in small batches at home) in 1/4 C jars. I reuse as many of these jars as possible; extra ones are great for custom blends and powders I make at home. Certain spices, like the cinnamon, I go through quickly and consequently purchase in bags that are too large for the jars, so I also need a good storage method for these. Right now they are just piled up in an overflowing Tupperware container, where they tend to slide around a lot—I would love to hear how you all store your bagged spices! Hm, I wonder if there is space to rig some sort of flat wall filing system on the inside of the cabinet door?

I am still recovering my sense of smell after that cold, so I am going to hold off at least until tomorrow to review my impressions of the actual spices, and will provide further feedback as I start cooking with them. But I will say that they look and smell (even through double layers of bagging and my stuffy nose) fantastic!

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