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Which is better for spices? Penzeys or Christina's?

Heading on a spree this weekend. I've ordered from Penzeys online in the past but have never been to the store. I am better off there or Christina's in Cambridge?


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  1. Christina's is way overpriced. If you can get it an an Indian store, that's the cheapest. If you can get it at an Armenian store, that's pretty cheap too. Penzey's is expensive but more worth the money since they have such interesting stuff.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Luther

      I think it depends on what you get at Christina's -- their prices on things like Maldon Sea Salt and star anise and such are in line with other places. I buy most of my spices at an Indian grocery as well, but I wouldn't rule Christina's out if it's convenient.

      Still haven't been to Penzey's because I don't trust myself. Ha!

      1. re: Luther

        Respectfully, Luther:

        Christina's spices are "way overpriced" compared to what? I agree that the Indian stores are inexpensive, but can you point out something specific where there's a big difference between the two? When I've looked at salt, peppercorns and whole spices like cumin and coriander, Christina's costs MUCH LESS than supermarkets and I can't imagine going much lower.

        As far as "interesting stuff" is concerned, I'd say Christinas' section is plenty interesting. Dozens of herbs and spices, whole and ground, several types of peppercorns (whole and ground), flavored salts (e.g. Lime, Saffron), a section of tea leaves, a section of chocolates, dried fruits, powdered chiles, dried chiles, dried 'shrooms (not only spices, this is true).

        And, for what it's worth, Christina's has a much less corporate atmosphere than Penzey's.

        Sorry to go on the offensive, but I'm an unabashed fan of Christina's. Having said all that, if you have more specific criticisms or examples where Boston hounds could do better, I'm all ears.

      2. Next time you're ordering online, another one to consider is World Merchants in Seattle. Some of their blends are really top-notch. The site is http://www.worldspice.com/. Enjoy...

        1. both christina's and penzeys have good quality. you may just want to base your decision on what is near by, and take into account things like turnover rate and are you able to buy in small quantities? because let's face it -- there are a lot of spices that you only need a tiny amount, and definitely turn over is important because you want the freshest spices you can lay your hands on. and also, are you looking for spice blends? because penzey's does a lot of cool ones -- for salad dressings, chicken rubs, etc.

          if you decide to stick around cambridge, there's formaggio kitchen too:


          1. I'm a Spice House man.


            Family of Penzeys - but separate businesses. There's a story I've forgotten, but I don't think they're acrimonious.

            1. Christina's has everything Penzey's has plus much much more, especially in the mushroom, salt, and chili departments.

              I like Penzey's but find the store a little antiseptic, like a hospital, way too neat. They are, however, my go to for vanilla beans, which are always fresh, never folded, and a great value at $6.95 for three.

              1. I really like Penzey's for a few reasons -- all the spices have sampler jars you can sniff, almost everything is available in a tiny jar, which is good for me since I go through most spices pretty slowly. They have a really nice selection of cinnamons, including true cinnamon. They also have a huge selection of spice mixes (steak seasonings, etc.) which aren't my thing but some people like. I like Christina's too, but I just find Penzey's a bit more user-friendly. Both are worth checking out.

                I also second Formaggio Kitchen, particularly for two Turkish pepper flakes I've never seen elsewhere -- Maras pepper (sweeet, red, pretty hot -- similar to Aleppo pepper but with a bit more heat) and Urfa pepper (smoked, sweet, slightly hot, dark brown). As far as I can tell, Urfa pepper makes EVERYTHING better.

                1 Reply
                1. re: MichaelB

                  Ana Sortun talked about Urfa and Aleppo peppers in her new cookbook. Urfa chiles sound awesome.

                2. Go to Christinas. Penzey's doesn't have ice cream next door.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: LoDega

                    Ah, but it does have one of the few remaining Brigham's on the next block (nothing like a Great American and a raspberry lime rickey followed by a Curse Reversed cone), and Lakota Bakery a block past that for cookies!

                    Having shopped at both, I'd say I much prefer Penzey's. As others have mentioned, they sell everything in a wide variety of quantities, which is very handy because some things you only need a tiny amount of, while others are best bought by the half-pound.

                  2. penzey's is boring and expensive - go to arax in watertown...cheap, fresh and interesting. or christina's for icecream next door!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: NoShoGrl

                      i went to arax recently and bought some cinnamon sticks, saffron, and dried lime. i agree, it was cheap, but as for quality, it turned out to be some of the worst (tasteless) spices i've bought to date. the saffron was probably dried, shredded marigold leaves, but i was not educated to enough to spot the real deal from the fakes. i have since tossed the cinnamon sticks and saffron, but i've still got my dried lime.

                    2. I usually shop for spices at the Middle Eastern spice markets on Blackstone Street (where the Haymarket is held). Dirt cheap! For instance, an entire, large jar of whole nutmeg for about three bucks. There must be 100 nutmegs in there. One shop is right next to a Halal butcher, another is down one flight of stairs from street level. ALL kinds of Persian, Indian, Mediterranean spices.

                      1. I've been to the Spice House in Evanston, IL, and in Chicago and it would be my first choice for in-person shopping. Part of the problem with mail ordering from them is that it's no longer possible to order in 1 oz. increments, which is tough for spices that last a long time because they deteriorate. Also, it's a bit of a deterrent to trying new products.

                        According to the folks at The Spice House, their product is superior to Penzey's because their business is still small enough to allow them to grind small batches of spices weekly on site. The Spice House's shipping charges have gotten to the point where I prefer to go to Penzey's because it's still a high quality product, I can smell before buying, and I can use the money I would have spent on shipping to buy more spices.

                        Also, an advantage of Penzey's packaging is that it keeps the flavors fresh, which the thin plastic baggies at the Middle Eastern markets do not.

                        1. What about Polcari's, in the North End? Has anyone ever gotten spices here? I love this charming little store, a throwback to the old days, plus the coffee is great. Just not sure how good/fresh the spices are --they seem like they'd be good, but I'm curious if any 'hounds have actually tried 'em.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: twentyoystahs

                            I get spices there every now and then. They have a pretty good selection. Plus, it's fun just to hang out in that place.

                          2. I'm in with the other posters above who love the Penzeys shop for the smelling samples. Works the same sort of magic that I suppose perfume testers work for women (you'd have to ask my wife about this). And, Penzeys appears to be a good reliable source for real-deal, Sichuan grown Sichuan peppercorns (some branches of the Super 88 have it, but I failed to find them on a recent bike ride out to Allston).

                            However, I'm intrigued by the descriptions of Christina's. Will have to stop by (and oh my, guess I'll have to get some ice cream while I'm there ...)


                            1. My vote is for Penzey's. Reliable quality and reasonable prices.

                              1. As for nearby chow, diagonally across from Penzey's, a few doors towards the Heights, is Something Savory, with excellent chow to eat in or take out.

                                1. I wish I had a way to put this in bold but forget penzy's. They are too big and processing too much. GO TO WWW.PENDERYS.COM . Small really fresh stuff adn the best chilis, freshly ground chilis and truly fresh spices and herbs. Of course don't tell too mny people. we want to keep it small and fresh.

                                  1. Have you tried Polcari's in the North End? Been there decades and my family has been shopping there for about the same time. Very old school....& cheap/

                                    1 Reply