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Feb 14, 2007 05:31 AM

'Expensive' spices vs 'cheap' spices

I am sure this topic was discussed before but I need to know if there is a difference between dry spices bought from a gourmet shop and spices bought from a local supermarket for like $.79(or two for dollar when they go on sale).
Insn't herb all the same after all? There is no such thing as high quality expensive fresh least I never noticed although my local gourmet shop charges 99 cents for a bunch of fresh herbs while some high end gourmet shops in Manhattan charges like $2.99 for a bunch.

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  1. There is definitely a difference between spices bought at the supermarket and spices bought at a specialty store. If you live in Manhattan, I suggest checking out Penzey's spices at Grand Central Station. They have sample jars of all their spices available for the smell test and you can buy small jars that hold as little as 1/4 c. so your spices won't go stale before you can use them. Once you get there, you will see how many varieties of black pepper and cinnamon there are and that alone should answer your question about why it's good to buy spices at a specialty store. Penzey's prices are quite reasonable and are often less than supermarket prices. Check for yourself. That said, however, I've seen plenty of upscale supermarkets package spices in cheap plastic bags and light and air are the enemy of spices, so you could pay a lot of money and wind up with a spice that is no longer potent.

    When it comes to fresh herbs, I've been pleased with the 79-cent bunches of mint and basil I've gotten at Asian markets and haven't noticed a quality difference between them and the ones that are sold for a lot more money at places like Whole Foods.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Velda Mae

      And I highly recommend the Cassia cinnamon... unbelievable. It is wonderfully fragrant.

      1. re: Velda Mae

        I think the best answer is ... "sometimes."

        Ethnic markets IMO have the best-quality spices as rock-bottom prices.

        Itty-bitty jars at supermarkets may have very good quality (McCormick, etc) but you're gonna pay way too much, unless it's something you use just a bit of fairly rarely.

        "Gourmet" shops - a big "maybe" - if it's sold as a premium variety, or extra-good grade, you might want to choose to buy there, but for the most part salt is salt and dried parsely is dried parsely.

        "Whole Food"-type stores - just hand over your wallet, but you won't be getting spices any better than you can get at the local grocery.

      2. And if you go to a local ethnic grocery (such as an Indian or Latin American), you can get whole or ground spices in large bags that are more flavourful and less stale than the supermarket variety for less money.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Blueicus

          The cumin at my local mediterranean market is so much better than at my local supermarket and of course a lot less. One of the reasons is that the inventory turn over is greater because cumin is such a staple spice for a lot of cultures. I get the impression that at regular supermarket spices like cumin sit and are not very fresh.

        2. I don't know about herbs, but the cinnamon I got from Penzy's is pure HEAVEN! I'll never get cinnamon from the grocery again. I got the Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon. And you know what? I got a huge bag of it, and I don't think it was any more expensive than McCormick's.

          Penzey's lets you order online too!

          2 Replies
          1. re: puppymomma

            The first time I bought cinnamon from Penzey's, I spent the entire next day pouncing on friends who'd come to visit and jamming bottles in their faces, demanding they smell the varieties and note the amazing difference between them and my old grocery store stuff.

            ...funny, nobody comes over the weekend after I go to Penzey's anymore. But I love my Penzey's spices.

            1. re: puppymomma

              There's a huge difference between Vietnamese Cassia cinnamon and the rest. The Vietnamese one is a lot more hot and spicy and flavorful. I purchased a whole bunch in Vietnam for a ridiculously cheap price (compared to American standards). But it took a long time before I found a reliable vendor. Every vendor I went to was trying to sell me the crappy stuff. I then found one place that actually sold me the real stuff. I was carrying my purchase around town when every Vietnamese person I encountered (hotel staff, tailors, servers at restaurants, people I've met on the street) asked to taste the cinnamon. They all nodded their head saying that I got the good stuff. So I guess it's really common for vendors to try to sell regular cinnamon as Vietnamese cinnamon. So if one is buying Vietnamese cinnamon, I would only do it from a reputable vendor like Penzeys.

            2. For those in the Chicago area, the Spice House is great (and cheaper than most other groceries).

              5 Replies
              1. re: rubinow

                I live in Boston and love the Spice House in Chicago. There's also one in Milwaukee. The folks who own it are relatives of the folks who own Penzey's. The problem with mail ordering from The Spice House is that you can't order the tiny quantities you can from Penzey's. The folks there explained that it just doesn't make economic sense for them to ship small amounts, but I hate having things go to waste. When I visited a few years ago, The Spice House owner explained that they grind their spices in-house weekly whereas Penzey's has gotten so big they can't do that anymore. Nevertheless, I haven't had a problem with freshness at Penzey's. Also, I give them credit because they had a write-in campaign promising to open a store in the town that sent the most postcards and they stayed true to their word, despite the high cost of Boston real estate.

                1. re: rubinow

                  I love the Spice House. Everyone is so hung up on Penzey's, but I love the spice house so much better. I love how you can see everything in those big jars and they weight it out for you. I was in Chicago last week and I spent lots of money at The spice House. but, look at everything I got!!

                  1. re: Calipoutine

                    It's not a matter of being "hung up" on Penzey's - I find their quality to be just fine. Their packaging is no different than what you have shown in your picture - and going to a Penzey's store, you can also see everything in large jars and you're able to perform the sniff test to see if you'll like it or not. I prefer that Penzey's sells in much smaller containers - both in-store and via mail order.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Penzey's doesnt custom scoop the product for you. You dont see the spices being blended and containers being filled. To each her own.

                      1. re: Calipoutine

                        No they don't. But your earlier post was talking about the big jars so you can see/sniff - no different than Penzey's stores. But as Velda Mae said above, Penzey's is bigger, so they can no longer grind in-house weekly. Their freshness in flavor doesn't seem to have suffered, however. Ends up being personal preference. Penzey's is close to me with their Boston store, so I don't have to pay for shipping costs.

                2. Another think to keep in mind about supermarket spices is to ask yourself how long they stay on the shelf before being purchased. The spices go on sale probably right before their next delivery in order to empty out the shelving. Ethnic grocery stores are selling the spices that are used heavily, and therefore replaced frequently