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Feb 14, 2008 11:42 AM

Berkeley - Lhasa Karnak Herb Company

After visiting Whole Spice at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, I thought I’d finally check out Llasa Karnak to see how they compare.

Llasa Karnak opened on Earth Day in 1970 and while they have a large selection of culinary herbs and tea, it seems like the focus is more on herbal remedies From the website …

“We specialize in Western medicinal herbs and culinary spices, but we have a nice collection of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs as well … All of our herbs are guaranteed to be not sprayed with pesticides - many are certified organic, many are ethically wildcrafted”

There are two locations. I prefer the larger location on Telegraph.

The Shattuck location has unmarked jars of herbs in back and the only way to see what is sold is a three-ring binder listing what is available.

There’s a smaller selection of books and other products. Also, on my one visit, the service was not only unhelpful, it was rude to the point it almost made me not want to check out the other location. I won’t ever go to the Shattuck shop again.

Telegraph was larger and much, much better. One wall was lined with labeled glass herb jars. The other wall is full of books and all sorts of health and beauty items. There’s a bench seat in the window.

It has a whole 70’s vibe to it, especially with the background music. The staff was larger and was on top of helping customers. A friend of mine says one guy there is particularly helpful.

I bought -

- Saigon Cinnamon Powder 1 oz. - $1.50 4.5% Volatile Oils
- Ceylonese Cinnamon Powder 1 oz. - $1.00
- Certified Organic Chipotle Chili Powder, 1oz. - $1.25

At Whole Spice I bought Ceylon cinnamon and another just identified as organic.

With the additional oil, the Saigon cinnamon was darker and more aromatic than the others with background warmth.

However the clear winner was Whole Spice’s Ceylon with bright, complex flavors and a slight sweet quality. The organic Whole Spice was next, but not as flavorful as the regular Ceylon. The Llasa Karnak Ceylon is fine, but in a back-to-back tasting with the other three, tasted flat.

Whole Spice also had the better chipotle powder which tasted fresher and more complex.

That being said, the differences were subtle and I wasn’t disappointed with any of them.

The sole focus at Whole Spice is culinary and there is also a wide selection of spice mixes like the zhug (great stuff). The spices also look brighter. Some of the dried peppers are downright beautiful. However, the prices range from slightly to significantly more than at Llasa Karnak. But again, I like both companies.

Whole Spice

In addition to Black, Green, White and Oolong teas, Llasa Karnak sells special blends like …

Mu Tea - $4.00/oz

This is a traditional blend of ginseng root and fifteen other herbs. Our freshly blended version of this tonic beverage has a superb taste.

Ingredients: Chinese cinnamon bark, althea root, elecampane root, East Indian ginger root, licorice root, sweet orange peel, comfrey root, coriander seed, Chinese Panax red ginseng root, two peony root, Chinese dong quai root, dandelion root, European angelica root, cloves, Turkey rhubarb root, jujube fruit.

There are the unusual herbs that probably are used more for medicinal rather culinary uses like Black Snake Root, Bladderwrack, Chaste Tree Berries, Deer Tongue Leaf , Smoked Dong Quai Root , Dragon's Blood Resin Bricks, False Unicorn Root, Goat's Rue, Lady's Mantle , Scarlet Pimpernel Root, Blue Sweet Violet Leaves … Chia Seed (to revive that chia pet?).

I just noticed they sell agar-agar which I’ve wanted to try.

Anyway it is a good source of fresh, high-quality herbs at good prices.

Does anyone have a favorite tea here or any other tips?

Lhasa Karnak Herb Company
1938 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

Lhasa Karnak Herb Company
2482 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

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  1. I've always had friendly service at the Shattuck location. Much easier parking than the Telegraph location. Their spices aren't always as flavorful as Penzeys's, though.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      So, how does Penzey's compare to Whole Spice?

      1. re: chemchef

        Never tried Whole Spice, but they don't have Vietnamese cinnamon, which is my favorite.

        Whole Spice Company
        610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

    2. Did you try the Mu Tea tonic? I'm curious how it tastes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chemchef

        No haven't tried it yet ... maybe someone else can chime in.

        A few others I want to try ...

        Rappahannock (Indian Mint) - $2.00/oz

        This exotic mint blend is characterized by the remarkable aroma of Canada snake root.

        Ingredients: Spearmint, European pennyroyal, comfrey leaf, peppermint, papaya leaf, Canada snake root (wild Indian ginger), nettle.

        Jamaica Mint Tea - $2.00/oz

        A tea with a Caribbean flair. Also delicious as an iced tea.

        Ingredients: Jamaica flowers (hibiscus), orange peel, spearmint, papaya leaf, peppermint, lemon peel

      2. Best. Candied. Ginger. Ever. And, quite affordable, too. Not sure what the measurements are, but the larger bag which contains about 2.5-3 cups of ginger was $7 last time I checked.

        1. I know they aim to have staff that are more knowledgable than your average retail clerk, but ask for Jim or Aaron (owner and son) if you ever want to talk to someone who really knows their stuff.

          1 Reply
          1. re: SLRossi

            Thanks !!! Great tip. My friend didn't have a name but it must have been Jim or Aaron.