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Penzey's - after many years of joy, I am disappointed!

I have been a Penzey's customer for many many years, going back to the time before you could order online. Always, when someone asks where to buy an herb, spice, or seasoning, I suggest they check Penzey's, for selection, freshness, and reasonable price. Now, I am having second thoughts - at least a little bit.

A few days ago I went to the Boston-area Penzey's store. I had a shopping list, partially to make sure i got what I needed, partially to make sure I didn't get what I don't need. Onion salt was on my list. My old jar is a few years old and has gotten caked solid. On the shelves I saw many old friends - the different varieties of cinnamon, the wonderful French thyme, the West Indian nutmeg, the three different grades of saffron (oh! to fantasize about the super-hyper-wonderful grade that costs about the same as a bank bail-out!) - but no onion salt. I asked the woman tending the store, and she told me they have shallot salt but they never carried onion salt. (Wrong! Well, she must be new.) I went home with my peppermint leaves, Mexican oregano, garlic powder, and herbes de Provence, but no onion salt. Yes, my old jar of onion salt had that familiar light-yellow Penzey's label, but no, onion salt had been disappeared from the Penzey's website.

While onion salt is not something you use every day, it does show up in all sorts of recipes. (Paul Prudhomme, for example, uses it extensively.) I can understand wanting to concentrate on the items that have the broadest appeal, but if Penzey's has shelf- and catalog space for Chili 3000 ("The chili of now!"), Chili 9000 ("The chili of tomorrow!"), and Mural of Flavor (yes there is a seasoning by that name) certainly they can also carry good old reliable onion salt. Grrr!

Now you know. I wonder which old standby they will drop next?

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  1. i've always thought of onion salt as something of a regional and cuisine-specific ingredient. i know it's common in traditional Cajun and Southern recipes, but it's not really a universal spice. in fact, i can't recall the last time i saw a recipe that called for it. my guess it that it wasn't selling enough to justify keeping it in their catalog.

    2 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      It wasn't common in either traditional Cajun or Southern cooking - at least until recipes for those cuisines started appearing in national general circulation media.
      Short cut stuff like onion salt, garlic salt, celery salt, etc. found their way into lots of recipes - not just regional stuff. I never could understand why Prudhomme used that crap in his cookbooks. None of my Cajun or Southern relatives did and neither did I.

      I think that they fell into disuse when people became more health conscious and started watching salt intake.
      Does anybody really miss these? Except for the Bloody Mary folks who insist on celery salt. How can anybody want more salt in V-8?

      If you have to use powdered onion, you can buy that and add your own salt to taste.

      1. re: MakingSense

        MakingSense....You make a lot of sense!!!

        None of my Kith & Kin have ever used this type of stuff...To suggest so would bring a room full of laughter....

        Could be the reason Penzey's stopped carrying the stuff...It didn't sell......

        Enjoy!

    2. I have never personally used onion salt, but I do see that they carry onion powder. I bet that you could create a batch of your own onion salt by mixing the powder with your own favorite cooking salt. And you even have a bottle to store it in with the right label.

      6 Replies
      1. re: smtucker

        Yes, indeed, I can do that... or I can buy onion salt elsewhere. I was just voicing my frustration that Penzey's is no longer a one-stop shop for herbs, spices, and seasonings. The experience inspires me to try other sources that compete with Penzey's, such as The Spice House (see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/349077).

        1. re: PinchOfSalt

          Seems like an extreme reaction to me. I don't expect any place to be "one stop for all my spices." *shrug*

          1. re: Morganna

            Not an extreme reaction - it's a matter of practicality. I'm a pretty serious cook, and when someone who knows me asks for my advice about where to buy a particular ingredient, I don't want to mislead them. Onion powder is pretty vanilla stuff (pun intended); you can buy it at just about any supermarket. If I suggest to someone that it is better to go to a special shop or to buy online than to do the convenient thing, I don't want to steer them wrong. That applies to me too. If I go to a store expecting I can buy everything I need and then discover that they don't have something it is reasonable to expect them to carry, that costs me my time that could have been used doing something else. This experience taught me that you cannot rely on Penzey's to carry ordinary things that you can buy anywhere and that they have sold for years and years.

            Apropos online ordering, shipping charges are a good reason to attempt to make one large order rather than multiple orders at different stores.

            For folks who think that serious cooks do not use onion salt, sorry to disagree. The first time I make a recipe, I try to stick reasonably close to the ingredients list and method. After that I might play with the recipe or tweak it. Yes, onion salt is rarely called for, but one can say the same thing about gumbo file or mace or juniper berries; I have small jars of all three in my spice drawer.

            1. re: PinchOfSalt

              I'm just saying that it seems extreme to me to STOP shopping at Penzey's when they've been so consistently great for so long because they stopped carrying -one- thing. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what your stated intentions were.

              1. re: PinchOfSalt

                Isn't it possible to be a serious cook without ever using onion salt?

                1. re: Claudette

                  Of course it is; my intent was mainly to address comments that seemed as if they might be saying that a serious cook would NOT use onion salt.

        2. Check your local Coop market, they may carry it. We were in ours today and picked up several spices from the bulk section that were way less than what you would pay at Penzeys. And you can buy ant amount you want.

          1 Reply
          1. re: RichK

            The quality and age of dried spices makes a big difference in cooking. I can't speak to coops, there are none around here. But anyone that's used the off-the-shelf large plastic containers from Costco or BJ's or wherever can tell you how cheap they are, but when compared with the same spice from Penzey's it's a huge world of difference. Penzey's spices are universally more intense in their flavor. I use granulated onion and garlic rather than powdered in my dry rubs. The difference from the cheap stuff is night and day.

          2. If not finding one spice were grounds for dropping a store/site, then I guess I should drop The Spice House. They stopped carrying HBI Garlic powder a couple of years ago. (But they do have onion powder, which I have no need of.)

            I buy from both Penzey's and The Spice House for different reasons. From Penzey's I like that I can buy "half bottles" of spices I don't use all that much, so it doesn't go to waste. I also prefer their Chili Con Carne Season over TSH's. In general, tho The Spice House has a bit lower prices.

            However, since TSH dropped HBI Garlic I discovered that The Savory Spice Shop carries it. I can also buy my tomato powder in bulk from there. (But they don't have onion salt.)

            Choices...ain't America great?

            1. i honestly have to assume you wouldn;t get a much different taste from shallot salt

              1 Reply
              1. re: thew

                I use the shallot salt quite often, and could swear I have seen onion salt at the store in Norwalk CT
                I actually wish they would make shallot powder but they told me it cakes up too easily with out the salt