Good Taste: Adding Spice To Life

By Barbara Bishop


Today my culinary talents took a huge step forward by making a visit to Penzey’s Spices in the South Bay. There was one in Santa Monica; unfortunately, they closed several months agoWhen I was first starting out in my cooking adventures, I would follow the recipes exactly, to the smallest detail. Now, it’ so much more fun changing it up, especially with different spices.

What’s really impressive about Penseys is the huge selection – more than 250 salts, peppers, spices, rubs, seasonings, seeds, dried peppers and other dried fruits and vegetables from all over the world. I don’t know where to start! I am always looking for new spices for roast chicken and BBQ steak, so I start there

The front window facade and the lighting fixtures have the look of an old-time country store. The wood floors give the place a warm, homey feeling and there’s the smell of a myriad of spices. Like a kid in a candy store, I want them all! Especially around the holidays.

Do you know how long spices are good for? I ask one of the helpful sales people. She tells me that ground spices last up to one year, and whole spices last up to two years. Storage of the spices, she said, is also key. Spices must be stored properly to maintain their original intensity and freshness. They can be stored in a glass container and be free of exposure to light, moisture, air and heat. Good to know.

So many spices, so little time! As I meander down each isle looking for the perfect spice, I discover that there are jars of each spice that you can smell before you buy. I come across a spice called Bancock Blend, mixed with sweet peppers, garlic, ginger, black pepper, galanmagal, hot peppers, lemon grass basil and cilantro. I smell it. Wow – it packs a punch!

Then I find a Bavarian-style seasoning, hand-made from crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sage – mmm, so earthy. Good possibility for my Thanksgiving turkey.

Penzeys Spices was not always exclusively a spice company. In 1957, Bill Penzey Sr. started a small coffee and spice business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Over time as the business grew, he focused solely on spices and herbs.

In 1986, Bill’s son, Bill Jr. started a mail order business supplying spices to people all over the U.S. In the late ‘90s, the company began opening retail stores. Penzey’s now has 50 stores in 24 states.

After carefully going down each isle, I find the perfect spices for me — for chicken, it’s Rocky Mountain, a blend of green bell pepper, Parmesan cheese, salt, sesame and poppy seeds, shallots, arrowroot and green peppercorns. The second one I selected for chicken is Sunny Paris, a combination of purple shallots, chives, green peppercorn basil, tarragon, bay leaf and dill weed. Ooh-la-la!

For steaks, I choose the Chicago Steak rub. It’s hand-mixed and contains salt, Tellicherry, black pepper, sugar, garlic, onion, lemon zest, citric acid and natural smoke flavor. I am from Chicago, and miss those backyard barbecues when I was a kid. I’m hoping this seasoning will take me back there!

Get your spices on at Penzy’s.

For those of you who miss the Santa Monica location like I do, go to their website, it’s easy to order everything you need; go to