Marco Polo's Legacy: A Visit to Penzeys.

Lovers of organic or local food sources have a spicy dilemma. A kitchen garden can't produce the hundreds of exotic spice varieties carried by retail distributors like Penzey's. Add to that, home grown herbs are labor intensive to process and preserve for off-harvest periods; and, conventional spices are absurdly expensive. Makes this TreeHugger wonder if cardamom [pictured plant] seeds still come to the grocery by camel way back in Marco's era. Once you've tried fresh spices, grocery store spices taste like they've been in the distribution chain for years: Marco got lost maybe. It's especially noticeable with exotics like Cassia Cinnamon or fancy Cardomoms. For something you'll use in a tiny weight percent of your food, demanding organic makes little sense. So, if you've got some extra room in your freezer, buying in bulk from a specialty spice supplier is a fun solution. Penzeys, in particular, advocates buying enough of each spice for a year of cooking, keeping enough in the spice rack for a few months use and the remainder in your freezer.There's probably other good online suppliers of spice, but Penzey's is the only one this TreeHugger has seen with over 20 store front operations in US cities, a graphically interesting mail order catalog, with recipes, and travelogs from spice buying expeditions.

Caveat: the online catalog is pure workhorse: you need the print catalog to appreciate two illustrated pages of dried hot pepper varieties; a great spread of curry powders; three full pages of dried salad seasonings; and a virtual altar for peppercorn worshippers.