Penzys Spices Comes to Portland

Penzy's Peppercorns

Updated 12/11 – hours and general information, and a Pearl District and Beaverton  stores!


I spent a happy hour this week checking out the new Penzeys Spices store in Clackamas. It actually isn’t too hard to find, just north of the mall on 82nd, between TJ Max and Winco at 11322 SE 82nd ave. Google Map. In the past, I have bemoaned the fact that I had to go to Seattle to find a good spice store.

Things I like:

  • They have tons of stuff. If you haven’t ever gotten a Penzys catalog before you’ll enjoy wandering around and reading the detailed signs on each spice. You don’t go and pick out cinnamon or pepper, you pick between multiple types with different characteristics. Cinnamon? Seven types. Each spice is available from different countries. Not only that, they have many of the hard to find Mexican, Indian, Pakistani spices. I bought a few things just because I’ve never tasted them outside of a dish.
  • Lots of sizes – pre-ground spices have a shelf life of maybe a year or two, so it is best to buy small bottles of things you don’t use often. They have from small size to bulk.
  • Tasters – Almost everything is available in large glass jars that you can stick your nose in to compare varieties as well as taste. This is an education in itself.
  • Prices – About ½ what you would pay in the grocery store. Now that you can get them without doing the mail order thing, you save on shipping too.
  • Staff is well versed and friendly.

Things I don’t like:

  • Nothing organic. Most spices are never available organic, but some are. Not here. (Still true as of 6/10)
  • Not everything is of the highest quality though generally they do a good job. I did compare between what I purchased today and what I already had at home. Most of the Penzeys stuff was better, even accounting for the age difference. Just smell/taste before you buy.
  • It would be nice if the store was downtown, but with their prices I understand the need to keep overhead low. The store had a good amount of customers while I was there.

Portland, OR-Downtown Pearl District

  • 120 NW 10th Ave
  • (503) 227-6777
  • Mon.-Sat.: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
  • Sun.: 11:00AM – 5:00PM
  • View Map

Beaverton

  • Beaverton Town Square
  • 11787 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy
  • (503) 643-7430
  • Mon.-Sat.: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
  • Sun.: 11:00AM – 5:00PM
  • View Map

 Happy Valley

  • Portland, OR
  • 11322 SE 82nd Ave
  • (503) 653-7779
  • Mon.-Sat.: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
  • Sun.: 11:00AM – 5:00PM
  • View Map

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. PDXFoodDude says

    Yes, they have 2 varieties: Mexican and Madagascar, sealed in large glass tubes to keep them fresh. 15 beans were around $24.00, 3 beans were about $6.00, so the best prices I’ve seen. I haven’t opened mine yet.. let me go check… okay, I opened my tube of Madagascar. Very perfumed, very soft and pliant.

    By the way, I do not like their double strength vanilla extract.

  2. nancy says

    Wow, talk about results: thanks! btw: Costco is selling 16-ounce bottles pure vanilla extract for $7.99. (I think it was $7.99.) This is the best price by far–and cheaper than it was in years previous, during the vanilla drought. Extract for chocolate chip cookies; beans for creme brulee.

    • says

      But Costco doesn’t sell Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract. If it ain’t madde of Bourbon beans you might as well not bother. Their’s is from Indonesia – same variety of bean but not cured properly and way less flavorful. And never trust a so-called Bourbon bean from Uganda or anywhere but Madagascar, The Cormoros, Seychelles or Reunion.

  3. ExtraMSG says

    “Organic” and “Inexpensive” rarely go together.

    I think that price on vanilla is about half what I last paid. Because vanilla beans are so high priced, it seems like I rarely end up using them. I keep saving them for a special dish. Is that the Winco next to the tamale place and the pho place?

    Nancy, I have to borrow a card to go to Costco, do you know what kind of vanilla it was? (btw, I’m always surprised they’re allowed to use the word “pure” in regards to vanilla extract. There’s nothing “pure” about it. It’s usually about a third alcohol with a bit of water and sometimes sugar thrown in.) 16 ounces at that price is as cheap as the bark juice. Cheaper than Mexico. (I usually keep the cheap stuff for things like cookies ever since I tested the dubious assertion by Cook’s Illustrated that vanillas were relatively indistinguishible in cookies and other such baked goods and found it to be surprisingly true.)

    • says

      Hi Extra – By definition “Pure” vanilla extract must have at least 35% alchohol, if it has more than 35% that is actually a good thing. The key ingredient in good extract is the origin and quality of the bean itself. Costco’s is made of cheap Indonesian beans, hence the dead flavor. You’ve got to get Bourbon Vanilla Extract. The name bourbon refers to Reunion Island – originally called Isle de Bourbon by the French, and the first place vanilla was grown outside of the Yucatan. Now the name has spread to include beans from Madagascar, The Seychelles and The Cormoros as well. So-called Bourbon beans from Uganda or anywhere else are totally hokey – they just don’t have the best terroir and the curing techniques are spotty at best.

      • says

        Okay, now I’m intrigued; my current bottle of vanilla is from Trader Joe’s, labeled “Pure Vanilla Flavor – Alcohol Free”. (Obviously it can’t be called “extract” if there’s no alcohol in it….) The ingredients are given as “glycerine, water, sugar cane, vanilla bean extractives”.

        I use vanilla mostly for baking, so presumably this should be satisfactory even if they are using cheap beans, but I’m curious as to why they’d have done the alcohol-free thing and how well anyone else may regard the TJ’s product.

          • says

            I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure the alchohol serves as a superior solvent – it better extracts the essential oil of vanilla. Nielson-Massey and only two others in North America use a cold-extraction, it takes longer and hence costs more. But it’s also superior flavor-wise. You’ve gotta have the alchohol. You’d use so much less iot probably doesn’t cost more to use.

          • says

            The label does not say. The only other text on the bottle — apart from the K-for-kosher symbol and the UPC code — is the squib that says “Dist. and sold exclusively by: Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, CA 91016″. And I think it’s unlikely they’re growing the vanilla beans at TJ’s World Headquarters in Monrovia….

            Just to confuse matters further, I still happen to have the bottle that preceded this one, which was also from TJ’s, and they evidently reformulated the product somewhere along the way. That one is labeled “Cookbook Vanilla Alcohol Free”, and its ingredients list is “Vanilla Bean Extractives, Glycerin*, Sugar, Xanthan Gum, Water.” The old label has a different barcode and a considerably different graphic design, and does *not* have the K-for-kosher symbol; also, that bottle is glass whereas the new one is plastic. Neither one has a “nutrition facts” information block.

            *Pedantry alert: yes, the spelling is different on the two labels; the old one says “glycerin” and the new one says “glycerine”.

  4. nancy says

    Yes, I was quite skeptical about that Cook’s Illustrated test, and never did bother to try the artificial or the half-and-halfs they recommended.
    The brand I got is Rodelle. Its aroma and taste is that of good ol’ McCormick’s, the taste I grew up with and prefer. I don’t mind bourbon vanilla; can’t stand any of the stuff they sell at Trader Joe’s (that cookie vanilla, or whatever it’s called, has a phlemgy consistency and a sweet/bland yet unpleasantly insinuating flavor); most of the gourmet stuff doesn’t work for me. Mexican vanilla — the cheap kind they sell at the border — tastes like something you should pour into your car battery, though I am told there is some good real vanilla coming out of Mexico. I completely admit my preference for the pure supermarket is a matter of what one grew up using; there’s an easiness to it that I trust.

  5. ExtraMSG says

    The Mexican stuff can be very floral and without the harsh alcohol flavor that some have. Some places in Mexico will have half a dozen or more brands and let you taste and sniff each.

    I think the bourbon stuff can be interesting as well. I used to buy it on occasion.

  6. ExtraMSG says

    I’ll go ahead and add: the problem with Mexican vanilla is that everybody and their chihuahua makes the stuff, so you have to be discriminating.

  7. shuna fish lydon says

    It is interesting to me that we are concerned with “organic” here but not sustainability. Cheap vanilla is just that. Would you eat at a $4.99 all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant?
    vanilla’s price has come down recently because the major geographical area that it comes from is just now getting back on it’s feet from being all but wiped out @ 5 years ago.

    I’m interested to know if, like supermarket spices and dried herbs, Penzey’s products are irradiated? Also I wonder what does “organic” really mean in countries that have never used or been able to afford pest/fungicides for their crops?

  8. Jon says

    Are the prices in the store the same as their catalog? Those are pretty high, compared to my regular mail-order supplier, The Spice House in Chicago. It would be nice to be able to get stuff locally, but I can order online and still save if the prices are not less in-store.

    A quick check of some basics like vanilla and cinnamon showed Spice House prices about 30-40% lower.

  9. Melissa Connor says

    I am a vanilla fanatic and I frequent your site quite often. I did notice a few comments about bourbon and Mexican vanilla. I have found that most Mexican vanilla purchased in Mexico is actually artificial. I have been using a wonderful bourbon vanilla extract by the name of Rodelle. If you do a direct comparison by just smelling the difference of Rodelle to a McCormick or Tone’s vanilla you will find that Rodelle wins hands down. I have been purchasing from Penzeys for years in Chicago. I hope Penzeys would consider carrying Rodelle in their stores.

    • says

      You need to try Nielson-Massey. Rodele’s is good but can’t compare. McCormick’s is C grade at best. N-M is famous in the industry for using ‘splits’ – Bourbon beans that are so juicy they actually split in half. Think ripe peaches here. By law vanilla extract has to contain 13.67 oz beans per gallon, but no one sez they have to be good beans…

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