For me, spices have always been something I pick up at a store when trying a new recipe, and don't use much outside of the basics: salt, pepper, garlic, and the occasional herb like oregano or dried basil.
For our wedding we received a gift card to a spice shop, Penzeys. Until then I didn't know there was such a thing as a spice shop. I always grabbed my spices at the grocery store.
When I finally got around to visiting the spice shop to use the gift card, I became instantly enamored. The various aromas of spices, from savory to sweet to tart to bitter filled my senses and pulled me in. It was as though every little spice bottle had a story it conveyed through scent - stories of exotic dishes, cozy holidays, comfort foods.
I thought pepper was pepper. But no, there were many varieties of pepper, in fine and course ground and peppercorn.
And a couple of cabinets with maybe five shelves each were dedicated to cinnamon. So many different types of cinnamon! It was so hard to choose, they were all wonderful and unique in their own way. I ended up deciding on a sharp, sweet Indonesian cinnamon and another strong, rich Vietnamese cinnamon.
Some of my favorite spice bottles were the freeze-dried varieties of garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. The jalapeno in particular smelled especially fresh and potent. I can be a time-crunched cook much of the time, so freeze dried spices are appealing as I can subsitute them for fresh.
Most shopping is a visual and touch experience. Shopping for spices is an olfactory experience. Trying out spices is essentially sniffing them, because the scent of the spice is closely linked to the taste. This is an experience I don't get much with most shopping, and it made the experience feel all that much more rich.
If you've never experienced a spice shop, I would encourage you to try it! I went to Penzeys back in Albuquerque, but unfortunately they are no longer in Austin. Exploring a spice shop is a wonderful, cozy experience to me, similar to visiting a tea store or knit shop.
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