Browsing the new Penzeys Spices at Crossgates

penzeys crossgates exterior

First floor, near the movie theater.

By Daniel B.

Regardless how good a catalog may be, nothing comes close to being able to see, touch, and in this case, smell the merchandise.

Last week, without much fanfare, a retail store for Penzeys Spices opened in Crossgates Mall. It's on the first floor by the movie theater, in between the Sprint store and Johnny Rockets.

For the better part of a decade I've bought herbs and spices from this purveyor through the mail, even though they have stores in 29 states. And while I cannot tell you how this location stacks up to those around the country, what awaits you at the Guilderland mall is pretty special.

Grab a hand basket when you step into the door, because you are going to need it.

penzeys crossgates salt boatRestraint is the key word here. Say it aloud, and then practice repeating it over and over again. Because there are some amazing and inspiring ingredients in this store. However, spices do not improve with age. In fact, they deteriorate. Although whole spices do last a lot longer. So buy what you need for the short term, knowing that you can always return to buy more. Still, those spice bottles can get unwieldy, so it's prudent to get a basket.

The first thing you see upon walking into the store is a boatload of salt.

Literally, it's a boat full of salt. Penzeys has created different zones within the store and has tried to clearly differentiate between the major classifications of their offerings.

Salts are in the boat, front and center. Naturally, adjacent to salt in the darker-colored wood crates are all kinds of peppercorns: Tellicherry, white, pink (which are not actually peppercorns), and more.

In the center of the store are two islands of herbs. Spices are on the right wall with seasonings on the left. Within these major classifications, products are more or less organized alphabetically. It prompts a test: Which section -- spice or seasoning -- do you go to if you are looking for:

+ Fenugreek?
+ Zatar?
+ Charnushka?

(Answers below.)

And what about vanilla extract, piquin peppers, or Rogan Josh curry powder? Well, I haven't even gotten to the back of the store yet.

penzeys crossgates vanillas

As you make your way back, past the cash registers in the center of the store, you may overlook the wall of chili peppers to your right or the island of curry powders, as all your attention is drawn to the brightly lit and staged antique kitchen on the rear wall. Here is where all the baking spices and extracts live, which is made abundantly clear by the word "Cinnamon" spelled out in copper letters above the mid-century Kelvinator refrigerator. The shelves in this section are lined with a range of cinammons from different origins, all with a different cinnamon profile. There are also bottles of vanilla extract from sources around the world. It's a pretty striking display.

While you could easily run in and out of this store in under five minutes to pick up a bag of Szechuan peppercorns, that would be counter to the point.

Penzeys Spices is a great place to go and be inspired. Take your time. Wander around and look at every single thing they have. Each item is accompanied by a glass jar that you can open and smell. And each of these has a few words about the product. It's a perfect opportunity to learn something new.

penzeys crossgates fenugreek

For example, I never knew that fenugreek seeds were so hard that they required commercial grade grinders to pulverize them into a fine powder, and thus are only available ground. And while I should have known that sumac is a spice and not an herb or a seasoning, I'll confess to asking one of the clerks for guidance. Now I'll never forget.

Speaking of guidance, the one thing that was clearly missing from the store, which is included in Penzeys' catalog, is a chart of the chili pepper heat ratings in Scoville units. Those tiny piquin peppers really pack a punch at 70,000 and are the hottest thing Penzeys stocks. The catalog even lists a warning in all caps: "USE WITH CAUTION." But no such advice was included on the shelf.

penzeys crossgates chili

On the plus side, should you be shopping with kids who aren't terribly enthralled about smelling the jars of tarragon and different varieties of oregano, Penzeys has you covered. There is a well-themed art area where little ones can draw, while pretending they are on a ship exploring strange new lands in search of spice.

For those of you don't generally shop at the mall, that may be a fitting metaphor.

You can come to the mall without eating a fancy pretzel, stopping at the food court, and losing your soul. It is hard to avoid the smell of artificial butter and popcorn grease streaming out of the movie theater. But in short order, you can fill your nostrils with several varieties of exquisite cinnamons, and bring home the one that strikes your fancy.

Or maybe like me, you'll fancy something else. There's a lot to explore.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Answers: Fenugreek - spices; Zatar - seasonings; Charnushka - spices

Find It

Penzeys Spices
Crossgates Mall
Guilderland, NY 12203


This is so exciting! We got a huge amount of Penzey's as a wedding gift, and they really do make a difference. Love the cinnamon (we got like 5 varieties).

I just kept reciting to myself, "it'll be here, this place will still be here next week, or next month... you don't have to buy all the things today."

I walked out with two samplers (there's a coupon going around to get the basic (green) one free, and the others are half-price!), a bottle of Vietnamese cinnamon, a little bottle of Arizona Dreaming and four bottles of gifts for other people.

... And then I went back two days later, and I bought another seasoning mix and some chipotle pepper.

Clearly, that place is gonna be dangerous for my wallet.

("it'll be there next week, you don't have to buy it all today, you DON'T, it'll BE THERE, put it BACK...")

I LOVE Penzey's. I moved to Richmond, VA about 6 months ago, and one of the exciting things was that there is Penzey's store here! (No more annual trips to Boston to stock up!) Even with a store nearby, I still buy in bulk and keep things in the freezer. It's more economical that way. I like that Penzey's gives me the flexibility to buy in small quantities for those spices/herbs/seasonings that I use only occassionally, and to buy in bulk for the ones I use a lot, like the Penzey's cinnamon blend and Mural of Flavor. I'm sure this store will do GREAT in Albany!

I ventured into Penzey's this weekend. I haven't been to Crossgates in over a year so it took me a while to find it since I didn't know that Dick's had moved and AoA indicated in a previous post that it was on the second floor! No matter, I was excited to finally get in there. Not being one for crowds, I picked up three items and hightailed it out of there...I'll certainly be back on a weeknight when it's less busy so I have the time and space to browse properly.

Wee little quibble:

"fenugreek seeds...are only available ground."

Maybe they're only available ground from Penzey's, but you can buy them whole from Paradise Natural Foods in Westmere, as well as any other store that sources bulk herbs/spices from Frontier Natural Products Coop.

The spice must flow...

Whole fenugreek seeds are also available at most Indian markets. Actually, I didn't know they were ever available ground!

The Galena Street Rub is the best rub for pork ribs I have ever used - just delicious. I've been shopping the catalog for years!

A spices place by the movie theater?
You mean I will be able smell something besides popcorn in the store?

So glad to hear that it is near the theaters. Much easier to get to. Still wish they went with Stuyvesant. I abhor Crossgates.

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