Raise your hand if the most exotic spice in your childhood household was Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Don’t be embarrassed…my hand is up, too. My family occasionally ate out at China Palace and El Burrito, but at home, my mother was not so adventurous (except for the squid incident), and I consumed my share of Spam and canned peas. Although those days are thankfully behind her, she’s still a wimp in the spice department.
According to Spice Advice, spices have been traded since 3000 BC, but Americans weren’t really in the game until 1672. That’s when Elihu Yale, former clerk of the British East India Company, started his own spice business. He made so much money at it that he went on to found the university that bears his name. That’s right, Elihu University. (Just joking. Of course it’s Yale University.) Fast-forward to the end of WWII, when returning soldiers brought a new taste for international cuisine back to this country and sales of the “pizza herb” oregano rose 5200% over the next ten years.
I’m a middle-of-the-road cook: no squid or Spam, just real food that (hopefully) tastes good. As such, I always have room to expand my seasoning selection, so I invited my family to join me on a foray to our local spice shops. Navigational charts and camels are not necessary for spice hunters these days, and the only adversary we encountered on our expedition was the gale force wind that blew sidewalk grit into our faces.
At the Old Town Spice Shop (on Linden Street) and the Savory Spice Shop (in the Opera Galleria), we discovered racks and shelves of fragrant herbs and spices, exotic salts, flavored sugars, dip mixes, teas, and more seasoning blends than I could count. We sniffed and tasted and chose a random selection of interesting products to bring home. I have made the mistake of buying spices in large quantities and either not loving them or having them go stale before I use them up. But the small packets available at both shops make trying new flavors fun, easy, and inexpensive. My favorites so far are Old Town Spice Shop’s Habanero Sugar, which is amazing on Clementines, and Savory Spice Shop’s Chai Spices, which beat every tea-bag chai I’ve tried.
Variety is the spice of life, and twice the spice is…well…twice as nice. If you’ve resolved to try something new in 2012, start by kicking your Lawry’s to the curb and steering your caravan (or Caravan) to the spice shops.