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Spiceology: Rethinking Seasonings

spiceology
The spice must flow.

I sought out and found specialty spice purveyor Spiceology. Hoping to get fresher products at better prices and a nod to better organization, would this up-start deliver?

Spices have long been stashed on the Metro shelf – their clear, soft plastic containers crusted with ages of gunk clinging to outdated, underused, and, more seriously, lousy flavoring additives. Sure, there is the requisite dry basil and granulated garlic carton that see some action, but there must be more to the spice life. A hodge-podge of ill-organized containers blend in with side towels, occasionally used chaffing dishes, and the even less frequently used portion scale. And it is a shame. Flavors should be bright, exciting, even shocking. Is there a better way?

Online spice purveyor Spiceology was founded by a group of chefs with the out-front drive of Pete Taylor and Heather Scholten. Why does it matter? Because they know that I want honey granules blended with habanero ($15.27/24 ounces) and don’t need another rigid uni-tasker taking up space. More of what the warehouse operators don’t have, unique combinations and intentional flavors are right on the spectrum of what is driving food sales. Why not take advantage? The Oh Canada ($11.03/26 ounces) is a serious steak and barbecue element. The coarse chili flakes, for instance, stand up to long cooking times and keep on delivering flavor. This is, in fact, what we need. Innovation matters and I’m buying.

New flavor combinations will get any cook to take notice. A buffet of chilies, salts, funky blends, more traditional spices and herbs – as well as the modernist kitchen alchemy stuff – line Spiceology’s incredibly organized shelves. You’ll find nutritional yeast, Prague powder (AKA pink salt,) and maltodextrin. But you’ll also find basil and bay, lavender and garam masala, Thai peanut blend, and Za’atar; freshly ground for a flourish of much, much bigger flavors than we are used to. Orange peel powder and the tamari soy granules are more than enough impetus to get cooks thinking beyond the McCommon varietals. Merely opening the ground cumin jar ($8.90/16 ounces) is a revolutionary tale that needs to be told. Could ground cumin be that different? Yes. One whiff left me shook.

With cooks trimming blue masking tape for labeling to keep ingredients fastidiously organized, that gross shelf needs the same overhaul. Color-coded by category as well as abbreviated with two-letters, a la the Periodic Table of the Elements, the scientific approach keeps the busy kitchen organized in just one more area. The Periodic Table of Flavor is a simple solution with a “why didn’t I think of that?” head-scratcher.

Spiceology is making us rethink how we deal with our seasonings. The chef-to-chef pipeline of quality spices makes sense. By circumventing the big rig purveyors that deliver chicken, flour, celery, and ground cumin, this rebel upstart is making spices matter. Buying direct beats timing, pricing, quality, and selection issues, as well as saving money. Rather than waiting for a special order through the usual avenues, spices are delivered straight away, including the less common varietals that can often languish in the Special Order Zone awaiting some mystical process that pushes forward a purchase order or some nonsense.

This matters. Flavors matter. Mediocre is not okay. Too much competition and, often, too little extra food-cost dollars with which to part means wringing the best out of every ingredient. Why would it be any different with seasonings? Spiceology feels your pain, so it seems. Prices are reasonable and the quality is palpable. Would I buy again? A resounding yes. I sought a better and more creative approach to pantry spices and a way to keep the kitchen lines clean. The price points are reasonable, without resorting to some anonymous supplier for bargain deals. And you know you want the orange zest powder because you’ll find something to do with it.

Jim Berman

Jim Berman is a kitchen lifer. A career cook, Jim orchestrates new menus, works on staffing solutions and manages food purchases. He received his formal culinary training in New Mexico, and has done stints in kitchens in Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, and the Delaware Valley. Jim’s writing is regularly featured on Poached Jobs, Foodable, Toast and Kitchen Grit.

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