The word "spices" conjures up visions of exotic places and exquisite tastes that delight the senses. Prized long before recorded history, the earliest evidence of their existence dates back to 50,000 B.C. Originally, they were used for magic, medicine, religious rituals and as preservatives.
The spice trade began in the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago with the importation of cinnamon and pepper from the Indian Subcontinent and other regions of Asia. By 2000 B.C., Arabs monopolized the spice trade, bringing their precious cargo back by arduous journeys in camel caravans. It's no surprise then that, for many centuries, spices were ruinously costly.
During the Middle Ages, a pound of peppercorns could buy freedom for a serf. At the time, Venice and the other Italian city states controlled the importation of spices by sea into Europe. This monopoly became an important catalyst for spice-seeking expeditions that eventually resulted in the discovery of the New World.
We have made an important spice discovery of our own, namely the new Savory Spice Shop in the Corona del Mar Plaza shopping center. For both serious cooks and people who just want some easy ways to spice up their cooking, this place is paradise! With 400 herbs and spices and 140 proprietary blends, your only challenge will be making choices.
Luckily, you will have the expertise of owners Laura Shute and Randy Morton and their staff, including Laura's sister Susan, to help you make up your mind. Laura and Randy both gave up their jobs in advertising to follow their passion.
Their journey began several years ago when Laura went to visit a friend in Denver, who had drawn up a top 10 list of things to do there, which included a visit to the first Savory Spice Shop. Laura left with a bag full of spices and fell in love.
In 2009, she and her partner, Randy, visited the Colorado Springs store and discovered that the small company was franchising. They walked out of the store, looked at each other and said to each other, "We need one of those!"
Realizing that people were doing more cooking at home and becoming more sophisticated about their ingredients, they took a leap of faith and bravely embarked on a new career. They went to Denver to go through an intensive training program at the flagship store and then researched locations along the Southern California coast. When they saw the vacant space in the Corona del Mar shopping center that was also home to Bristol Farms and Sur La Table, they knew they'd found the perfect spot.
Walking into the fragrant shop, we were amazed by the profusion of choices ranging from whole spices and ground spices to spice blends; as well as extracts, sauces, dehydrated mushrooms, preserved lemons and lot of other goodies. In fact there are 400 herbs and spices and 140 spice blends to choose from. These unique blends are their pride and joy.
For the experienced cook, the novice, the super-busy or the just plain lazy one, these rubs and seasoning mixes are divided into categories for meats, chicken and seafood. They also have blends for dips, marinades and dressings. To help you navigate their vast selection, they have Best Blend Picks, which give you their recommendations to get you started. Just to mention a few: tan-tan Moroccan, Jamaican jerk, tarragon citrus shallot, Cambodian lemongrass curry and Mexican adobo.
What's truly unique about the Savory Spice Shop, besides the range of choices, is its freshness. The spices are all ground weekly and surprisingly, for the quality, they match or beat supermarket prices, especially if you buy them packaged rather than bottled. The nice thing about this feature is that you can buy as little as a half-ounce. That way you don't have a spice shelf filled with ancient, tasteless, moldering spices.
Consider cinnamon. They sell a variety of cinnamon: ground Ceylon true, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian cassia, plus sticks, extracts and essential oil. Your first smell or taste of the samples will tell you all you need to know about how different these are from what you can find elsewhere.
Familiarize yourself with the store's website, savoryspiceshop.com, before you go or just give yourself over to the helpful and knowledgeable staff for a spicy, heady, fragrant, piquant and pungent experience.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
If You Go
What: Savory Spice Shop
Where: Corona del Mar Plaza, 928 Avocado Ave., Corona del Mar
Contact: (949) 717-7776
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday