Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, tastiness is in the mouth of the eater. For some people, a basket of scotch bonnet chilies covered in pepper jack cheese and doused with Tabasco sauce is a tasty treat, while for others a micron of lemon pepper in a gallon of chowder has them frantically dabbing their tongues with a napkin. However, nearly every foodie worth his or her salt will tell you that the quality and freshness of the herb or spice is critical, regardless of the amount. On that we can agree.
Enter Dan Hayward. Dan is the owner of the local branch of Savory Spice, located on Broadway, a stone’s throw north of Pearl. He has been running the Boulder store for about 4 years, and has now fully absorbed the importance of spice, as well as the misconceptions. As the boss of more than 400 spices from 80 countries, he shared some spice lore recently, including what his best seller is, and shed light on why saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. More on those in a minute…
You don’t just walk into Savory, so much as you are drawn in. From the street the apothecary-like old timiness of the glass jars and the exposed brick walls grab your attention, and upon cracking open the front door and breathing the thick aroma of baking and distant lands, you literally follow your nose on in; helpless against the powerful pull of scent.
Floor to ceiling, there are wide mouth jars of cumins, salts, gingers, paprikas and ground fenugreek seeds for when nothing else will quite do. Look over there: exotic herbs, crazy blends and chopped up bits of flowers, plants, trees and fungus. There are bottles of hot things, bitter things, sweet things, smelly things and fragrant things. And the most fragrant? Cinnamon. Subtle, sweet, heady and maybe even sensual. Hayward stocks several varieties of cinnamon, each distinguished largely by the oil content. By the way, Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon is his number one selling spice, followed by Himalayan salt.
A special note about cinnamon: its shelf life is way shorter than you might think. Cinnamon is in its prime for up to 6 months after grinding, and after that you have to jack up the amount in a given recipe to get the same flavor and aroma. Time to toss the McCormick’s cinnamon from the Clinton administration? Yes. In fact, all spices diminish in potency over time especially when ground, which is why Savory Spice grinds them in small, micro-brew-like batches (if McCormick’s is Budweiser, Savory “is Left Hand Brewery”) and does a jar exchange every year. The jar exchange encourage full flavor via rotation, and to help, they give you a cool new container, and a price break.
And while we are talking about shelf life, Hayward offered up this little nugget if you have to prepare an emergency Indian dish with old curry, and can’t make it to his store for fresh stuff: heat a dry, non-stick pan to medium, then add curry. The moment it begins to smoke, rescue it and throw in a cool glass container to cool. Presto: revitalized curry, and a kitchen that smells like Bangalore. Yessir.
Spice fanatic or a Jeopardy whiz, are you? Well then you may already know these interesting facts about saffron, but if not, here are a few:
- It costs upward of $1,000 per pound
- Each crocus saffron flower yields 3 threads
- It takes about an acre of these flowers to make one pound, all hand-picked
- To make Spanish Coupe Grade, it must be 90+% red (vs. yellow) threads
- Savory has Moroccan and Spanish saffron
After leaving Savory Spice with a head full of spice knowledge (and a nice little swag bag) I had to wonder about my own pantry. How much better would food taste with fresh, meticulously sourced spices, rather than ancient King Sooper’s brand garnishes? It actually makes rearranging the spice cabinet sound kind of…spicy. So consider tossing your old to make room for the new; now you know where to find it.