We’ve recently added a powdered version of everybody’s rooster hot sauce, Sriracha. (Well, “everyone,” except for that neighborhood in California.) After many, many requests we also put an Ethiopian blend, Berbere into the lineup. But, the newcomer I’m most excited about is hibiscus. I’ve mentioned before that I had a career in beverage once upon a time. Given the way my mind still works, I know more intuitively how to work with hibiscus than I do with the Sriracha or Berbere. (Let’s be honest, I’m being lazy, the hibiscus was just way easier for me to work with.)
Hibiscus tea, common in West Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, is most commonly seen here in Chicago in Mexican restaurants as agua de Jamaica. (pronounced: hah-MY-kah) Steeping hibiscus in hot water imparts a brilliant red color shockingly fast and has a surprisingly tart flavor.
I recently wrote about grenadine and that got me thinking about using hibiscus in a similar manner. Where the grenadine has some darker flavors, a hibiscus syrup is going to be at the other end of the spectrum with flavors that are wonderfully bright. Substituting hibiscus syrup for grenadine isn’t a huge leap. While the profiles are different, the flavors hit a lot of the same notes. A cocktail made with hibiscus instead of grenadine will be different, but far from unpleasant. (It’s got the added bonus of being more kid-friendly. I’d use this in a Shirley Temple over the grenadine.)
Tie hibiscus in a double layer of cheesecloth. Add sugar, water, hibiscus and salt to a medium sauce pan over high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard hibiscus. Stir in citric acid.
In the world of spices, brand new products don’t come along very often. That’s why we at The Spice House were so excited when black garlic started gaining popularity around 2010.
Though there are some conflicting stories, most people agree that black garlic was invented between 2004 and 2009, based on a Korean technique for preserving garlic. Though it was originally billed as a health supplement, the delicious flavor of black garlic has made it popular as a gourmet ingredient around the world. Continue reading →
We had long been receiving requests to develop a Spice House chorizo blend. Not long ago, after what seemed like ages of tedious research and development, we finally created a Mexican style chorizo blend that we can proudly put the Spice House seal of approval on. Our Chorizo Casero Mexican Sausage Seasoning recreates the popular mexican sausage that folks throughout Chicago know and love, all with that same Spice House quality we give all of our blends. As a transplant to Chicago, I had not been aware of this popular mexican staple until I sampled it at some local Mexican restaurants. Sadly, not all of our readers have had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago and dining at any of our city’s fantastic Mexican restaurants and taco joints. So I though it might be a good idea to explain a bit more about Mexican chorizo and how you can use our new blend to make some of your own at home. Continue reading →
In the past couple of years, I have gotten the chance to work with some really wonderful spices. It’s always fun to rediscover old favorites in new and interesting ways, and play with delightful new spices. A few months ago we got in a spice that really wowed me: Ultra Blue Lavender. This gorgeous, deep violet lavender had incredibly strong color and fragrance, that made our normally wonderful lavender pale in comparison. Continue reading →
Please allow me to introduce Tom Erd, Spice Boss. My husband and I have owned The Spice House for 20 years. For many years prior to that we both worked there, for my parents, who founded our business in 1957. It is a long, long time to be doing the same thing, but hopefully we have gotten pretty good at it over all the years. We sometimes find we need to challenge ourselves with things a little outside of our everyday spice box, in order to keep our creativity flowing. Interesting propositions come our way all the time, mostly because we are a very approachable small Mom and Pop business. We have not figured out the rhyme or reason behind why on some days these just get shot down, and other days the ideas take on a life of their own. My scientific guess would be it just depends on which side of the bed we got up. When Tom started mulling over the idea of doing You Tube videos as Spice Man, I thought it was a passing fancy. Continue reading →
One of our favorite vacation spots is in Mexico, on the Caribbean ocean known as the Mexican Riviera, near Playa Del Carmen. While we feel a bit guilty that this is not a spice mission vacation, many factors seem to lead us back to this same spot. We have enjoyed many Caribbean Islands and worked spices in as a factor, Jamaica for allspice and ginger, St. Lucia had an artisinal cocoa plantation. Grenada in particular was a wonderful education on the growing of mace and nutmeg and we thoroughly enjoyed our day visiting the nutmeg cooperatives. In St. Vincent we took a three hour drive, each way, to visit a tiny arrowroot plantation. Yet it is pretty much an all day affair to reach these islands. Cancun is a very brief 3-1/2 hour trip, another 45 minutes south we reach our destination, the water is beautiful, the golf is world class and we have an all inclusive hotel chain which we enjoy called Iberostar. So, while we really enjoy the spice seeking vacations, sometimes we just really take a vacation that is not work related, sorry to disillusion anyone!
We have followed the take off in organic and sustainable food products with great interest over the last ten years. We have been unsure of what our role should be here. We are big proponents of shopping locally whenever possible and it is one of our great weekly pleasures to shop at our local farmer’s market.
Yet if you were only to cook with locally grown products, your food would be sadly lacking, as you would be spiceless. The climate in this country simply allows for the growth of herbs, but never spices. The third world countries that spices grow in, are not necessarily on the organic band wagon yet, and in some scenarios, we feel it is not our place to force our American demands upon these poor farmers. We have also made it our lifelong mission to bring you the highest level of quality in our spices, would we find organic spices with our desired level of quality?