By Dave Bernard
Whether it’s a coffee-inspired seasoning blend that highlights the meat and poultry dishes of a popular Denver spice shop’s customers, a delicious all-purpose blend from St. Augustine, Florida featuring the sweet and fruity yet sharp bite of native datil pepper or the endless custom seasoning possibilities of Midwest spice stalwart Wixon, home chefs and the retailers that serve them have more delectable choices in seasoning blends than their pantry or store shelves can hold.
When it comes to unique flavor combinations, Coal Gulch Trading Company packs quite a punch for its small size. The three-employee Madrid, New Mexico company, which partners with a co-packer and is in its fourth year of operation, boasts a Scovie Award for its Ancho Herb Seasoning, a salt-free Italian blend that works with lasagna and spaghetti as well as a dry rub for meat and fish. The company also has a Great American Barbecue People’s Choice award for its Chipotle Seasoning blend.
Coal Gulch looks to infuse a dash of originality into its seasoning blends, as with its new Cayenne Seasoning that surprises with brown sugar. “We try to start with a traditional base,” said owner Michael Scott Reilly. “That’s a typical cayenne base, and then I try to twist it to my own taste and create something unique that sets it apart from everybody else. That and the fact that we’re salt-free and gluten-free as well – we’re getting a nice response to it.”
In addition to its cayenne, ancho herb and chipotle blends, Coal Gulch offers a habanero blend, as well as two glazes and a habanero mustard. Its products are sold in markets and gift shops in New Mexico and Arizona as well as in Ohio’s Jungle Jim’s International Markets.
St. Francis, Wisconsin-based spice company Wixon focuses on custom seasoning blends for private-label retail and foodservice clients. When Moe’s Southwest Grill needed a hot seasoning blend for its spicy guacamole, the 500+ location casual restaurant chain turned to Wixon. While Moe’s requested a very specific flavor profile with particular finishing notes, Wixon Corporate Chef Steve Padley and his team negotiated the complex arena of hot seasoning combinations to create a habanero-based blend for the chain’s now highly successful guacamole.
Whether solving seasoning challenges for a large casual dining chain, private-label client or startup gourmet food manufacturer, Padley finds this an exciting time for seasoning creators given the surging and varied demands of consumers looking for adventurous new tastes as well as authentic ethnic flavors. “American consumers are fascinated by what’s not here,” Padley said. “When they see the Travel Channel going to all of these exotic locales, and then they get on the Internet and do a little more exploration, they start to wonder what these flavors are like. And now with the millennials coming through and the generation behind them, I think they’re a little more adventurous in their eating.”
While the opportunity to create unique seasoning blends is “the greatest thing in the world,” according to Padley, he also emphasized the care that goes into creating the authentic ethnic flavors that consumers crave. “People are looking for flavors that are more real now, more authentic,” he said. “So it’s about getting the right type of chilies, the right type of herbs for this traditional fare. And having been in the business for as long as I have, I can take all the past learnings and really explore the world and do this sourcing.”
Other companies have found success with a business model that includes manufacturing as well as online and brick-and-mortar store sales. As these spice houses create new and unique blends as well as spot-on authentic combinations, they focus on bonding with in-store customers over the cooking experience.
“Our stores are about interaction,” said Mike Johnston, co-founder of Denver-based Savory Spice Shop. The staff at his stores focus on sampling and engaging with customers about cooking and goals in the kitchen. A perfect example is the company’s popular Mexican Mole blend. After a number of regular customers asked Johnston to come up with such a blend as a convenient alternative to the one to two-day intensive from-scratch process of creating authentic mole, he created a delicious chocolate-chili blend that turns two days of work into 45 minutes for savory ready-to-eat beef, chicken, pork or vegetable dishes.
Another blend that has been getting fantastic results for Savory Spice Shop is the company’s signature Baker’s Brew Coffee Spice. By combining a dark roast coffee with sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice and cardamon among other ingredients, Johnston has hit on a blend that delights in both savory and baking uses.
Based in Palm Harbor, Florida, The Spice & Tea Exchange has 37 stores spread throughout the country, five of which are company-owned, including locations at Walt Disney World and Tampa, Florida’s Busch Gardens. When a walk-in customer at one of The Spice & Tea Exchange’s nationwide locations has questions about the inclusion of black tea in a peppercorn salmon rub, interaction is the keyword there, as well. “Our experience is all about smell, taste and getting to know what works for you and what you prefer,” said Libby Breivogel, Corporate Marketing Coordinator for The Spice & Tea Exchange. “Since nearly all of our blends are hand-mixed right in-store, we encourage customers to ask questions, and our stores host a lot of educational sessions and cooking classes.”
One of the company’s top sellers is its all-purpose Signature Spice Blend, created by founder and Managing Partner Clay Freeman. This blend includes the fruity yet hot datil pepper native to the St. Augustine area where the company’s warehouse is located.
Whether authentic traditional or new and unique, there is always room on the retail shelf for a quality gourmet seasoning blend. The nice thing is spices and blends never really go out of style. “If you look back at history, there have been wars fought over spices,” said Michael Scott Reilly of Coal Gulch Trading Company. “And just about every futuristic magazine, it’s all about spice miners and traders. So spices are a big part of culture and a big part of life. It’s something everybody can relate to.”
Holiday entertaining is not the same without Vanilla Bean Unique Cookies. The company’s Clementine Sandwich Cookies are made with real butter, pure cane sugar, cage-free eggs and fresh orange zest. The unique combination of crisp, buttery, orange-infused shortbread cookies sandwiched with a slightly sweet and tart butter cream creates a burst of unique flavors. As one customer said, “It’s like sunshine.” What better way to spend an afternoon than relaxing with a cup of tea and a Vanilla Bean Clementine Sandwich Cookie?
Packaged in a new carton which is bright and beautiful, Vanilla Bean Clementine Sandwich Cookies make a great addition to holiday gift offerings. Customers love making lasting first impressions, which is easy to do with these cookies. Vanilla Bean Unique Clementine Sandwich Cookies are the perfect gift for any season.
For more information on Vanilla Bean Unique Cookies, www.vanillabeanuniquecookies.com.
Celebrate the joy of the holiday season surrounded by friends and family with The Invisible Chef’s Holiday Collection. The collection features flavors steeped in tradition in products that are designed to save time while creating new family memories. While the fire is roaring and the snow is falling, just add a few ingredients to The Invisible Chef’s mixes, and your holiday baking is complete. The mixes make a perfect gift and are sure to delight everyone, making the holidays sparkle with love!
Featured flavors from The Invisible Chef include Chocolate Peppermint Coffee & Tea Cakes, Cranberry Spice Scones, Red Velvet Cupcake Kit and Macaroon Chocolate Chip Blondies. Each mix is blended with all-natural ingredients and needs just a few items from your kitchen to bake and enjoy.
Other favorites from The Invisible Chef product line include the company’s Coffee & Tea Cakes, Blondies & Brownies, Frosted & Fabulous Cupcake Kits, Bake It Quick Breads, Simple Sweet & Savory Muffins, Bed & Breakfast Favorites (including scones, pancakes and waffles) and Cookie Jar Classics. With so many categories and flavors to choose from, you’re sure to find a favorite.
For nearly 20 years, Sisters’ Gourmet has made baking easy and convenient with its eye-catching dessert mixes. As a gift, these mixes are attractive and unique, and the jars are reusable. Since the packaging is a key “ingredient” at Sisters’ Gourmet, the jars stand out on the store shelf. Customers love being able to see the ingredients in the jars, which are carefully measured and proudly packed by hand in the United States.
Using only the highest-quality ingredients available that not only taste good but are good for you, such as whole grain oats, sun ripened cranberries and select indulgent chocolates, most mixes require the addition of just eggs and butter to make about three dozen cookies.
Sisters’ Gourmet was founded by Lisa Sorensen and her sister Suzy. It is now owned and operated by Lisa and her husband Rob. They produce gourmet baking mixes which are sold directly to consumers via their website as well as to specialty shops worldwide. Products have been featured in the finest specialty shops and have been selected as some of Oprah’s favorite products on her coveted O-list. Everything is produced in a facility 45 minutes NE of Atlanta. All of the layered mixes are packed by hand and use only the best ingredients available.
One of the hottest condiments on the market right now is Sriracha hot chili sauce, and the team at The Spice Lab has developed an innovative new take on the product – Sriracha Sea Salt. Made from sun-ripened chilies, finely ground Sriracha powder is infused with sea salt to create this amazingly versatile condiment.
The selection of hot and spicy seasonings from The Spice Lab does not stop at Sriracha Sea Salt, however. The company’s product selection also includes Scotch Bonnet Pepper Salt, Ghost Pepper Salt, Smoked Ghost Pepper Salt, Scorpion Pepper Salt, Jalapeño Salt, Smoked Chipotle Salt and Cayenne Hot Sauce Sea Salt.
Made with all-natural unrefined sea salt and premium, finely ground chili peppers from around the world, each unique salt offers distinct flavor and heat, true to the peppers that season it. The salts are available in both 100-milliliter glass jars and 3-ounce stand-up pouches.
For more information on The Spice Lab, visit the company online at http://shop.thespicelab.com.
Uncle Bunk’s Mustard Relish, Rustic Pepper Sauce and 14 Day Sweet Pickles are handcrafted in small batches, using locally-grown produce and old-fashioned Appalachian recipes.
Uncle Bunk’s has won numerous awards for its products. The company was recently voted WV Living Magazine’s “2013 Made in WV Award” winner for outstanding Food & Drink. The company’s Mustard Relish was a 2011 sofi™ Silver finalist. And it won the condiment category at the 2013 Hot Pepper Awards.
Uncle Bunk’s award-winning Mustard Relish is a sweet, hot mustard that gets its kick from a mix of eight peppers. It will spice up anything you put it on. In addition, the company turns up the flame with its Rustic Pepper Sauce. Not a spicy ketchup or salsa, this secret family recipe has a unique and zesty taste that makes it a multiple award winner that includes Fiery Food Challenge, Hot Pepper and Scovie wins. Both the Mustard Relish and Rustic Pepper Sauce are available in 9-ounce and 14-ounce sizes and in medium or hot heat levels.
Featured in Country Living, Uncle Bunk’s crisp and crunchy 14 Day Sweet Pickles add a sweet and peppery flavor to any relish tray. Made with the company’s 100-year-old family recipe, they are available in 9-ounce and 17.5-ounce sizes. Fiery 14 Day Hot Sweet Pickles are a 2013 Fiery Food Challenge, Scovie and Hot Pepper Award winner. Available in a 17.5-ounce size, these hot pickles are the best around.
Located 2,000 miles from the olive groves of Northern California, St. Louis, Missouri seems an unlikely destination for those looking for high-quality, in-demand olive oils. However, this presumption would be incorrect, thanks in large part to St. Louis’ own olive oil doyenne Marianne Prey and her retail shop An Olive Ovation, a local destination-store for aficionados of the chartreuse elixir.
An Olive Ovation opened in 2007, after Prey decided to leave her 24-year career as a pathologist to pursue a second career as a retailer. Inspired by the small olive oil shops she liked to visit when traveling to major metropolitan areas elsewhere in the country, Prey wanted to bring this type of experience to a city that had not yet been bitten by the olive oil bug. “An Olive Ovation was the first olive oil market in St. Louis. The whole concept of olive oil tasting hadn’t even hit this area. It was really before the huge influx of olive oil stores across the country,” said Prey. “I got my inspiration from a little tiny olive oil ship in Chicago that specialized in Turkish oils … I was just kind of fascinated with the whole idea of olive oil tasting, so I tucked that idea away.”
It took her two years to plan out and build the store, but once An Olive Ovation finally opened, the store grew quickly. Last year, Prey actually moved the store from its original 1,200-square-foot home to a new, larger 1,600-square-foot retail space in Ladue, just outside St. Louis, to accommodate its expanding product selection.
The centerpiece of An Olive Ovation is the tasting bar. At the bar, customers can sample at least 100 different products, including extra-virgin olive oils, flavored olive oils, balsamics, wine vinegars, fruit vinegars and more. The tasting bar is a good place to begin one’s shopping experience at the store, before one sets out to browse through 50+ vinegars, 30-35 extra-virgin olive oils, as well as an extensive selection of specialty foods, including cheeses, olives, tapenades, crackers, breads and wines. The store also offers products for the home and kitchen, such as olive wood kitchen utensils and serving pieces, Mediterranean-themed cookbooks, French table linens and more.
When it comes to the store’s signature product, the selection of olive oils at An Olive Ovation is always in flux, partly out of Prey’s desire to always offer her customers something new, but also partly out of necessity. Because Prey stocks unique hard-to-find oils produced by small family farms and family cooperatives, she is often at the whim of the producer (and in fact, the weather) when it comes to what olive oils she can get and how many bottles of each. She cites one particular olive oil, the December’s New Oil from California-based Katz & Co. as an example of a seasonal product that is particularly in demand among her customers, but which lasts on her store shelves only a short while.
“Customers know that we get four cases in early December, and if they aren’t there to get it they miss out until the next year,” said Prey. “I would like to get more, but usually Albert [Katz] allots us four cases.”
Asked what are the best olive oils currently on the shelves at An Olive Ovation, Prey, ever the scientist, scoffs at the question. “We’ve had a couple of instances when a customer comes in and they say, ‘Pick for me,’ and it’s like, how?” Nevertheless, Prey utilizes her skills as a pathologist to ask pointed questions and guide her customers to the product that is going to be the best fit for their unique palate.
Of course, shoppers come to An Olive Ovation in search of much more than just olive oil. Prey’s shop serves as a destination for anyone who loves food, more generally. And the shop’s wide selection of hard-to-find specialty food products from around the world brings in customers searching for something truly unique to serve at their next dinner party, whether it be the Tunisian sun-dried garlic from Les Moulins Mahjoub or the Spanish spicy catch-all condiment Mojo Picón, from Ferrer.
The concept of pairing is a particularly important one for Prey, and she works to provide her customers with apt suggestions for bringing together olive oil, wine and food. With each of the wines offered at An Olive Ovation, Prey offers an olive oil pairing suggestion. And similarly, with each of the oils sampled at the tasting bar, Prey provides a comparable wine pairing.
“When you taste a dish, you taste the olive oil before it goes into the finished product. I want people to really focus on the taste and how it can vary when you pair one ingredient with another ingredient – how you can change the mouthfeel and the sensation,” said Prey. “An olive oil paired with one ingredient might just explode in your mouth and transform the salad or the steak and make it completely different.”
Prey’s commitment to educating her customers about how best to pair and enjoy her store’s products extends even further, as An Olive Ovation offers monthly classes on a number of related themes. Prey teaches the classes herself, providing lessons on how best to incorporate the store’s olive oils into various cuisines, from pastas to salads. A recent class taught attendees about using olive oils to prepare end-of-summer harvest delicacies from the garden. In addition, An Olive Ovation also offers more in-depth tasting classes, training customers about the intricacies of how to sample and enjoy high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
With the holiday season fast approaching, An Olive Ovation is an ideal stop for those looking to offer unique hostess gifts that are sure to stand out among the plates of cookies and bottles of wine. The store offers a wide selection of items from $5 to $500 that make great gifts on their own, or Prey is happy to put them into custom gift baskets. “A bottle of olive oil lasts much longer than a bottle of wine and a bottle of balsamic even longer,” said Prey. “A bottle of wine, they don’t even remember where it came from. It’s gone before the evening is over. [Olive oil and balsamic are] thoughtful nice gifts.”
The success of a store that specializes in a single commodity without a doubt hinges on the passion and expertise of its proprietor, and An Olive Ovation is an expression of the dedication its owner has for the world’s small-batch, estate-grown extra-virgin olive oils. “It’s the taste. Every sip is just a new experience. It’s wholesome, and it’s satisfying. It just makes everything that you put it on taste good,” said Prey.
Flavor Bombs are a line of all-natural, fresh-frozen, gluten-free, low-sodium cooking bases that ignite an explosion of flavors when preparing memorable meals for family or friends. Flavor Bombs come in five explosive flavors that include basil, sage, rosemary, mirepoix and soffritto, turning everyday dishes into gourmet meals. The products are the creation of Giovannina Bellino, a long-time entrepreneur and the owner of Goddess Gourmet, a Long Island-based natural foods company.
Flavor Bombs provide consumers with an arsenal of ingredients making preparation times shorter and cooking more enjoyable, flavorful and affordable. The products are concentrated blends of caramelized aromatics and fresh herbs in an extra virgin olive oil base that offers consumers a burst of flavors and aromas that works perfectly in their favorite recipes. Flavor Bombs are pre-cooked so consumers have the flexibility of using them to start or finish a dish.
Flavor Bombs are now available nationwide at chain supermarkets, independent supermarkets, gourmet food stores, club stores and foodservice operations.
Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts, which are perfect for meats and vegetables, have also become a favorite for many dessert chefs. Award-winning Salty Wahine products can add that extra touch to make your creation stand out.
A chef favorite for providing a great finishing touch is the company’s Black Lava Hawaiian sea salt. Black Lava is a favorite finishing salt as seen on many Food Network episodes. It is used by many chocolatiers. The company’s Li Hing Margarita salt is a favorite for a cake baker on Oahu, where it makes an appearance on pineapple upside down cake. Additional flavors from Salty Wahine include Hawaiian Rub, Pineapple Poultry seasoning, Hot Lava, Mango Java, Red Alaea, Passion Fruit Chile Pepper and Guava Garlic, plus a variety of rubs and sugars.
The company is a Kauai family business that has received a number of awards, including 2012 US SBA Hawaii exporter of the year, Kauai Economic Development Board Business Plan Competition Grand Prize Winner and Best Kauai Product in 2013 and 2014. Salty Wahine takes pride in the fact that 82.76 percent of its end product is Hawaii origin.
For more information on Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts, visit http://saltywahine.com.
The Mustard Seed Sauce & Dressing Company has been crafting unique Asian-inspired sauces and dressings and serving them in the company’s eponymous restaurants for over 35 years. Now, consumers have access to these sauces in their local grocery stores with the recent launch of the company’s retail product line.
The Mustard Seed Sauce & Dressing Company product line includes Asian Oil & Vinegar, a delightful Asian twist on the classic vinaigrette; Osaka Sauce, the company’s signature sauce, delicious on chicken; Teriyaki Grill Sauce, a finishing sauce for proteins; and Ginger Dressing, a signature dressing that doubles as a finishing sauce for meat or seafood. The four sauces and dressings are also available in a variety pack.
All Mustard Seed sauces and dressings are all-natural, and they contain no MSG, trans fats or preservatives. The products are made in small batches from the highest quality ingredients.
For more information, visit www.mustardseedsauce.com.