Story last updated at 10/10/2012 - 12:47 pm
A dash of this, a pinch of that - what's in this dish?
Spices have become much more affordable than they once were, so local food enthusiasts may be pleased to know that good spices will be more easily accessible in Juneau as the Red Onion Spice Company is growing a bit more. It's moving from the Sunday Market at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (where Kathy Jones has sold spices for the past two summers) and into a small shop in the Valley on Jordan Avenue.
"A long time ago - I think it's just bee ingrained in us - it was under lock and key, spices were precious," Jones said. "They're a lot easier to get now. I think people should be a lot more experimentative. I think people are learning a lot more about spices because there's a lot more exposure to ethnic foods, so they want to go home and make that."
Jones carries about 252 products, including spices, herbs and sea salts.
"We have a lot of bulk spices," Jones said. "... A lot of them, 98 percent of them are organic. We did organic because it just made sense. We wanted to taste the spice and nothing else. We have pure spices. We work with three different vendors. Two promote sustainability. Some of our products are fair trade. That's important, we try and get fair trade whenever possible. We carry just about anything for the chef, wannabe chef, get-someone-else-to-cook-for-me-chef."
People choose the herbs and spices for a variety of reasons. Jones carries bee pollen, which is one of the more popular items and is used as an additive.
"It's referred to as nature's most perfect food," she said. "You could live off of that and water."
One of the more interesting spices she carries is turmeric, which she said has been shown to reduce inflammation better than Tylenol.
"I'm not a doctor, so I can't make recommendations, but it's known for those qualities," Jones said.
An off-beat use of another spice, cayenne, is to till it into the ground in your garden to keep the critters away, Jones said.
"We also have a lot of spices that are in beer flavoring for home brewers," she said. "One of the popular flavors is bitter orange."
Red Onion also mixes custom tea blends. Jones is releasing a new blend - Persian tea.
"It's typically served when you have guests or walk into a shop," she said. "It's typically drunk while holding a sugar cube in their teeth and they drink through it."
Sea salt is also becoming popular in the culinary world, where flavored sea salts are giving dishes new possibilities. Jones stocks apple wood smoked, and now alder wood smoked, along with a unique Kala Namak. Kala Namak has such high sulfur content that it smells and tastes like eggs, which she says is popular among vegetarians as an egg replacement.
Jones is particularly fond of spicy spices, so she stocks a lot of different Indian spices.
They also make custom spice blends, like Garam Masala and Ras el Hanout.
The masala is an Indian-type curry that could be used well in chicken or yogurts.
"It makes a huge difference using fresh made spices," Jones said.
Ras el Hanout has 15 spices blended together. Jones recommends creating a Moroccan chicken dish, cooked with slivered almonds, golden raisins and a side of couscous.
"I was a cook and chef for many years with hotels and restaurants," Jones said. "What finally triggered the idea was my husband worked in the Middle East. We got to go to all the spice bazaars - open spice markets. So that coupled with you can't get what you need in Juneau, I can't be the only person frustrated I can't get spices here."
And that's how Red Onion was born. Why Red Onion? Well, Jones wanted something simple, Alaskan (but not too Alaskan), organic, natural and easy to remember.
The Red Onion Spice and Tea Company opened its storefront at 2055 Jordan Ave. on Sept. 29, and is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. on Sundays through Oct. 27. After Oct. 27 the Red Onion will take a break until its grand opening on Nov. 12. It does have a webstore. Visit www.redonionspice.com or find them on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/redonionspice.
"Get excited about spices," Jones said. "I am."