World Spice Merchants – A Paradise for Cooks
One of my favorite places to shop in Seattle is at the World Spice Merchants. It’s located in a small brick building on Western Ave. behind Pike’s Market and it is simply a must for food lovers. Their selection of spices is unparalleled in this city. Yes, there are other places like Big John’s PFI and The Spanish Table that do a fine job but this place is the real deal – the one stop shop for all your spicey needs.
Want to know where local Chefs go to get their spices? Look no further than the counter with dozens of business cards from restaurants under glass to get an idea. The store serves both retail and wholesale customers from their downtown locale as well as their Fremont warehouse. They also specialize in developing custom spice blends (with a minimum 1# order) for those looking to develop their own proprietary seasonings in bulk. It’s also a fabulous tourist destination as most out-of-towners I take here end up leaving with a bundle of little baggies filled with spicey goodness.
Just Follow Your Nose
I used to live in Chicago and Penzey’s was my go to place while I was there. When I arrived in this town nearly 10 years ago I was hoping to avoid having to buy my spices from the likes of McCormick or Schilling. One day as I was exploring the nether regions of Pike Place Market I found myself out on the street behind the market. I was instantly drawn into this little brick building bursting with aroma.
Walking into World Spice Merchants is truly an assault on your olfactory system. Not in a bad way like walking through Sephora or being accosted in the gauntlet that is the perfume aisle of a cheap department store. More like being wrapped in a warm blanket of spices. It is definitely something to experience though for the life of me I cannot understand how the folks that work there make it through the day. It’s lovely but also overwhelming in a good way.
What’s In Store?
The store is split into two levels – the first primary stocked with pure spices, salts and blends (all developed in-house). At current count they offer 128 pure spices from 37 countries and that’s not counting custom blends. Orders are taken on small tickets attached to clipboards by the ounce. Jars are filled with an ounce of each spice or blend to give you an idea of how much volume you are purchasing. This is helpful even to seasoned seasoning buyers like me. I once tried to order 4 ounces of bay leaves (extraordinarily cheap by the way if you are used to buying jars of 8-10 leaves for $5 at Whole Foods) – and the clerk explained to me that it would be more than I could likely use in the next 2 years. Helpful for sure. It also allows you to open up and smell every spice or blend which is helpful. Here I can find a dozen curries, several BBQ rubs, and hard to find items like Piment d’espelette.
The second floor down a small set of stairs is mostly dedicated to cookbooks, tea and other wares such as spice grinders. The cookbook selection is excellent and focuses on application and use of many things offered in the store. One cannot help themselves from buying several different wonderfully smelling curries – only to realize they have no idea what to do with them. Enter the selection of curry-centric cookbooks and your day is saved. Tea lovers will also be excited to see dozens of varieties of tea with various brewing and drinking accoutrements.
Getting the Goods
Even if you don’t live around Seattle you can still enjoy the goods from World Spice Market. Their website is excellent and you are able to order anything online. They also feature recipes and bloggers who are experts in different areas of botany, plant chemistry and culinary arts who have cleverly adopted nicknames such as the Oaxacness Monster and Angelini Porcini. No sign of Sporty Spice though.
A word for the wise – while the good folks at World Spice Merchants are happy to grind your spices it’s smarter to do it on your own. If you have a grinder or a mortar and pestle you are golden. If not, buy one for under $20. Your spices will last longer in whole form and will taste that much better when you grind them just prior to cooking with them. Trust me on this one.
World Spice Market can be found at 1509 Western Ave, Seattle, WA 98101 just behind Pike’s Place Market. Be sure to check it out if you live in town or just visiting our fine city!