Spice Galore in Miami: Specialty Sugars, Rare Salts, and Custom Herbs

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All photos by Nicole Danna
Spice Galore owners Aimee Ortega and Vitoria Nodarse.
It's another quiet afternoon at Spice Galore -- until a new customer bursts through the back door nearly sprinting to a row of glass jars containing various spice blends. Her first words as she hurries across the small space: "I'm SO excited! I've been feeling like a crack head ever since I ran out."

A self-described addict, the fix she's craving isn't something you snort or smoke. The mystery substance this zealous customer is looking for isn't any sort of illegal drug -- but it can be hard to find if you don't know where to look. 

It's a rare blend of Middle Eastern herbs known as za'atar, a combination of dried sumac, sesame and thyme. The woman said her friend first discovered it at a specialty spice shop in Montreal, Quebec. When he brought some back and began cooking with it, she was instantly hooked. Naturally, both were delighted when they found a simliar shop in Miami that carried, among other things, za'atar.

Now they can't get enough of it, and the only place guaranteed to have it fresh is Spice Galore, Miami's first eco-friendly, semi-organic local purveyor of high-end salts, spices, sugars, loose leaf teas and various other rare or hard-to-find ingredients.

Think of owners Victoria Nodarse and Aimee Ortega as the spice girls, Nodarse an instructor and Ortega a student at nearby Miami Culinary Institute. They opened Spice Galore several months ago in Coconut Grove. Their inspiration: historic Savannah, Georgia, where specialty shops selling salts, sugars and herbs abound.

"Savannah has these great shops, one that sells honey, one that sells salts. Another spices. And I thought, if each of these independent stores could survive selling just one thing, why not open a shop that has them all," said Nodarse, who found business partner Ortega almost by accident chatting about their shared love of rare spices.

Several months later, the two began selling their unique products from Ortega's Miami home. In November they expanded, opening an 1,800-square-foot store off Dixie Highway where they sell anywhere from a single ounce packet to a 50-pound bag of the store's 49 basic and 73 rare, specialty salts, sugars, teas and spices. Almost everything in the store can be sampled; tiny jars and tons of mini wooden shovels allow you to pick out a few grains of salt, spice, sugar or honey to taste-test before you buy.

A few favorites: dried rose petals, strawberry sugar, glistening pods of Madagaskar vanilla bean, brightly-hued Mexican ceylon cinnamon, curly cues of whole mace, green and black cardamom pods and tangy amchur -- just to name a few. The store offers several different types of paprika, including a smoked Spanish version; a half-dozen varieties of peppercorn; dozens of salts from white truffle-infused to toasted onion; and several rare chilies like the African peri peri pepper.

Nodarse and Ortega source their products from all over the world, but try to stay as close to the country of origin as possible. That means buying from specialty purveyors in Sri Lanka, Mexico and Australia. 

Right now they are most excited about moringa, a leaf from a tree native to the foothills of the Himalayas that is being billed as the newest "superfood." Grown in country's like Cuba, Africa and Haiti it's also considered the "food of the people," an easy way to provide sustenance to their country's malnourished populace. Rich in protein, vitamin A, B, C and minerals, just 100 grams of moringa has two times the protein as the same amount of yogurt, four times the calcium of a milk, three times the amount of vitamin C as an orange, and as much potassium as a banana.

Spice Galore isn't just for specialty picks, however. Although it's a long drive to Miami from cities in Broward and Palm Beach County, both Nodarse and Ortega hope chefs across the area will look to them to help develop custom-ground spice blends, or to source rare or specialty herbs. You can also order online from their website, so no need to travel all the way to Miami in-person -- unless you want to sample something new.  

Location isn't a problem for nearby Fox's Lounge, who worked with Spice Galore to create a unique cinnamon-based rib rub. It's guaranteed to offer a flavor profile that can't be duplicated without the spice girls' help, and the secret stays with them. If, however, chefs or restaurants want to find a new way of advertising their menu's specialty dishes, blends could become available to regular customers for purchase. 

"Our products aren't just spices and ingredients for cooking, either," Ortega tells Clean Plate Charlie. "People can come here and order specialty blends for their kitchen, yes. But they can also get them for various health-related benefits -- even for pets."

Next time you're in the area, consider checking-in for an educational event. Nodarse and Ortega host a variety of classes, including a regular "Open House" the first Thursday of every month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. where guests can sample appetizers and drinks made with in-house spices, and learn more about the various ways they can use Spice Galore products. 

Also, don't miss this Thursday, January 24th, when Nodarse hosts her Basic Knife Skills course from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Spice Galore workshop counter. You'll learn about the different professional cuts used in the kitchen, what knife is best for the job, as well as the top brands to use, and how to hold them. The class will run the 3rd Thursday of every month for $25.

For more information, be sure to visit the Spice Galore website and Facebook page, or call them at 305-661-1199.

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Spice Galore in Miami.
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A smoked Spanish paprika is one of several sold at Spice Galore.
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Nodarse's favorite, a pink finishing salt from Australia's Murray Darling basin.
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There are several rare chili peppers for sale at Spice Galore.
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Mace is the waxy red covering of the nutmeg seed.
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The perfect gift: test tubes for various sugars, spices and salts.


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1 comments
cguterl
cguterl

I love the idea of a custom spice blend for my fish. I'll be checking this place out the next time I'm in Miami! 

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