By Andrea West
In many parts of the world fresh herbs and spices are available year round from street vendors and merchants. Here at home it’s harder to find fresh so dried herbs and spices are our go-to. In Winnipeg, we have the next best thing to an exotic spice market…Scoop n’ Weigh, a fantastic store jam-packed with every dried herb and spice imaginable (and just about any other ingredient you might want). And, best of all, you can buy exactly what you want, in the quantity you need.
The shelves at Scoop n’ Weigh are lined with containers of herbs and spices ranging from the everyday staples (granulated garlic, cinnamon, chili powder) to exotic blends like garam masala, Ras el Hanout and za’atar. The jars are replenished frequently and they seem to add new things almost daily. You can buy as little as a 1/4 teaspoon if you’re trying something for the first time. If the recipe is a hit you can always buy more. If not, you won’t have a bunch of leftover spices clogging up your cupboards. Or perhaps you use these interesting herbs and spices all the time, and are looking for a reputable place to buy them. Either way, buying your herbs and spices from a merchant that prides itself on freshness and variety will make all the difference.
Scoop n’ Weigh carries a multitude of dried chilies, ground chilies and chili powders, at least six different types of peppercorns and five different kinds of paprika, from hot to smoked to sweet. You’ll find several different types of cinnamon, cardamom and curry (powder and leaves). Pretty much anything you’re looking for, and probably a few things you never knew existed.
Many of the spices are available in whole form. Whole spices generally have a longer shelf life, allowing you to grind them as you need them. Invest in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. I keep an extra coffee grinder on hand, specifically for this purpose. To keep flavors from transferring, I run about 2 tablespoons of dry rice through the grinder to clean out any spice residue.
How you store your spices, is as important as where you buy them. Herbs and spices need to be stored in airtight containers, away from light and heat (so, not next to your stove on the countertop). Do an inventory of your herbs and spices. How long have you had them? If they’ve been convalescing in the back of your cabinets or drawers for more than 4 months…best to throw them out and buy new. Stale herbs will not provide the flavor you want no matter how much you add. They are more likely to make your dish gritty or bitter, or in the worst case, add no flavor at all.
The best thing about bulk spices is you buy only what you can use in a timely fashion. It also allows you to try something new and experiment. Try customizing your own blends, dry rubs or seasonings. Use the Scoop and Weigh staff as an information resource. They know their products well, and can introduce you to your ‘new favorite thing’…I promise.
1770 Taylor Ave, Winnipeg
Andrea West is a food stylist, writer, photographer and traveller. She’s exploring the ethnic and specialty food shops in and around Winnipeg, and sharing her fabulous food finds on the Manitoba Chicken blog.