I recently discovered one of my new favorite shops of all-time. A fabulous lil’ place at The OC MartMix in Costa Mesa’s SoCo Collection called Savory Spice Stop.  It is a culinary wonderland and a cooking enthusiast’s dream (and a GREAT place to find that unique, customized, last-minute Christmas gift you’ve been searching for!).  I could definitely spend an entire day in this store, I love it that much.

From the moment you set foot in the door, brace yourself for wonderful, almost-magical sensory overload.  The scents of the spiciest curries to the sweetest sugars and everything in between hit your nose… the vibrant colors that make your eyes pop… and, yes, the tastes.  This ingenious shop understands the importance of getting to taste-before-you-buy. They have ‘Tester’ bottles of every spice – just put a tiny bit in your hand and you can taste ’til your heart’s content.

White, Red & Green Peppercorns – perfect for getting your Peppermill into the holiday spirit
I recently had the pleasure of spending an evening with the lovely Laura Schute, one of the owners of Savory Spice Stop, talkin’ shop & getting to taste and smell just about every spice in the store – I was in olfactory-sense-heaven!  And Laura’s passion for what she does is contagious – you can sense it in the staff who work with her as well as in her customers.  From the casual home-cook to professional chefs, everyone is welcomed with open arms and encouraged to taste & try new things.  And, you can walk out with anything from a small 1/2-ounce bag to a large 4.5-ounce jar of whatever your tastebuds desire.

Who says salt is always white? Check out these amazing hues: from left: Soft pink Murray River Sea Salt from Australia; Red Alaea clay salt from Hawaii; Charcoal-rich Black Lava Sea Salt from Hawaii
This salt makes me wish I could capture scents with my camera… For a truffle-lover such as myself, this Black Truffle-infused Italian Sea Salt is mind-bogglingly delicious. Its scent instantly transports me back to the days when my husband & I were living in Italy and we visited a little restaurant in Bologna where we feasted on truffles so fragrant they made me wanna cry with delight. I want to put this salt on EVERYTHING.
Are you feeling in a French or Italian mood? Why not keep a bit of each of these classic seasoning herb-infused salts on-hand in a salt grinder to add some variety to your spice?!

Visiting Savory Spice Stop is like taking a virtual culinary journey around the world – without the bothersome jetlag.  You can find everything from hard-to-find spices & extracts from around the globe, to rare raw ingredients such as whole vanilla beans & cinnamon sticks, to bottled hot sauces & custom-made BBQ rubs, and so much more. Just about anything you can dream up spice-wise, they’ve probably got it here. 
And you will be blown away by how affordable everything is… far less expensive than what you’re paying for the pre-packaged stuff at the supermarket.  Premium products, great customer service and affordability – what’s not to love?!  Oh, and did I mention that EVERYTHING in the store is gluten-free?! This just keeps getting better…

Sweet Korean Black Garlic – fermented to perfection
Authentic regional BBQ rubs – what guy wouldn’t love some jars of these for his Christmas Stocking Stuffers?!

So, check those last-minute gifts off your shopping list this week – pick up a pre-made gift set or build-your-own custom set.  Your friends & family will love ya’ for it. And, hey, why not pick a little something up for yourself while you’re at it?!…

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This vibrant Barrier Reef seasoning is a natural fit with pork or duck. Made from brown sugar, orange peel, lemon peel, chiles, ginger, citric acid, crushed red pepper, nutmeg, mace, cloves, Kaffir lime leaves and parsley.

Make your own Chorizo sausage… OR, get that Chorizo flavor to add to your next dish, just minus the meat & at a teeny-tiny fraction of the calories
Cocoa Heaven: from left – Black Onyx Cocoa Powder; Mayan (spiced) Cocoa Powder; Dutch Cocoa Powder; Vanilla Powder
Dark, rich, double-Dutched Black Onyx Cocoa Powder. Just IMAGINE the amazing brownies you could make with this.
From left: Indonesian Cassia Cinnamon that is most commonly used in the U.S.;  Native Sri Lankan Ceylon Cinnamon (aka ‘True’ Cinnamon made from the bark of a Cinnamon tree)
Grains of Paradise is native to the coast of West Africa. Also known as Alligator pepper, Atar, baking pepper, Guinea pepper, Melegueta pepper and Roman pepper, Grains of Paradise should be used as a finisher – a fun alternative for your peppermill
All-natural extracts… I love a place that offers more than just your usual vanilla extract – hello Coffee Extract!
Are you like me and hate wasting that entire can of tomato paste when a recipe just calls for a teaspoon or so? Then make this a staple in your kitchen in the same manner as salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. It can be made into a paste or sauce in a matter of minutes. No more waste!
All throughout the Mediterranean, Za’atar is commonly used as a table condiment. As a condiment, you can sprinkle it on chicken or fish, mix it with some hummus or just spring some into a bit of olive oil for a great dipping sauce. Made with sumac berries, toasted sesame, salt, cumin, thyme, oregano and marjoram.
With an English husband, this Vindaloo is now a staple in the Watson-home cupboard
Did you know that the term ‘Curry’ literally translates into “A Mixture of Spices”? So, throw any preconceived notion of what ‘curry’ spice has to be out the window… with hundreds of mixtures from around the world, the possibilities for making a delicious curry that pleases your palate are endless
A hot sauce rainbow – including the infamous Ghost Chili (aka Bhut Jolokia) Hot Sauce. Confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest pepper in the world, Bhut Jolokia has a Scoville rating of just over 1 million units – this hot sauce is not for the faint of heart!
One of the rarest spices in the world, Saffron is the stigma of the Crocus sativus flower which blooms for only three weeks every fall in Spain. Each bulb produces approximately two to nine flowers per season which contain three long, red-orange stigmas. It takes the hand-picked stigmas of one hundred flowers to produce one gram of saffron.
Gift sets for Christmas (or ANY occasion!) are a must!
Get in the spirit with this holiday staple!  Fortify your wine or apple cider with this robust blend of Saigon cinnamon, allspice, Ceylon & Madagascar cloves, blade mace and inner cardamom seeds – and let the amazing smell of the spices permeate your house, warming you from the inside-out on these chilly winter nights.