I zip from shelf to shelf, inhaling deeply.
I start with the Sugars and Extracts. Vials of vanilla—Madagascar Bourbon, Tahitian, Organic, Mexican. Squat glass jars of creamy white vanilla sugar crystals. Lots of sugars!
Espresso sugar—chocolate dipped biscotti
Bourbon smoked cane sugar—low lighting and polished paneling.
Lime powder. Lime powder? I unscrew the lid and inhale a bracing, neon green zing of citrus. Dipping the tip of a dainty plastic spoon into the powder, I take a tiny taste that whizzes me into a tight, full-face pucker. Thankfully, the pineapple powder carries with it in both scent and taste only a drowsy, golden sweetness.
On the shelves opposite, I ogle the Salts. Innumerable salts—flaked, smoked, fleur de sel, organic. Bacon and onion smoked salt. I don’t hear the sizzle or taste the grease-crisp fat, but with the scent I can feel the thick, full-belly contented haze that settles over a post-Sunday breakfast kitchen.
Raspberry chipotle sea salt. A beautiful fever-flush pink studded with rich brown flecks. I spoon a tiny taste and suck in my cheeks—overtones of juicy berries and warm, earthy pepper yes, but salt through and through.
Coarse Hawaiian black lava sea salt that sparkles like crushed glass.
Prague curing salt—Pepto Bismol pink to set it apart from regular table salt.
Unctuous and earthy black truffle sea salt.
I shift to the peppers. Birdseye chile wafts tiny tickling flames inside my nostrils; Habanero chile, poking daggers; Ghost pepper chile, throat and lung spasms. Jars of whole peppers. I open a jar containing a single dark, eggplant-purple chile with seeds that rattle against its leathery skin. It smells like long-simmered beef and the color terra-cotta.
Spice Ace is a tidy little store at 1821 Steiner Street filled with jar after jar of 140+ Spices and Herbs, 80+ Chiles and Peppers, 90+ Salts, 70+ Sugars and Extracts, and 100+ Spice Blends. Each spice/sugar/salt/etc. has a corresponding black-lidded sample jar available for smelling and tasting. There are jars of tiny plastic spoons to aid with the latter. Jar labels include suggestions for use—helpful when smitten with a new find (say, Panch Phoron, Mahlab, Vadouvan, or Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt) but unsure what to do with it. Merlot salt on beef? The very thought sends my mouth to watering. Green chili cane sugar in hot chocolate? Ingenious!
The store’s website is incredibly detailed—every item carried can be found there, including detailed ingredients (some of those blends are simply loaded) and additional “Taste Adventure” ideas that couldn’t be squeezed onto the little jar labels. But if you go to the store and put your nose to a jar, that’s when the spices can grab at your nostrils and balloon madly inside your brain, setting off a wild alchemy in which scent becomes a moment, a taste, a feeling…