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Spice shop sells exotic flavors by the ounce

Spice Galore’s retail space in South Miami looks like a potion room from the Harry Potter books. Glass jars and transparent little bags filled with herbs and other ingredients from around the world sit on wooden shelves waiting to be part of a recipe.

For the founders of the boutique, at 6010 S. Dixie Hwy. in South Miami, it’s all about bringing the magic of “molecular gastronomy” into the kitchens of adventuresome home cooks. The modern style of cuisine focuses on chemical transformations. For example, maltodextrin helps chefs to turn anything with fat like olive oil or Nutella into powder.

“We are exited about offering something new and exiting,” co-owner Aimee Ortega said. “The techniques change the chemical composition of food to make it look like something else. For instance, with ‘agar’ you can make fruit caviar, dextrose monohydrate and xylitol can replace sugar. Xylitol doesn’t alter your glycemic index.”

Ortega, 32, met her business partner when she was a student at Miami Dade College and Victoria Nodarse, 30, was a chef instructor. It was their dream to have their own business, so the two invested about $50,000. They opened their store in South Miami in November. They don’t have a sign yet, because they are waiting for the city to approve their design.

Children seem to like that there are about 14 different types of sugar. While tangerine sugar can be sprinkled over grapefruit, lavender sugar can be used to sweeten tea, strawberry, raspberry, or coconut sugar can be used on ice cream.

“Most of the flavored sugars are used as finishing sugars, we have a few bartenders who are incorporating them into their cocktails and using them on the rim of their glasses,” Ortega said. “I personally always use sweet onion sugar to caramelize onions for burgers.”

The store also has 55 different types of gourmet salts that come from all over the world. The price of an ounce ranges from $5 to $175. There are differences in texture, flavor and color. Deposited in the Bolivian Andes, rose salt is hand harvested from ancient sea salt covered with volcanic lava. Maldon sea salt flakes are from England’s south coast; La Baleine is from France; Aguni salt comes from an island in Japan, the Murray River salt from Australia, and the Himalayan salt from Pakistan.

“Some of the salts have very good health properties,” Ortega said. “Kala Namak black salt from India smells awful, but it is a really good salt for people with high blood pressure because a little bit goes a long way.”

The spices include different varieties of vanilla beans, peppers, cardamom pods, and paprika. There are rarities like pink rose pedals, pomegranate and beet and acai powder. And they also offer exotics like curry leaves, garam, masala, tamarind paste, za’atar and sumac, which are used for Indian and Mediterranean cooking. The prices range from $2.50 to $5.25 an ounce.

The herbs range from $1.50 to $19. Their selection includes Kaffir Lime Leaves usually used for Asian cuisines, including Thai and Cambodian. They offer eight varieties of chili, including Aji Amarillo used for spicy Peruvian specialties like the “Papa a la Huancaína” salad.

There are at least 60 flavors of tea, including red rooibos from South Africa, yerba mate from Brazil and mango Ceylon from Sri Lanka. And they have a variety of green tea from China, including Genmaicha with roasted rice, and Dragon Well, which is unrolled so it is not as oxidized for a softer flavor.

“A little boy who got honorable mention in a science project came into the store to spend his money on tea,” said Nodarse, who was certified at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. “He was very happy with our selection.”

Nodarse is looking into expanding an education and community program. She is offering knife cutting classes and volunteering in an education program at Poinciana Park Elementary School. To support a local business, Ortega and Nodarse sell raw honey from wildflowers from The Tattoo Bee Keeper in West Miami.

For Valentine’s Day, they will sell El Rey chocolates from Lara, Venezuela, at 10 percent off and focus on “sexy stuff” while preparing gift boxes, Ortega said.

“We love what we do and it shows,” Nodarse said.

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