I cannot say enough great things about San Francisco Herb Company. It was not a fluke that my friend, jen and i went there. Earlier in the week, before leaving Los Angeles, her husband, David, had asked me if i had heard of it. I had not and of course was told ‘no, it’s not at the Ferry building, it’s cheaper and fresher’. Done. Sold. Two of my favorite words in one sentence. Ironically enough we were on our way to the Ferry Building to make our 1pm reservation at the Slanted Door.
It was a nice walk to the Mission area from where we were staying in Hayes Valley. We were so caught up in walking and enjoying the nice weather that we almost missed the small, non-descript shop had they not had a red sign out on the sidewalk.
Upon entering, your nostrils will be filled with the pleasant aroma of spices and herbs. This is a no frills kind of shop. Who needs frills when you can be assured you are getting the freshest spices available! The turnaround through their shop and their online business is so quick, you can be sure that they haven’t been sitting on the shelf forever and a day. What’s the point of buying spices if they are already old and working at half capacity or less.
Some people will tell you to purge and replace all your dry spices and herbs every six months. Some people also tell you to replace air filters every six months and floss your teeth twice a day. It all just depends on what kind of person you are, what kind of cook you are, and how much you really care about sticking to the rules. I’m kinda someone who falls in the middle: totally aware of spices losing potency, mainly use fresh herbs and not dried ones, and well i just do what i can when time allows. I will admit that certain spices can definitely go bad and get funky, like curry powder. If spices and herbs are stored in airtight containers they will last longer. An easy way to see if your spices and herbs have lost potency is to smell them. If they smell like nothing they will taste like nothing. One thing to keep in mind is to not buy spices in bulk if it’s gonna take you two years to get through it. Saving money here might cost you in valuable flavor.
Spices have always been a sign of exotic and other worldly discoveries. Before coming across this shop and their interweb selling capabilities, i was planning to write an article about getting good spices on the cheap at places such as ethnic markets: indian, asian, and mexican. These are still great, affordable sources and local, but not a one stop shop. Also, the quality of the spices might not be as high as a supplier such as SF Herb Co.
Short of looking like a scene from the movie ‘Blow’, you can have parties to divy, weigh, and bag spices. All you need is one or two other cooking freak friends to want to go in on some 1lb bags of nutmeg, Tellicherry peppercorns, etc. If you are a crafter, or love making holiday gifts of potpourri or spice rubs, you need to know about SF Herb Co.
To give you an example of what you are saving, a 1lb bag of Tellicherry peppercorns is $5.35 here. I purchased some as a gift for a friend at Sur la Table where a 5 oz bag is $9.95. So for that price, you would spend about $30 bucks for a 1lb of Tellicherry peppercorns. i don’t believe all the spices have that kind of huge savings margin (about a $25 difference with the peppercorns) and i am definitely comparing two extremes, but in my household, we go through peppercorns the quickest. The other thing to keep in mind is that when your spices are fresh and of high quality, you don’t need to use a whole lot. On this visit, i got a 4 oz bag of Madagasgar whole vanilla beans for $17.40. I used to pay about 2 bucks a piece, and this bag came with about 28 beans!! That left me with some beans to count!
I was lucky enough to get to chat a bit with the knowledgeable and friendly store manager, Greg. The business is family owned and they purchase the bulk of their products from a family run port business in Brooklyn, where they receive the shipments and grind the spices fresh. Other items such as saffron threads and the vanilla beans are all smelled and quality picked by the owners from the different vendors. Wow, talk about dedication.
Originally, the wholesale venue was founded in the 70’s around the same time Celestial Seasonings, known for their tea, was widely popular in Colorado. SF herb Co. still carries a lot of tea but is known for their epicurean contribution to the ever flourishing foodie city they reside in. We picked up a copy of the local freebie rag, “Edible San Francisco” where on the front cover, the bar, Alembic, was being showcased for their exotic concoctions and local brews. SF Herb Co. supplies them with much of their ingredients for special ales, like coriander and orange blossoms. It was too bad it was our last day in SF and our itinerary was over packed cuz we started getting really thirsty for special local brew beer, and it was only 11am!
I don’t think he knew at first he was being “interviewed” for wallflour, but it was great to see someone so enthusiastic about discussing and sharing information with us. I am very curious by nature and love asking questions, and this time it was completely welcomed. My only question left was how i was going to squeeze a visit to the Alembic into my schedule, and if not, when i could return to SF to do so.