Do you love to cook? Or maybe just like to eat? Whichever camp you’re in, you know that the addition of a few selected spices can elevate what’s on your plate and transform a bland dish into a mouthwatering culinary creation.
Today I’m going to introduce you to my favorite spice shop in Madrid. The perfect place to buy seasonings from all over the world. I stopped buying spices at the grocery store a while back and thought I was getting the most bang for my buck by buying them at traditional food stores around the city. Until I discovered a little spice shop in Malasaña. Black Pepper & Co.
What a difference! The aroma and flavor between the bulk herbs and spices found at this local spice merchant vs. the packaged variety that has been sitting on the aisle for ages is noticeable. Enough so to make Black Pepper & Co. my exclusive spice shop. The owner and spice merchant of Malasaña, is a delight and can hook you up with everything from salt and pepper to seasonings and blends for Spanish, Moroccan, Mexican, Indian, Thai dishes and beyond.
My Spice Shop Story
A little over a year ago, while suffering through the bitter winter of Madrid (hey, I’m from Texas), I decided to make a vegetarian chili to get me through the cold. My recipe called for chili powder, which I didn’t have. After checking a few traditional food stores + supermarkets and coming up with nothing, I looked online and came across a small spice shop in the neighborhood that I had passed many times, Black Pepper & Co. I ran over with the hope of finding what I needed and upon entering I was immediately greeted with a friendly smile by Luis. My spice savior.
Hope quickly turned to disappointment as I looked among all the spices and didn’t see any chili powder. As I strived to explain my spice dilemma in Spanish to Luis, he took me over to his selection of chilies and asked what mix of spices made up my chili powder. An impossible question for a spice novice, I had no idea. So we headed over to his bookshelf and he selected a book of spices from the shelf, flipped through the pages and stopped on a page that had a “recipe” for Mexican chili powder. BINGO! The rest was magic as I watched him grab an assortment of spice jars, putting a pinch of this and a teaspoon of that in the mortar and pestle. After a bit of alchemy, I had a beautifully aromatic handmade chili powder for my Tex-Mex vegetarian chili.
The Spice Merchant of Malasaña
Luis, owner and friendly face of Black Pepper & Co., actually worked in advertising for 10 years before turning to the spice world. His deep passion for food and travel took him to distant places and upon returning he always brought back spices to use in the kitchen. A self-taught spice aficionado, Luis opened Black Pepper & Co. in December 2013 and has become the go-to spice guy of Malasaña. His clientele even includes chefs from local Michelin star restaurants, which gives you an idea of how solid of a place this is.
Talking to Luis, you’ll quickly notice that he is passionate and knowledgeable about spices, and although there are other spice merchants in Madrid who know their stuff, what keeps me coming back to Black Pepper & Co. is his inviting presence. He takes his time to build a relationship with his customers. He even goes the extra mile to create specific or unique spice mixes on the spot, to recommend spices for a dish you are making, or track down a hard to find spice from a far-off corner of the world. Each month he adds about 5-6 new items to the store and if you like it hot, he’s got the best selection in the area of the hottest chilies in the world.
Spices 101 – What You Need to Know
- Spices have a shelf life. They say after 6 months – 1 year the flavors of dried spices and herbs diminish significantly. It’s recommended to buy in small amounts and replenish when needed. At Black Pepper & Co. you can start off with 30 grams with most spices.
- Bulk over packaged. Bulk herbs and spices are considerably more fragrant and bolder in flavor than anything you’ll find in a bag or container at the supermarket. Packaged herbs and spices are stale in flavor and/or of poor quality due slow turnover and cost cutting. They may also contain contaminants or added ingredients such as flour and salt.
- Spice Merchants vs. Grocery Clerk. Spice merchants are experts in their field and use their worldwide connections to bring you the freshest herbs and spices and can also provide personalized customer service. In comparison, your local grocery clerk won’t be able to give you any spice insight, recommendations, or unique blends.
Where: Calle de San Vicente Ferrer, 10
Hours: Closed Sunday. Monday 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Tuesday-Friday 10:30 am – 2:00 pm then 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Saturday 12:00 pm – 9:00 pm.
What to expect: You’ll find more than just dried herbs and spices. Luis carries an array of teas, coffee, nuts, rice, quinoa, beans, and lentils from all over the world.
What else? Everything is available for online ordering too. Follow Black Pepper & Co. on Instagram.
Have you been to Black Pepper & Co.? Where do you go to get your spices? We’d love to know!