Working knowledge What a spice merchant thinks you should know

Devany Vickery-Davidson is a spice specialist.

Devany Vickery-Davidson manages The Spice & Tea Exchange on Church Street, which makes her an expert on everything from cardamom to cocoa powder. Here’s what she wishes the general public knew about the seasonings in their cabinet:

Hoarding cinnamon might have made sense when cooks couldn’t replenish their supply until another ship arrived from Ceylon, but it’s not a recipe for freshness. Even when stored in a cool, dark place, ground spices start shedding their flavor within months. “You can buy as little as a quarter of an ounce,” Vickery-Davidson says. (She stocks six kinds of cinnamon.)

There’s no clearer indicator of food trends than which seasonings are selling. Currently, Charleston area cooks may be more influenced by the weather than lifestyle magazines. Right now, Vickery-Davidson is selling a good amount of file powder for gumbo and dried peppers for chili. Vickery-Davidson prefers a blend of New Mexico, Aleppo and cayenne peppers in her chili.

Vickery-Davidson says black truffle salt is a big seller, but what are people supposed to do with novelty spices such as chocolate salt, which they may have received as a well-intentioned host gift? “Some of those are great cocktail rimmers,” Vickery-Davidson advises. Other strong-tasting powders work best sprinkled over a neutral canvas, such as popcorn, potatoes or soft-boiled eggs. As for the chocolate salt, Vickery-Davidson likes it in mole.

“What I think is really a big secret (is) that we are here,” Vickery says. “Eighty-five percent of our customers are from out of Charleston. People just don’t know we are here.” Vickery firmly believes a spice boutique is the best place to shop for hard-to-find spices — and to find them fresh. She adds that common spices generally cost about half as much at her shop as they do at the grocery store.

as told to Hanna Raskin