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Ask an Expert: Talking Spice Blends with Tommy & Trevor of Smij Spicery

June 19, 2018
Credit: Nastasic

Smij Spicery is the constantly growing vision of Tommy Sullins and Trevor Hale, a couple of almost 18 years. The pair sell hundreds of spices in the form of basics, custom blends, salts and peppercorns, sugars, and exotic chiles, while also offering direct client consultation to anyone seeking assistance navigating the spice world.

I stumbled upon Smij Spicery last fall at the Little Italy Mercato, where I was warmly greeted by Tommy and Trevor as they handed me a sample of their Tonique, herbal tea.

One sip, and I was hooked.

Smij Spicery is a relative newcomer to San Diego, having just celebrated their first anniversary earlier this month. It all started when the couple inherited property last year and, welcoming the opportunity for a change from their many years in Los Angeles, they moved south to find their niche in the local market.

“Coming from an extensive background as a spice monger and blender, and Trevor from the restaurant industry, the spice trade not only felt like a logical decision, but also the most fulfilling one for us,” said Tommy.

Smij Spicery

Unlike pre-packaged spices purchased at supermarkets, Smij spice blends are made often and in small batches, so the blends being sold directly to customers at farmers markets have more vibrant flavors that don’t deteriorate as quickly as the stuff that has been languishing on shelves.

“Just store your herbs and spices in an air-tight container in a cool, dark and dry place,” Tommy advised. “Personally, I don’t believe that freezing or refrigerating helps preserve their freshness.”

Tommy’s commitment to top quality ingredients requires him to work with a series of importers to source and select the best spices from all parts of the globe.

His selection of individual spices for blends stems from thorough research, a confidence in his own palate, and one look at the expression on his husband Trevor’s face during their blending trials and errors.

Smij Spicery
Smij Spicery

“Being able to translate a singular client experience into an actual flavor is one of my biggest sources of inspiration” Tommy explained.

Case-in-point is Tonique (Tone-Eek), their best-selling blend. They created the caffeine and sugar-free combination of herbs and spices for a client named Toni.

“She stopped by our booth at the market one day and bought all the individual ingredients for her anti-inflammatory herbal tea,” Trevor explained.

“She then shared with us that she was going through chemo and asked if we could just make the blend for her.”

“Naturally, we said ABSOLUTELY,” he said. “Tommy gave her recipe some strength, flavor proportion and a bunch of love, and that’s how Tonique came to be.”

In addition to their blends, Smij offers an array of harder-to-find individual spices. And the pair have a few favorites.

Smij Spicery
Smij Spicery

“Urfa Biber is a mild, oily Turkish chilé with a chocolatey, raisiny undertone. It gives any dish, including dessert, a little punch and tends to pair especially well with dark chocolate” said Tommy.

“I love Sumak-- A tart, ground berry used in a variety of cuisines. It’s also an amazing sodium alternative,” Trevor added.  

Smij Spicery offers something that was missing the the San Diego food scene. It reminds me of my favorite little spice store in San Francisco, and probably will remind you of a boutique spice shop from your past. It is a place I know I can go for advice, inspiration, and culinary discovery.

Find Smij at the Farmers Market

Social Media @SmijSpicery

Pacific Beach Farmers Market, Tuesdays, 2pm-7pm

North Park Farmers Market, Thursdays, 3pm-7:30pm

Little Italy Mercato, Saturdays, 8am-2pm

Little Italy Mercato Chef’s Market, Wednesdays, 9AM-1PM *Starting July 18

Smij online shop is coming soon

Stephanie Parker
Stephanie Parker is the founder and CEO of Epicurean San Diego, a local agritourism and events company. She is a committed locavore who serves as the Farm Liaison on the board for Slow Food Urban San Diego. In her free time you’ll find her outside with her dogs, cooking at home with her husband or dining out with friends.
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