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Flavors: World Spice Merchants are Flavoring the World from Columbia Falls and the Emerald City

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Stella Fong
Yellowstone Public Radio
Amanda Bevill, owner of World Spice Merchants, now resides in Montana overseeing her packing facility in Columbia Falls.

World Spice Merchants is flavoring our tables.

In Columbia Falls, aromatic and dynamic concoctions are being packaged and sent to kitchens near and far. In 2005 Amanda Bevill purchased her storefront located right below Pike Place Market in Seattle, and then in 2015, expanded her packing operation to a warehouse in Montana.

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Stella Fong
Store Manager and Creative Director Jamie Aragonez stands in front of the retail store in Seattle, located near the waterfront and below Pike Place Market.

In the Emerald City, in a brick building near the Puget Sound and in the shadow of the oldest operating public market in the United States is the retail space for World Spice Merchants. Opened in 1907, Pike Place Market has abounded with energy with shoppers and tourists who come to marvel at the fresh bounty, witness the tossing of fish between the fishmongers and marvel at the gum wall.

A spice is defined as a strongly flavored or aromatic substance of vegetable origin derived from a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other plant part used for flavoring or coloring food. Spices have been used for thousands of years in Asia, the Middle East and Mediterranean and once held the worth of gold.

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Stella Fong
The 7500 square feet warehouse, at the edge of the Glacier Park International Airport, houses the spices that World Spice Merchants send out customers.

Bevill harbors her gold in the storefront in Seattle, and in the 7,500-square-foot red metal building right on the edge of the Glacier Park International Airport.

Bevill says she was "in a career transition" when she came upon the business at Pike Place Market.

"My first career was as a medical herbalist so I trained in botany and plant chemistry," she said. "I worked in the herbal medicine industry for a long time, so plants have always been one of my passions.”

Fortuitously, at a time when she was in between jobs, “I was climbing the stairs from the waterfront, and I looked right instead of left, and ended up in the spice shop, and the rest is history.

"So it was just literally luck.”

The new space is "a far cry from where we started in 2005, which was basically a 20-feet by 40-feet storefront,” she said. “Over the years we went into our first warehouse on Stone Way, which was about 1500 square feet, and a few years later to Wallingford,” doubling their space to 3500 square feet.

In 2015, they realized they had to make another move.

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Stella Fong
Max Stephenson works on preparing packages to be mailed to customers at the Colombia Falls warehouse for World Spice Merchants.

With her family in Montana, she decided to relocate about 30 years ago.

"I’d like to say I spent most of my adult life working to get back to Montana.”

In the warehouse found right on the edge of the Glacier Park International Airport, Bevill initially designed her facility using Legos. She wanted a smooth flow from the delivery trucks dropping product off at the garage doors to move around the corner where bulk items in restaurant sized containers are found to a packing area where smaller and popular spices are found and placed in jars or bags. Then separate rooms form the show room, and the packaging room for putting together orders to be mailed out to customers. The mail area also contains the teas, keeping them separated from being contaminated by the more powerful spices.

In the bulk spice area, Bevill points out 300 bins full of spices — half pure, half blends.

"Over 125 spices never change," she said. "We always have coriander, fennel, paprika, the standards, but we’re such spice geeks. As soon as we hear about something we just have to taste it.”

An example is voatsiperifery, a relative of the black peppercorn that grows in a small region in Madagascar.

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Stella Fong
At the Seattle World Spice Merchants, Sherrie Hahn is filling an order for a spice blend.

Bevill suggests keeping spices seasonally.

“My recommendation for people is to turn over the spice cabinet four times a year, and so I just shop seasonally, just like you would for fresh vegetables," she said. "In the fall I stock up with all of my pumpkin spices and things I like to use in the crock pot, things for the holidays. Come January it’s a whole different story. Then I ‘m thinking about healthy eating. I ‘m thinking about the February holidays like Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year.”

For spring, “suddenly there’s more vegetables," she said, "so I want more salt.”

Amongst the variety of salts, Bevill says Pacific Flake salt is her current favorite.

The flake salt from northern California “has the best texture, the most beautiful pyramid crystals that you can see in your food, and it's fine enough that you can pinch and grind it with your fingers."

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Stella Fong
From left to right: Chelsey Tidwell, Melissa Voelker, and Olivia Stark are part of the team at World Spice Merchants.

As far as spices, her personal stand outs include Herbes de Provence, a blend featuring savory marjoram, chervil, thyme, dill and tarragon; Shawarma Spice made with toasted cumin, smoked paprika and garlic as the deep base with tart notes coming from sumac and lemon crystal and asafoetida bringing the combination together; Kashmiri Garam Masala with cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cumin, black pepper, cloves and mace; and allspice.

“To me, allspice just says holiday," Bevill said.

Stella Fong
At World Spice Merchants, Huacatay and Voatspierifery are some of the newer and more unique spices available. Voatsiperifery is a peppercorn from Madagascar and Huacatay is an aromatic herb from the Andes.

While the COVID pandemic tripled World Spice Merchants’ business, Bevill has missed her customers and looks forward to once again celebrating the season with a holiday open house.

Customers are welcome to come into the Montana showroom to purchase spices. In Seattle, creative director Jamie Aragonez and Bevill’s son, assistant general manager Max McFarland, run the storefront.

“All the spices we sell online, we also sell in the retail store,” Bevill said. "It’s a really great experience to go in and talk to the spice experts in real time.”

Online, Aragonez and Bevill post recipes, highlight new products and announce ongoings such as classes.

Next time you seek flavor in your dishes, World Spice Merchants may be able to provide the needed energy and aroma.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.