WE’RE in love… with Gewürzhaus, the boutique spice shop that has opened in our very own Carlton neighbourhood. Meld reporter Amanda Yap spills the tantalising details of this heady love affair.
I push open the door to be greeted immediately by the slight aroma of sweet spice lingering in the air.
The interior of Gewürzhaus reminds me of a kitchen from the 60s. Dimly lit, the shop gives off an instant feeling of cosiness. The floor is made up of a white, red, green and black checkered pattern. Various rows of tubs and shelves holding jars of spice line the entire aisle to my right. On the left is the counter, behind which are more shelves of jars. I look closely to discover that the many small wooden drawers located under the counter are home to yet even more spices.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. Gewürzhaus (pronounced Ge-verse-house), or “spice house” in German, is home to more than 300 different kinds of products: approximately 200 pure herbs and spices, 120 blends, 25 salts and 15 different types of sugars.
Sisters Eva and Maria Konecsny are the owners of the shop. Both have shared a passion for cooking and baking since they were young, and this, coupled with the experience of a trip to Germany two or three years ago, was what ignited the idea for Gewürzhaus.
“We saw something similar in Germany, and decided that it would be something that would really work, and we couldn’t really figure out why no one had done something like it in Melbourne yet. So we came back and started cooking and developing,” Eva tells me.
Gewürzhaus also pays homage to the sisters’ German roots, and they credit their grandparents for some of the shop’s elements. The signature gold German script used for the Gewürzhaus logo was taken off their grandfathers’ handwritten letters, while several of the original blended products were inspired by their grandmother’s recipes. Two of these blends – Oma’s Nut Sugar and Oma Rosa’s Gulasch – are specifically named in honour of her.
Find your way
The various herbs and spices available at Gewürzhaus are imported from every region of the world, while blends are milled and freshly mixed together on-site. Spices and blends in the store are generally displayed according to cuisine types: Australian, South East Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint which products are the favourites among customers, Eva says “it is probably the East section that is most popular”. This section includes the Laksa Lemak, Thai Tom Yam, Malay Satay and Chinese Five Spice blends, some of which I recognize from the recipes section of the store’s website.
Eva favours and recommends the Asian Wok Spice blend, and says she puts it “in nearly everything”.
“You can put it into your stock or water when you’re heating up pasta and noodles, into stir fry dishes, into the water if you’re steaming vegetables, making curry chicken or tofu – anything, really,” she says.
I get the sudden idea to ask if there are any spices available to use in chai teas, and I am not disappointed when Eva leads me to the “sweet” section of the store, and points out Raj’s Majestic Chai Mala, a ready-made blend that can be sprinkled on top of black teas.
How it is different
One thing that makes purchasing spices at Gewürzhaus so much more different from buying them at other stores is the self-scoop format it features. Customers are invited to sample the products by lifting the lids of any of the tubs, scooping some of its content, and then seeing and smelling it. In this way, an idea of how to use them is presented to patrons, as opposed to when buying them in already-sealed containers or tins.
“We sort of fell in love with the tubs and the self-scoop format, we spent way too long in that shop in Germany,” Eva reminisces.
Every tub of spices in Gewürzhaus is individually labelled, containing four main points of information: ingredients, origin of the product, price and most significantly, useful descriptions of use.
“You wouldn’t try these things if you didn’t know what they are. Reading about them makes it easier to know how to use them,” Eva says.
Self-scoop products in the store are priced per 10 grams. There is a 20 gram minimum for spices, blends and sugars, and a 10 gram minimum for herbs. A convenient self-service weighing station is available for customers’ use. Customers get to scoop their desired quantity, and then transfer them into specially crafted spice bags. I notice that these beautiful black and gold bags are individually labelled with the information associated with each product as well. Besides that, there are warnings at the bottom about the inclusion of traces of nuts in each product, whenever applicable.
The store also provides “on-site” grinding.
“Whole spices, similar to coffee beans, are ground because they bring out a lot more flavour and aroma. We grind everything freshly in the shop. There’s quite a difference to buying spices in the supermarkets, as they are ground offshore, and by the time it gets to your kitchen, it’s generally half a year old, at best. Coffee and spices are much better ground freshly. We grind spices everyday here,” Eva explains.
But the nature of the spices matter too, and some blends or spices do stay fresh longer than others, she says.
“One of the ones that doesn’t is the Chinese Five Spice blend, due to the combination of ingredients in them.”
Freshness of spices also has to do with how they are stored. A “care card” provided to each customer with every purchase states that self-scooped products purchased at Gewürzhaus should not be kept in their spice bags for longer than two weeks. While they don’t have exact expiry dates, spices do tend to lose their flavour and aroma over time. It is recommended that spices are kept separately in airtight jars and containers at room temperatures, and away from moisture. This means the common practice of storing spices in the fridge is a mistake, as spices will be ruined from condensation.
It is also recommended that spices are kept away from sunlight (hence the black spice bags), but tinted as well as clear jars are available for purchase at the store for $2 each. Additionally, ready prepared jars of spices and blends can be bought off the shelf at set prices – you can check out the online catalogue.
Buy a gift
If you’re after gift ideas, you can purchase a gift voucher, or pick a gift pack. Gift packs consist of spices and blends that are readily grouped according to various themes, including the “sweet”, “seafood”, “BBQ”, “Australian”, “curry” and “salt” gift packs.
You might also want to consider the novelty teabags, baskets, clothes and beautiful aprons on offer, as well as various kitchen utensils such as salt bowls, spatulas, pans and mini spice grinders.
Gewürzhaus jarred products can be returned, exchanged or refunded with the receipt within 3 months – but they must be in re-saleable conditions, and have the original seals intact. The only exceptions are the self-serve products.
Though I can’t help but think – as the cashier packs up the six different products and accompanying jars my friend has picked out, and I clutch my own jar of the Salt and Pepper Squid blend – that the only return I’ll be making is coming back to buy even more products!
Gewürzhaus is located at 342 Lygon St, Carlton and is open Monday to Friday (10.30am – 6pm), Saturday (10am – 6pm) and Sunday (11am – 5pm). For more information, visit the Gewürzhaus website.