Item: RawSpiceBar Spice Blend Subscription
Overall Impression: If you're an adventurous home cook and like trying new things, RawSpiceBar is an inexpensive way to expand your repertoire. The spices are fresh and paired with global recipes hand-selected by chefs that celebrate the culture that inspired the spice blends.
RawSpiceBar Subscription: A Quick Summary
Characteristics and specs: For $6, you receive a slim, unassuming brown envelope every month that contains three spice blends and three recipes using the spice blends. Shipping is free.
Favorite details: The low-risk investment price and overall minimalism is great, from the straightforward packaging to the simplicity of sending just three blends. RawSpiceBar typically sends you recipes for a side dish, main dish, and dessert — perfect for cooking an entire meal on the weekend.
Potential problems: You receive enough of the spices to make the recipes, and that's about it. There isn't much possibility for extensive and immediate experimentation with your own dishes unless you ditch their recipes. The company has recently started making nine of its most popular blends freshly ground for reordering, but that still means that for now, a bunch of the spices will be one-time-only deals.
Who would love this: Anyone who wants to go deep with the flavors of niche, regional, or global cuisines, or a curious cook who doesn't like to make the same dish twice.
My Review of RawSpiceBar
How RawSpiceBar Works
Once a month, the California-based company sends you three different spice blends based on that month's culinary focus, and the shipping is free to destinations in the United States.
You can sign up one of several ways: month-t0-month, for $6/month, and you can cancel anytime; six months for $36; and yearly (12 months) for $66 — which nabs you a month free. RawSpiceBar subscriptions can also be sent as gifts.
Themes are planned about six months ahead, but the details are kept under wraps so it's a surprise when your spices arrive. Every month the blends come together in a slightly different way. Sometimes RawSpiceBar partners directly with a chef to solicit recipes, other times the collaboration will result in recipes that are unique tweaks of traditional dishes. Sometimes a culinary professional will be directly solicited for one dish, not all three.
How Raw Is Raw?
What's in a name? Well, the "raw" in the name refers to the fact that the company sources the spices whole and opts for fair-trade and organic whenever it's possible. There is no added salt, pepper, MSG, flour, rice, or sugar as filler.
It's very apparent that these spice are indeed freshly ground: Once I opened the little resealable envelopes, I could smell them halfway across the room. RawSpiceBar guarantees that when the spices arrive at your doorstep, they will have been ground about seven to 10 days prior. You typically receive one to two ounces of spices per month.
What Was in My Subscription
The following was in my July Memphis Spice "box":
- Memphis Dry Rib Rub (.4 oz)
- Applewood Smoked Sea Salt (.3 oz)
- Triple Ice Cream Spices (.3 oz)
A few little details I noticed: First, RawSpiceBar calls the shipment a "spice box," but the spices don't arrive in a box. It's a bit of a misnomer, but I admire that there's no actual box because the company wants to minimize waste. It's also why they don't send you more than you need, so these spices don't take up residence on your spice rack and potentially get lost, forgotten, or musty.
The spices arrived in simply designed brown resealable packets, but for some reason, when I clipped the top of the rib rub packet, a small cloud of red spice poofed out. The other two retained their hermetic seal, thankfully.
For July, the height of summer eating, RawSpiceBar led with the classic flavors of a Memphis dry rib rub. This ruled the flavor palette of all three recipes in varying degrees of heat: Memphis Dry Ribs, Bacon Potato Salad with Smoked Salt, and Triple Spice Ice Cream.
Despite the fact that the company claims these are kitchen-tested recipes, I still found some discrepancies. The photo accompanying the ice cream recipe you receive (which is also on the blog, along with all the other months' dishes, in case you lose them), shows a photo of ice cream with strawberries in it. The blog's language talks confusingly about serving the spiced ice cream with cut-up strawberries and to "pair this spice blend with strawberry ice cream." (These are two different things.) The recipe itself does not include fruit. Instead, it walks you through the process of creating a spiced ice cream using the combination of cinnamon, green cardamom, and star anise provided, which made me think of fall and worked surprisingly well with strawberries. A less savvy home cook would be at a loss here, or would likely end up serving sliced strawberries with the ice cream. Not a bad fate or a major issue; just a bit confusing and a little disappointing.
As for the other two recipes? The company provides grilling and smoking instructions for the Memphis dry ribs. I have the former, but not the latter. I wanted to do it and do it right, so I was unable to test drive the Memphis dry rib rub. However, I can tell you it's a heady blend of paprika, black peppercorns, onion, garlic, thyme, mustard seed, celery seed, cayenne, and cumin — and something labeled "spices." (No response on that one; I wonder if it's left intentionally mysterious?) Regardless, it seems more than fit to do its job, as a tiny dab of this blend singed my tongue. I can't wait to share this with my neighbor with a smoker.
I was initially skeptical about the amount of applewood smoked sea salt in the last packet — it looked like a few tablespoons of salt. I made the bacon potato salad mostly as directed, but added another small potato. The recipe called for just one pound of potatoes, which seemed scant for eight to 12 people as a side dish, especially because there weren't too many other ingredients that would bulk up the dish's volume. The recipe calls for mayonnaise, but I split the difference between it and plain Greek yogurt based on the personal preferences of my crowd.
The end result was delicious and something I would make again without question. The bacon potato salad took on a slightly smoky taste. The salts were, oddly, more redolent of smoke in smell than in taste, and not too salty. I brought it to a friend's house with four adults and four children under the age of six, and there was one serving left, leading me to further question the "serves eight to 12" claim — this one was more like six to eight. Still, it's nothing a skilled home cook wouldn't immediately sense just by eyeing the ingredients before cooking.
RawSpiceBar is a low-frills, low-budget investment that packs a flavorful, creative punch. It's a fun experiential type of gift for the food lover in your life or an experimental add to your own kitchen. At $6 a month, it's hard to go wrong. Most people spend that much on espresso-based drinks in just a couple of days.