Owner Jon Hauge stands beside the shop’s chile selection Dec. 9, 2011. (Staff photo by Alexandra Yearly.)
Owner Jon Hauge stands beside the shop’s chile selection Dec. 9, 2011. (Staff photo by Alexandra Yearly.)
More than 400 herbs and spices and 150 blends can be found in the Savory Spice Shop, which opened Nov. 21, 2011. (Staff photo by Alexandra Yearly.)
More than 400 herbs and spices and 150 blends can be found in the Savory Spice Shop, which opened Nov. 21, 2011. (Staff photo by Alexandra Yearly.)

The more than 400 spices and herbs and 150 blends and seasonings might seem overwhelming to customers who first walk into Savory Spice Shop in Princeton. But owner Jon Hauge is set on making the store a fun place to be, with cooking classes, recipe recommendations and the option to taste before you buy.

The shop on Spring Street, which just opened Nov. 21, 2011, allows customers to sample the many spices, herbs and blends available in the “taster” jars throughout the store by shaking some spices out onto their hand, taking a small taste and discarding the rest onto the floor.

In fact, Hauge actually encourages customers to drop the leftover spices, explaining that it enhances the store’s aroma, which is noticeable even from the sidewalk.

From curry to barbecue rubs to organic herbs, the Savory Spice Shop has a selection of ground products from around the world that are shipped weekly from the distribution center in Denver. In the chile pepper section, customers will even find Bhut Jolokia, also known as the Ghost Chile, the hottest pepper in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

As part of his initiation to opening the store, Hauge said he tried the pepper, and has actually had a few customers venture in to taste one, too. Though he said he has a very high tolerance for hot foods, even Hauge couldn’t stop the beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

Since the store’s opening, there hasn’t been any one product that customers have regularly sought out. Instead, Hauge said, they’ve come in for many different reasons, whether or not they know anything about spices.

“Some are looking for some hard-to-find spices that we have, some are just looking to shop around and get some ideas of what they’re making for dinner,” he said. “A lot of people can just stop in and say, ‘Hey, I’m making chicken for dinner, what would you recommend?’”

Hauge said he often assists customers in choosing different spices based on how they plan to use them in a meal. The store is arranged by category and includes curries, salts, chilis, barbecue rubs, herbs, peppers, exotic spices and more.

About 10 percent of the herbs are certified organic. Each of the spice jars bears a label with the ingredients, description and price.

Hauge’s own favorites often vary depending on the day or time of day, but he recommended the Jamaican Jerk spice or the Bohemian Forest salt-free herbal brand. Both can be used as chicken seasoning, but Hauge said there are no rules. He believes any spice can be used in any dish.

Displayed beside many of the spices are recipe cards, like Chai Spice Infused Sweet Potato Bisque, each of which include spices available in the shop.

Even seemingly simple spices come in a surprising variety. Cinnamon actually has four different varieties, and in its true form, called Ceylon, smells quite different from the standard cinnamon found in most homes.

“Most people haven’t been exposed to fresh ground spices … so we’re happy to show people what we have,” Hauge said. “And if they want to taste the difference or see how potent something is, they certainly can do that, and again put the rest on the floor and laugh about it.”

Hauge was first intrigued by the idea of the spice shop about eight years ago on a family visit to Denver, where his family took him to a similar shop.

“I’ve loved to cook my entire life, so I fell in love with the shop then, and I said, ‘If I ever have the opportunity to do it, this is what I want to do,’” Hauge said.

The shop he visited eventually became the original store in the Savory Spice Shop franchise, owned by Mike and Janet Johnston, who began selling franchises about two years ago.

The spices from their store were featured on the Food Network’s Road Tasted with the Neelys and Paula’s Best Dishes with Paula Dean before the couple was offered its own show, Spice & Easy, which aired in April 2010 with six episodes. The spices and recipes from those shows are available at the Princeton location as well.

Hauge is scheduled to teach a cooking class in the spring for the Princeton Adult School, which will be held in the shop. Those interested in taking the classes should contact the Princeton Adult School.

Since the shop opened, he’s been doing hot sauce tastings, cooking classes and pairing with neighboring stores, like CoolVines, to sell a wine mulling kit.

Savory Spice Shop is located at 15 Spring St. in Princeton. Phone: (609) 454-5627. On the Web: savoryspiceshop.com or facebook.com/savoryspiceshopprinceton.