The expression ‘de toda la vida’, meaning something that has been around for donkey’s years, seems tailor made for an establishment like La Casa de las Especias. The House of Spices is essentially what is known in Spain as a herbolario, meaning a shop selling dried herbs, infusions, teas, spices, and other modestly exotic items for domestic or culinary use. Before there were health food stores or organic grocers’, there were herbolarios. La Casa de las Especias is a fine example of the genre.
Founded in 1932, it still stands on its original site, in a bustling street behind the Plaza de la Encarnacion (the square of the notorious ‘mushrooms’), cheek by jowl with other old-fashioned stores that seem equally ‘de toda la vida’. (Other branches are in Nervión, Santa Justa, Cerro del Águila, and recently Triana.) The company’s main business, as its name implies, is in herbs and spices of every conceivable type and provenance, from Spanish saffron to Madagascar green peppercorns and dried pimiento choricero from La Rioja.
From there the range spins out into a dizzying variety of teas and infusions; ready-made spicings for olives, barbecued meats and chorizo (the shop has everything you might need for a pig-killing or matanza, including sausage skins and cord for tying); herbal remedies; honeys and propolis including a dark, intensely-flavoured holm oak honey (miel de encina); vegetarian foods, seaweeds, soy sauces and other oriental stuff. Certain speciality products would be hard to find elsewhere, such as cold-pressed organic sunflower oil, gelatine leaves and dried lupin seeds. An important part of the business centres on candles for use in the churches of Seville’s old town, and incense for the Holy Week processions: check out the range of 30-odd incenses with names like Devoción, Gloria, Sacramental and Vaticano.
The bright, busy shop on José Gestoso hums with activity, the clientele covering all age groups and social classes, exemplifying the way the traditional Spanish herbolario has successfully bridged the gap between the ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ consumer.