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For the Spice Rack That Has Everything

Published: July 13, 2005

NIRMALA NARINE has her eye on your spice rack. "Spices are the soul of every cuisine," said Ms. Narine, 35, an entrepreneur in Long Island City, Queens. "And as sophisticated as we may have become, there is still plenty to learn."

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Lars Klove for The New York Times

Nirmala Narine grinds spices for the blends she sells through her Long Island City company.

What she would like home cooks to learn is that ground bush tomato, an Australian seasoning, adds richness to fish. That South African peri-peri, a chili blend, does wonders for scrambled eggs. And that ground lemon myrtle might send your herbes de Provence into early retirement.

Ms. Narine, who immigrated from Guyana with her family when she was 11, went to school in Queens, and graduated from John Jay College. "I was always involved in food," she said. Her instinct for business flowered early. "I remember growing habanero peppers when I was a kid, maybe I was 6, and selling them to buy shoes."

Her determination to bring unusual spices to the American market began a few years ago when she visited a spice plantation on Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. Having worked in real estate, run a limousine company and owned a gift basket company, she was interested in a new challenge. She started Nirmala's Kitchen three years ago, importing unusual spices, blending them, and selling them to specialty stores and online.

Ms. Narine has a particular sensibility to the blending of spices. "You can't generalize about curries," she said, because the ones available in the Caribbean "are vastly different from the ones you find in various parts of India."

Her line includes six masala and curry blends from India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and the West Indies, among others, each with a different keynote (cumin, chili or ginger). She has the spices roasted and ground, then blends them in her workshop and packs them in airtight metal tins.

She keeps green coconuts in the refrigerator in her office and a machete nearby, ready to whack off their tops, insert a straw and offer a visitor a refreshing thirst quencher. "I used to use this machete to kill chickens," she said.

She has traveled to Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East to find new spices and the sources for them. In the fall she plans to add new seasonings like sumac, Aleppo pepper and Oman black limes. She is devoted to indigenous cuisines in countries like Peru, Australia and Tanzania.

In addition to more than three dozen spices and blends, she imports seasoned rice, including a highly aromatic red rice from Kerala in southern India and spiced North African couscous. The grains, in clear plastic jars with bamboo paper tops, come preseasoned and ready to cook with the addition of water and olive oil to make four to six servings. She has some unusual salts, like a Japanese sea salt seasoned with matcha green tea powder.

Most of the spices and grains are $6.95 to $13.95. They are sold at Dean & DeLuca, among other stores, and at

Some of Ms. Narine's products are also sold in the gift shop at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. "As well as my company is doing, I think I'm proudest of the recognition this gives me," she said.

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Photo: Housewife in Kitchen, 1940
Photo: Housewife in Kitchen, 1940