Spicing Up Your Life With Aloha

“Our business philosophy is really about sharing aloha,” says Joanna Carolan, owner of Aloha Spice Company, “in how we treat each other as well as residents and visitors to our island.”

Joanna, general manager Eamonn Carolan (her stepson), and I are talking on the Aloha Spice Company store lanai in Hanapepe. The reclaimed plantation house was salvaged from Waimea and painted red, white and green. The store sits off Hanapepe Road, tucked behind a gravel parking lot next to Banana Patch Studio, which Joanna also owns.

It’s a hot day, and as I open the door to go inside, bells tinkle. A wash of air cools my flushed skin and I inhale the warm scent of spice. Joanna’s watercolor prints hang on the wall along with artwork from local artists, including her mother. Locally made products including aprons, kitchen towels, chocolate and baked goods line the shelves along with wood tableware, kava tea, Hawaii cookbooks, children’s books, soaps, candles and lotions.

In the center of the shop, tiny spoons are slid into small bowls of spice blends. My husband, Dan, samples each one and decides Pele’s Fire Hawaiian seasoning salt is his favorite. At first taste, the blend is zesty from flake sea salt and ground ancho chilies. It quickly builds to a smoldering heat from cayenne pepper and simmers to a sultry wisp from smoked paprika.

Back at home it’s movie night, so Dan and I break out our stovetop popcorn popper. While Dan measures out the oil and popcorn, I blend 1 1/2 teaspoons Kiawe Smoked Garlic Salt with 1/2 teaspoon Pepe’s Fire. Once the kernels start popping, I open the lid and add the spices in one quick move. This way, each kernel of popped corn is coated in spicy, smoky, salty flavors.

“In Hawaii, we have an international mix of cultures,” explains Joanna. “Putting different flavors together is part of our history, and when designing our blends, it’s really fun to work with different cultures and their traditional seasonings.”

In all, there are six salt blends ($6.95), one of which is flavored and two are smoked; four coffee rubs ($6.95), two sugar blends ($4.95); four specialty grinds ($9.95) and six organic salt blends ($5.95). The specialty grinds, blends of whole spices and salt in a bottle with a lid that twists, allow you to apply fresh seasoning to meat, fish and vegetables.

Four organic blends, created by Michael Simpson, chef at Living Foods Market, appear in the Aloha Spice Company cookbook ($7.95). Prime Steak Seasoning & Rub is used in Steak Fajitas with Tropical Salsa; Seafood Seasoning & Rub is used in Mahi and Salmon with Coconut Ginger Sauce; Chicken & Pork Seasoning & Rub is used in Pork Chops with Pineapple Relish, and Luau BBQ Seasoning & Rub is used for “Imu Style” Chicken.

“I had a great time doing the layout for the cookbook and we used plates from Banana Patch Studio,” says Joanna, who also designed the company’s logo and labels. “I love to cook, and as an artist I’m creative. I like to try different things and I have fun with presentation.”

If you can’t make it to Hanapepe, you can find a selection of spices at Foodland in Kapaa and Princeville, Whaler’s General Stores, Papaya’s Natural Foods & Cafe, Healthy Hut, Wine Garden in Puhi, The Wine Shop in Koloa and Hula Moon in Hanalei and Koloa.

Executive chef Guy Higa of Kauai Marriott Resort uses various blends at Kukui’s restaurant for banquets and in its amenity baskets. He also tosses Kauai Shrimp in Aloha Seafood Seasoning & Rub during the cooking demonstration on my culinary tours.

“We’re always at the store to answer questions and make recommendations,” says Eamonn, who offers samples during Hanapepe Art Walk every Friday. “I think people like our blends because they know it’s made here, in small batches with aloha, and it tastes awesome!”

Aloha Spice Company
3857 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe

Open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.