A travel guide for the palate
Local company packages exotic spices to test your culinary adventurousness
When Judy Henninger retired from a career in international public health, she wanted to build a business around her passion for travel and, specifically, her love of international cuisine. Now she brings the flavors of the world to you from her kitchen in the form of hummingbird SPICE CO’s array of seasonings and spices.
Henninger’s enthusiasm for international flavors started in her hometown of Chicago, where adventures in big-city culinary diversity were a fixture of her childhood. A trip to North Africa was the first major inspiration for what would become Hummingbird Spice Co.
“I spent some time there with a friend; we went to Morocco and Tunisia,” she said. “We ate some crazy things; things I’d never eaten before and never knew about.”
Throughout her adventures in globe-trotting, Henninger has found herself drawn specifically to the spice markets punctuating her favorite destinations from Africa to India and seemingly everywhere.
Her spice business was born, she said, “out of a desire to do something fun that I enjoyed, and to be a little creative; to incorporate my travels with my love of cooking and learning about cuisines.”
Hummingbird’s flagship products are themed spice gift sets, each containing eight individually packaged seasoning blends along with information about the spices and some suggested recipes drawn from Henninger’s travels. Each container has enough spices to create multiple dishes, giving its recipient a chance to evaluate a particular flavor in different ways.
“It’s basically an experiment in the making,” she said.
“Global Migration” wraps an overview of some of the world’s most timeless seasonings into one convenient package.
“I’ve got something from the Middle East, I’ve got the chimichurri from down in South America, I have a French Quatre-Épices, I have an Istanbul salad seasoning, I have a Piri-Piri from South Africa,” Henninger said, listing off a lineup that also includes tastes from Japan, Thailand and Israel.
The Curry Journey is a self-explanatory package — particularly, the “journey” part, as the flavors Henninger assembled originated from not just India but Japan, France, Portugal and Africa.
“The curry one is really fun because you can take a basic curry and modify it for the region that you’re going for by substituting meat or beans or fish or shrimp."
The recipes and descriptions are a substantial part of what makes Henninger’s product such an appealing gift — they’re a travel guide for the palate, so to speak, for those who may find themselves strangers in a strange culinary land.
“People may be a little intimidated by the spices,” Henninger noted; “It’s hard, you can’t buy these spices; you can’t grow them here.”
Henninger also markets a package of wine-infused salts — a popular trend — but with her unique twist: after the salt is infused with wine, Henninger adds spices that mesh with the flavor notes of the infusion — allspice with Merlot or lemon peel and white peppercorns with Chardonnay, as examples.
“When you’re tasting the wine, you can get a lot of those flavor notes to add a little bit more to it,” she said.
The hummingbird motif is one more of Henninger’s personal affections folded into her new business. She developed an affinity for the birds when they were frequent backyard guests after she moved to the Portland metro area. Someone eventually mentioned how she shares some similarities with what became her company’s namesake.
“You’re like a hummingbird, you flit all over the place and run all over the world just like those birds,” Henninger recalled being told “If there’s such as thing as a totem, maybe the hummingbird is mine.”