Words by Hailey Talbert
Holding Spices in Plain Sight
Photography by Heidi Kirn
Gneiss Spice Puts Spices Front and Center in the Kitchen
If home cooks keep their spices in view, they are more likely to use those spices before their vibrant flavors fade.
“Spices are usually messy and cluttered... [hidden] in your cupboard,” says Beth Weisberger, founder of the Bethel-based Gneiss (pronounced like “nice”) Spice company, whose magnetic, hexagon-shaped glass spice storage jars can be artfully affixed to a refrigerator door, the side of a cabinet, or a bare backsplash near the stove. The beauty of the Gneiss Spice storage arrangement lies in its ability to comprise as many, or as few, spice jars as a cook needs at any one time, and a collection can grow or shrink over time with circumstances.
“Spices are beautiful,” says Weisberger.
Her idea to showcase that beauty started as a DIY project in her tiny New York City apartment kitchen back in 2009, when she was working as a teacher and her own spices were jammed into a miniscule cabinet above the refrigerator. She often stepped on her countertop to find the spice she knew was somewhere on the top shelf. She longed for a stylish way to display her spices that would let her see them clearly but also conserve valuable kitchen space.
Weisberger’s homegrown solution, which resembles a honeycomb architecture, was admired by all who visited her kitchen, so she opened an Etsy shop to share her idea with the world. From the get-go, she took pains to make her company a zero-waste proposition; Gneiss Spice ships its products using plastic-free, recycled and recyclable packaging materials.
Gneiss Spice relocated to Maine in 2012 and expanded again to selling spice refills in 2014. It now offers 243 sustainably sourced herbs, spices, and seasonings. If customers already have spice jars, they can purchase refill packs that arrive in compostable bags.
The company now employs the equivalent of seven full-time people and enjoyed significant growth as the pandemic pushed people into their kitchens to cook more. It has sold over 250,000 jars and 32,000 zero-waste refills since April 2020. "We are getting more customers looking to reduce their kitchen waste or trying to find the harder-to-find organic spices we stock,” says Weisberger.
Some spices she favors because they add flair to common Maine ingredients include Urfa biber, a slightly hot, raisin-like chile flake that she sprinkles on roasted vegetables, eggs cooked any way, and mashed potatoes. She mixes za’atar, a sour, complex blend of Middle Eastern herbs and spices, with olive oil and serves it with warm bread. She taps cardamom, a sweet, warm, and fragrant spice, as her secret ingredient in blueberry desserts. And she argues that smoked paprika should be in everyone’s kitchens because “There is no substitute for it!”
Weisberger keeps these spices, as well as dozens more, right where she can see and easily use them on a regular basis.