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Spice guy offers Creston a world of flavour

He may be known in Creston as “the spice guy”, but for Stephen Gollan, selling spices is about so much more...
Stephen Gollan grinds chilies with a basalt mortar and pestil.

He may be known in Creston as “the spice guy”, but for Stephen Gollan, selling spices at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market is about so much more.

“It’s like bringing my travel experiences to people,” said the 22-year-old, who came back to Creston a month ago, following a trip to Iran and Iraq.

He’s also been to Africa, India, China, where he went to school to learn to make five-spice, and Egypt, where a friend took him to the market.

“It was like a feast for the eyes — there were so many different spices,” Gollan said.

Gollan is interested in more than just obtaining spices — he likes to know how to use them. Learning a bit of a local language is the key.

“If you understand the basic parts of the language, you can ask about things,” he said. “It’s the best education you can get.”

Once he’s struck a rapport with a merchant, he may ask the merchant how to cook with the seller’s spices, as he recently did in Iran.

Cooking has been a passion of Gollan’s since he started doing it in his mid-teens.

“I’d see my mom cooking, and the food was so good. Then my dad would cook and it was so horrible. I wanted to learn to cook for myself.”

And so he did, which led him to work in a Calgary Greek/Italian restaurant, but his desire to travel led him around the world, in search of both new spices and adventure (including a journey partway up Mount Everest). After travelling and cooking for several years, he’s sure of his favourite dish — or dishes, to be more precise.

“I like making curries,” he said. “There are so many different types and so many different flavours. There’s a different curry for every region of Asia.”

Travelling the world wasn’t the only way to discover all of the spices he sells; some were found by knowing the right people, including friends from India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Mexico.

While living in Alberta, Gollan began successfully selling spices at the Strathmore farmers` market, but customers at the Creston market appreciate his products much more.

“I find people in B.C. are a lot more into spices,” he said. “It’s not like you’re trying to convince them to buy.”

He offers a wide selection, from chai masala to West African orange spice, and some as simple as cinnamon. One blend is ras el hanout (“top of the shelf”), a Moroccan blend that contains 20-30 spices (the traditional Moroccan version can contain 75). He’s even found a way to make green curry powder, which can easily be turned into paste by adding coconut milk.

For those who aren’t used to a lot of spice, it’s often best to add it to a diet slowly, but using more can have health benefits. Many contain antioxidants, and turmeric, for example, is being investigated for helping with Alzheimer’s symptoms.

“Essentially, you’re eating ground-up plants,” said Gollan.

He’s happy to be able to spice up customers’ diets, and they’re happy to come back for more, telling him, “We tried one, and now we want to try the rest,” and “You’ve made my food so much better.”

And above all, although he’s happy to offer recipes for certain spices, he wants customers to have fun with them.

“You don’t have to have a specific meal to use spices,” he said. “I really want people to experiment — that’s what I do.”

More about Gollan’s travels can be found at