Around last December I was doing some Christmas cooking, when I found a recipe that called for nutmeg. Nutmeg is a traditional Christmas spice, but when I went to the supermarket, I was shocked to find that they did not sell any. In the end, I used cinnamon as a substitute, but a week or so later I popped into Luminescents at Merton Abbey Mills. I went in because I was looking for some fancy soap to buy as a Christmas present, and had seen some beautiful looking bars from the shop window. But while I was in there, my interest in the soap drifted away. The soap was only an eye-catcher to entice new customers (and it worked); what Luminescents really specialises in is herbs & spices. The first thing I looked for was the nutmeg and found it straight away. I then vowed that I would visit the shop again and take a proper look around.
Four months later I finally fulfilled that promise to myself. The shop maybe tiny - a seven square feet of floor space at the very most - but it felt like I had entered a vast emporium with the vast variety of products that were on offer. In the centre were the handmade soaps and incense sticks, while immediately to your right are shelves filled with medicinal herbs that made me feel like I had entered a shop in Diagon Alley. They had mugswort, wormwood, ashphodel, and dragon's blood to name but a few. The next shelf along had a selection of exotic tealeaves. Aside from your easy-to-find blends such as earl grey, they also had angelica root, burdock, and marshmallow root tea.There were also some very tasty looking fruit infusions such as strawberry & kiwi.
Following on from that were the culinary herbs & spices. Aside from the nutmeg, there were several types that came in the form of powders, leaves, seeds, dried flowers, and even bark. The prices ranged from your expected £2.50/100g for something like chillies to £4/100g for allspice, there were even some ingredients that were a whopping £8/100g or more. While this is expensive, I don't think the prices were extortionate. Some of the products available are not widely available, and others like flower petals are so light that you only need a few grams for a lot of volume anyway.
While I was there, I came across a fruit called kishmish. They looked pretty much like raisins, which I later found out was because they were. The shop owner said that kishmish are raisins from Afghanistan and Iran, which have been dried in a different way to create a different type of flavour. The reason he calls them kismish is because he has a lot of Arab customers, who are only familiar with that name. He said that he does that with a lot of his products because people won't buy them unless they recognise the name. For example, on the shelf he was selling black cumin and nigella, which actually turns out to be exactly the same thing.
Kishmish are raisins that vary in shade from orange to green.
Interested to see what the kishmish tasted like, I bought 100g for £1.75. They definitely have a different flavour from ordinary raisins; not as sweet, and a bit of a cross between a dried peach and piece of citrus.
Luminescents main income comes from their online store, and because of this, the owner is considering shutting the shop because of the costs. He said that it depend how things go over the next few months and hopes that he will not have to. I hopes so too because I much prefer browsing the shelves and seeing the items close up than just looking on a webpage. I like looking at his site to see what is available, but when it comes to buying, I prefer putting my hands on the product - plus it means no postage & packaging.