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Sycamore man puts his twist on spice blends

SYCAMORE – Jim Hancock has always loved to cook, and has made his own seasoning mixes for years. But in the fall of 2011, he decided to try something new with his garden produce.

“Every year I grow more peppers than I can use, so I dry them and grind them up,” he said. “Two years ago I was smoking pork roast and I thought I would throw the peppers on the smoker to see what happened.”

The flavor of the smoked peppers was too strong for Hancock’s taste, so he experimented with mixing the chopped peppers with onion, parsley, paprika and other fresh spices from his garden. He eventually found just the right blend to suit his palate.

“My neighbors tried it and went nuts, and I ended up making 50 bottles between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” Hancock said.

A new business, Twisted Taste, was born.

As his other career, buying and selling printing presses, slowed, Hancock began to develop his new business. He set out to find a commercial processor that could duplicate and package his blend of seasonings without using fillers or oils.

Most commercially available spice blends use oil, usually soybean oil, to hold the different spices together. The oil causes clumps, so a de-clumping agent is added to the mix. Without those oils, bottles of Twisted Taste seasonings require an occasional shake to mix the ingredients, but for Hancock that is a small price to pay.

“I said no [to using oils]. It’s got to be pure ingredients,” he said. “All of my spices are low in sodium and high in ingredients.”

Partnering with a commercial seasoning processor in suburban Chicago, Hancock developed four seasonings for his first production run and he is hoping to introduce new products this year. Within 30 days of starting production, Twisted Taste mixes were available at 13 stores in two states, he said.

Brown’s County Market in Sycamore is one of the stores that carries Twisted Taste seasonings.

“He did a demo for us and that went over really well,” owner Dan Brown said. Brown also has used some of Twisted Taste’s seasonings on meats sold in the store’s fresh meat counter.

“I was glad to see he got it up and going because we are moving [selling] it,” Brown said. “We are getting repeat customers now.”

The most popular Twisted Taste seasoning is “Butt Rub,” a red-meat rub based on Hancock’s mother’s Kansas City dry rub recipe and developed over the past 20 years. He also produces “FaGhettaGarlic” for Italian dishes, the pepper-based “Red Meat” for pork and beef, and “Smokin’,” a pepper blend with a mild smoky flavor.

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