Off the Spice Rack: The Story of Salt

Off the Spice Rack: The Story of Salt

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You wouldn’t think it to look at them, but your salt and pepper shakers have caused a lot of problems over the years. Underneath that innocuous ceramic bulb lies a history of kingdoms torn apart, newly discovered worlds and powerful trade dynasties. The story of spices fills many a book, but we’re going to take an abridged look at salt and pepper over the next two weeks.

Salt doesn’t just make your food tastier—it’s actually required for life. Sodium ions help the body perform a number of basic tasks, including maintaining the fluid in blood cells and helping the small intestine absorb nutrients. We can’t make salt in our own bodies, so humans have always had to look to their environments to fill the need. Early hunters could get a steady supply of salt from meat, but agricultural groups had to seek it out by following animal tracks to salt deposits.

The Egyptians were the first to realize the preservation possibilities of salt. Sodium draws the bacteria-causing moisture out of foods, drying them and making it possible to store meat without refrigeration for extended periods of time. Delicacies like our modern-day Parma hams, gravlax, bresaola and baccala are all the result of salt curing. But back in the day, this type of preservation wasn’t limited to meat: Mummies were packed in salt too. In fact, when mummies were shipped down the Nile as cargo, they were taxed in the “salted meat” bracket.

How did ancient populations get their salt? The Shangxi province of China has a salt lake, Yuncheng, and it’s estimated that wars were being fought over control of its salt reserves as early as 6000 B.C. Salt was gathered from the lake during the dry season, when the water evaporated and flats of salt were exposed. The Egyptians got their salt from Nile marshes, while early British towns clustered around salt springs. In fact, the “wich” suffix in English place names like Middlewich and Norwich is associated with areas where salt working was a common practice.

Even well into American history, destinies were decided by salt. During the Civil War, salt was a precious commodity, used not only for eating but for tanning leather, dyeing clothes and preserving troop rations. Confederate President Jefferson Davis even offered a military service waiver to anyone willing to work on salt production on the coast. The ocean was the only reliable source of salt for the South since inland production facilities were so valued they became early targets of Union attacks.

Consider this rich history next time you season your food, and stay tuned for the tale of salt’s sibling—pepper—next week.

Old Bay Seasoning

Old Bay Seasoning is a blend of herbs and spices that is marketed in the United States by McCormick & Company, [1] and originally created in Baltimore, Maryland.

The seasoning is a mix of celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, paprika, and many others. [2] [1] [3] Some of the other spices that may be used are laurel leaves, mustard, salt, cardamom, cloves, and ginger as listed in the original product in the Baltimore Museum of Industry. [4] It is regionally popular, specifically in Maryland, [5] as well as in the Mid-Atlantic States, the Southern States, and parts of New England and the Gulf Coast. [6]

Off the Spice Rack: The Story of Salt - HISTORY

In this lesson students will recognize the difference between a spice and herb, learn how herbs and spices are grown on farms around the world, and participate in a culinary challenge to season popcorn for various cultural cuisines.

Estimated Time
Materials Needed

Interest Approach:

  • Herb and Spice Cards (from Activities 1 and 2)
  • Computer or devices for "Source to Table" assignment
  • Seasoning Mix Cards, 1 copy per class, cut into individual cards
  • Plain, air-popped popcorn 1 large bowl per group
  • Seasonings for each group
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
Vocabulary Words

Columbian Exchange: a widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations, communicable disease, and ideas between the New World (Americas) and the Old World (Africa and Europe)

herb: flavorings that come from the vegetative part of the plant, most often the leaves and roots

seasoning: salt, herbs, or spices added to food to enhance the flavor

spice: flavoring that most often comes from seeds, seed pods, and fruit of the plant

Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
  • Peppercorns have been used to spice up foods for more than 4,000 years. As early as the 4th century BC, texts described pepper being used as a seasoning for Indian feasts. 1
  • Nutmeg trees actually produce two spices&mdashnutmeg and mace. 2
  • It is suspected that the origins of chili powder date to frontier chuck wagons. The first commercial chili powder was sold in the late 1800s. Chili powder is a blend that usually contains chiles, onion, garlic, cumin, and other spices. 2
  • The United States leads the world in the consumption of spices. 3
  • The United States leads the world in spice imports. Very few spices are grown in the United States. 3
Background Agricultural Connections

Herbs and spices have been used by people for centuries for culinary, medicinal, and even religious purposes. In general, herbs are considered culinary flavorings that come from the vegetative part of the plant, most often leaves and roots. Herbs such as parsley, bay leaves, oregano, summer savory, thyme, sage, basil, and marjoram are leaves. Spices are most often seeds, seed pods, and fruit (usually dried). Black pepper, chili pepper, nutmeg, sesame, mace, mustard, vanilla, cacao, kola, celery seed, turmeric, and almond are seeds, seed pods, or fruit. Of course, there are exceptions&mdashginger is from a root, cinnamon is from the bark of a tree, and saffron is the actual stamens of crocus flowers.

Herbs and spices come from plants. Plants produce chemicals that provide a wide array of scents and flavors. In nature, these chemicals can repel or discourage pests from eating them. They can also encourage pollinators and other useful animals to eat them and disperse the seeds while repelling other animals. For example, scientists have discovered that mammals can experience the heat of spicy hot peppers while birds cannot. Pepper seeds traveling through the digestive systems of mammals are damaged or even digested by some mammals. When the remnants are spread in the animal&rsquos waste, the seeds are no longer capable of germinating and producing new plants. However, pepper seeds digested by a bird pass through its system unharmed, are spread in the environment, and then germinate and produce new plants. So the bird is the preferred consumer of pepper fruits and mammals are not. The hot spice of the peppers dissuades mammals from consuming peppers, leaving them available for birds to eat.

Herbs and spices used in our foods represent rich cultures throughout the world. Seasonings help identify specific cuisine within various regions of the world. Italian seasonings from the Mediterranean are familiar to foods such as pizza, pasta, and breads. Cajun seasonings are familiar in the Southern United States, while Southwest seasonings are common in the hot, desert states of New Mexico and Arizona.

Many of our foods are produced both near and far, but herbs and spices could represent the richest geographic diversity of all of our foods. These flavor-enhancing foods have been imported and exported across the world since the Columbian Exchange. Refer to additional lessons on the Matrix to cover the Columbian Exchange in more depth.

Interest Approach - Engagement
  1. Prior to class, choose three or more of the herbs and spices listed in the table below. Prepare a small sample of each herb(s) and spice(s) and cover up the label.
  2. Ask for a student volunteer to observe and smell each sample. Ask the student to identify the food or foods that come to mind when they smell the seasoning. Seek responses from multiple students, noting that more than one food may be associated with each seasoning and it may vary from person to person.
    FoodHerbs and Spices
    Turkey dressingSage, Onion
    PizzaOregano, Garlic, Bay leaves
    Apple pie, Rice pudding, or WasailCinnamon, Nutmeg
    Ginger bread, Gingersnaps, Ginger aleGinger
    SpaghettiBay leaves, Onion, Garlic
    Garlic breadGarlic
    Dill picklesDill, Garlic
    Pumpkin pieCinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice
  3. After students have successfully paired the herbs and spices with foods, ask, "How important are herbs and spices to achieve the correct (recognizable) and ideal taste for each food? Are herbs and spices important to the taste of our food?" Allow students to offer their responses. Further illustrate by asking what spaghetti sauce would be without seasonings (tomato sauce) or what turkey dressing and pumpkin pie would taste like at Thanksgiving without herbs and spices (dry bread and cooked squash).
  4. Direct student responses and further questions to help students recognize that herbs and spices are critical to create foods with familiar tastes. Students should also recognize that different individuals and families associate different foods with the same herbs and spices. Culture plays a role in food tastes, smells, and associations.

Activity 1: History and Geography of Spices

  1. Show students an image of a culinary spice rack. Ask the following questions:
    • How did herbs and spices play a role in history?
      • The value and demand for spices was a driving force in the Columbian Exchange. Herbs and spices in addition to plants and animals were exchanged between the New and Old World in the Columbian exchange.
    • How do herbs and spices play a role in cultures throughout the world?
      • The earliest written records indicating the use of herbs and spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. They were used for medicinal purposes and to flavor and preserve foods. Today, herbs and spices help flavor foods with origins all over the world.
    • What kind of geography do herbs and spices represent?
      • Herbs and spices are produced all over the world. Even today they are a common commodity for agricultural imports and exports.
  2. Give each student one Herb and Spice Card. There are a total of 30 cards. For larger classes, pair students as needed. For smaller classes, give students more than one card or omit cards as needed.
  3. Project a world map on the board. Explain that every ingredient that makes up the food on our plates comes from somewhere in the world. In the case of herbs and spices, the countries of origin can be very diverse.
  4. Give students three to five minutes to discover where in the world their spice or herb is commonly grown. Instruct them to use a computer or device to search a phrase such as, "Where are [cloves] grown?" or "Where does [cinnamon] grow?"
    • Note: Although salt is not a spice or an herb (it is a mineral), it is used in our cuisine similar to herbs and spices to enhance flavor. Inform the student with the salt card to search for where salt is mined.
  5. Once students have discovered a common or likely origin of their herb or spice, they should place their card on the map on or near its country of origin.
    • Note: Students will likely find more than one country that produces their particular herb or spice. Have students select one country to best represent the origin of their herb/spice.
  6. Once all of the cards have been placed on the map, lead a class discussion with questions such as:
    • What patterns can you see regarding the common origins of herbs and spices?
    • Does climate seem to impact the ability to grow common herbs and spices?
    • Are more herbs and spices grown within the United States or abroad?
  7. Conclude with students that while some of our food supply is produced outside of the United States, herbs and spices likely represent the most geographically and culturally diverse products in our kitchens.
  8. Have students collect their Herb and Spice Card from the board to prepare for the next activity. They can collect their original card, or another one if they'd like to switch it up.

Activity 2: Herbs vs. Spices

  1. Ask students if they know the difference between an herb and a spice. Explain that all herbs and spices originate from plants. The portion of the plant they are derived from determines if they are an herb or a spice.
  2. Project the Herb vs. Spice image on the board.
  3. Give students three to five minutes to research their herb or spice and discover which portion of the plant it comes from.
  4. Have students place their cards on the board categorized by the portion of the plant it comes from. This can be done by dividing the board into titled columns.

Activity 3: Herbs and Spices From Farm-to-Fork

  1. Explain that every food we eat has a journey from its source (usually a farm), to our table. Herbs and spices are no different.
  2. Show the 4 minute video clip, The Journey of Vanilla: From Plant to Extract.

  • Where is the vanilla bean grown? (Mexico is mentioned in video. Other countries include Madagascar, Comoros, and Reunion)
  • How did the introduction of the vanilla flavor by Hernando Cortez affect the demand for the vanilla flavor in other parts of the world? (As the vanilla spice was introduced in Europe, demand grew. Although it could not be grown in Europe, the vanilla bean could be imported from its country of origin.)
  • How did advances in science improve the cultivation of the vanilla bean? (Charles Morren discovered how to hand pollinate the flowers rather than relying on bees for pollination.)
  • Make a 1-page infographic.
  • Create a Prezi.
  • Create an Augmented Reality presentation using HP Reveal.
  • Create a "How-to" brochure for growing, harvesting, and preparing the herb/spice for culinary use.

Note: Some of these herbs could be grown in your classroom or purchased from the garden section of a local store or nursery allowing students to see the plants in person.

Activity 4: Spice It Up

  1. Now that students have a foundational knowledge of herbs, spices, and their various sources, ask them what the term seasoning means. Explain that seasonings refer to all of the salt, herbs, or spices added to a culinary dish. In most cases, it will be a mixture of herbs, spices, and salt rather than a single herb or spice.
  2. Divide the class into a maximum of eight groups, less if needed. Assign each group a specific seasoning using the attached Seasoning Mix cards.
  3. Explain to the class that they are being challenged to make a homemade seasoning mix and recipe to flavor popcorn in the style/flavor they have been assigned.
  4. Provide a bowl of plain, air-popped popcorn to each group as well as access to the herbs and spices they will need. Encourage students to research seasoning mix recipes before they select the one they will use.
    • Teacher note: Students can find an official popcorn recipe for each of the assigned seasoning mixes by searching online. Determine ahead of time if you'd like students to create their own recipe or follow an existing recipe.
  5. Provide an appropriate amount of time for students to prepare their popcorn. Label each bowl and provide remaining students with small cups to test each flavor of popcorn. Have students vote for their favorite flavor(s).

Optional Adaptations: Rather than using popcorn, students could also use plain rice to create a savory side dish. Another more advanced culinary challenge would be to create a pizza for each culinary/flavor style. In addition to the seasonings, students can experiment with sauces and toppings for their pizza as well.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Herbs and spices are grown on farms throughout the world.
  • Many herbs and spices require very specific types of climates for growth. Some spices can only be produced in very select geographic areas.
  • The demand for herbs and spices was historically a driving force of the global economy. Although transportation and shipping is easier today, herbs and spices are still part of global trade and economics.
  • Like other products, herbs and spices are produced in response to consumer demand and often represent specific cultures.
Enriching Activities

Ask students to identify a seasoning most likely found on almost all tables in the United States. Salt and Pepper! Listen to or watch the NPR Podcast, How Did Salt and Pepper Become The Soulmates Of Western Cuisine?

Assign students to select a recipe containing herbs and spices that is unique to their own (or someone else's) cultural heritage. Have them research the origin of the recipe along with details such as where the herbs and spices are grown, how they are processed, and how/when the recipe is consumed (traditional holiday meal, cultural event, or everyday dish).

Start an herb garden in your classroom for students to observe the plant growth of basic culinary herbs. Basil, chives, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and tarragon are easily grown and several will be familiar scents to students. Plant seeds in peat pots and place in a warm, sunny window. Once the plants are growing well, keep them trimmed by harvesting the leaves and prevent the herbs from flowering and setting seed. (Annual plants will often die after setting seed.) When the herbs are growing well, snip off portions of leaves and stems. Crush the herb cuttings to release the essential oils and place them into small paper bags. Conduct a blind smelling test by having students smell the herbs and try to identify the herb and/or what foods the herb might be used in.

Watch Turmeric - How Does it Grow? Discover what fresh turmeric looks like before it's mature and ground into spice.


The original Spice it Up lesson was written by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom. The lesson was updated and re-written with permission in 2019 by the National Center for Agricultural Literacy.

Off the Spice Rack: The Story of Salt - HISTORY

With regard to hyssop. The drink offered to Jesus on the cross on a sponge in the New Testament is described as wine , wine vinegar and vinegar, (Jn 19:29, Mk 15:36, Mt 27:48, Lk 23: 36).
There is no contradiction in that as Roman army drank posca for 300 years which was sour wine mixed with water flavoured with herbs (wiki) and is presumed by historians as beneficial in killing harmful bacteria in drinking water. The drink offered to the crucified Jesus is likely to have been present as posca for the benefit of the crucifixion party and different from the drugged narcotic ( Mk 15:23 ‘wine drugged with myrrh’ and Mt 27:34 ‘wine to drink mixed with gall’) that Jesus refused at the beginning of the crucifixion.

While Roman soldiers used sponges to line helmets as padding they also carried sponges for personal ablutions. The acceptance of the posca by Jesus would have completed the fourth cup of the Passover, ‘the cup of blessing’ thus extending the completion of the New Passover or New Covenant at the point of his death.

John mentions hyssop that some translations give as a stalk on which which the sponge was put. Hyssop is a small plant (1King 5:13) scarcely suitable for carrying a sponge. However the Douai Rheims translates the Vulgate Jn 19:29 ‘circumponentes’ as ‘about’ giving
‘Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth.’
Hyssop sprigs as a flavouring for posca that may cling to a sponge is consistent with Mark describing the sponge on a reed and thus connects it with the hyssop used to daub the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorpost of the Hebrews (Ex 12:22).

It is interesting to know that herbology was known that long before we came to learn about Indo-Chinese herbs today. Many colleges are offering courses on this and many people reported good returns.

I use frankincense and myrrh cream as an anti inflammatory rub for my arthritis. It works!

For the Spice Rack That Has Everything

NIRMALA NARINE has her eye on your spice rack. "Spices are the soul of every cuisine," said Ms. Narine, 35, an entrepreneur in Long Island City, Queens. "And as sophisticated as we may have become, there is still plenty to learn."

What she would like home cooks to learn is that ground bush tomato, an Australian seasoning, adds richness to fish. That South African peri-peri, a chili blend, does wonders for scrambled eggs. And that ground lemon myrtle might send your herbes de Provence into early retirement.

Ms. Narine, who immigrated from Guyana with her family when she was 11, went to school in Queens, and graduated from John Jay College. "I was always involved in food," she said. Her instinct for business flowered early. "I remember growing habanero peppers when I was a kid, maybe I was 6, and selling them to buy shoes."

Her determination to bring unusual spices to the American market began a few years ago when she visited a spice plantation on Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. Having worked in real estate, run a limousine company and owned a gift basket company, she was interested in a new challenge. She started Nirmala's Kitchen three years ago, importing unusual spices, blending them, and selling them to specialty stores and online.

Ms. Narine has a particular sensibility to the blending of spices. "You can't generalize about curries," she said, because the ones available in the Caribbean "are vastly different from the ones you find in various parts of India."

Her line includes six masala and curry blends from India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and the West Indies, among others, each with a different keynote (cumin, chili or ginger). She has the spices roasted and ground, then blends them in her workshop and packs them in airtight metal tins.

She keeps green coconuts in the refrigerator in her office and a machete nearby, ready to whack off their tops, insert a straw and offer a visitor a refreshing thirst quencher. "I used to use this machete to kill chickens," she said.

She has traveled to Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East to find new spices and the sources for them. In the fall she plans to add new seasonings like sumac, Aleppo pepper and Oman black limes. She is devoted to indigenous cuisines in countries like Peru, Australia and Tanzania.

In addition to more than three dozen spices and blends, she imports seasoned rice, including a highly aromatic red rice from Kerala in southern India and spiced North African couscous. The grains, in clear plastic jars with bamboo paper tops, come preseasoned and ready to cook with the addition of water and olive oil to make four to six servings. She has some unusual salts, like a Japanese sea salt seasoned with matcha green tea powder.

Most of the spices and grains are $6.95 to $13.95. They are sold at Dean & DeLuca, among other stores, and at

Some of Ms. Narine's products are also sold in the gift shop at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. "As well as my company is doing, I think I'm proudest of the recognition this gives me," she said.

Broadening the Palate Is Their Specialty

NIRMALA'S KITCHEN was among 2,300 exhibitors at the summer Fancy Food Show, a three-day trade show that closed yesterday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. But it was not the only one hoping to broaden the American palate with a taste of the exotic.

Taste of Malacca introduced a line of spices developed by Susheela Raghavan that included six Malaysian blends, for making curries and other dishes. In the fall Vanns Spices will begin selling fig powder, tart cherry powder and tamarind powder seasonings. Airborne Honey from New Zealand came in flavors of native flowers like rich vipers bugloss and manuka, which tasted like coffee. Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco introduced several condiments made with loquats, including a vinegar.

Preserves made from wild fruits were among the items at a group of American Indian booths, a first at this show.

Worthy newcomers in the snacks and chips category were Island Crisps, made from seeds of the melinjo tree on Bali. They had a nutty, buttery taste, better plain than the version with Indonesian long peppers. The Peruvian government pavilion exhibited excellent, colorful potato chips, one type made from the purple-and-white puma chaqui (puma claw).

And an Irish brand, Tayto Fusion Potato Crisps, offered one nearly irresistible variety, seasoned to taste like roast beef.

Slow Down with The Salt! Where Does it Hide? Tips to Decrease Your Salt Intake

Written by UConn Dietetics Masters student Chris Blancarte

Salt is a chef’s friend. It is the most universally used seasoning in kitchens everywhere because it occurs naturally. It has been used for millennia to preserve food and enhance flavor 1 . It is a mineral essential in our diets for the proper functioning of our bodies – but too much of it can be detrimental. In people whose bodies are sensitive to salt, eating too much of it can raise blood pressure, leading to a condition known as hypertension, and creating a risk for heart disease over time. The goal, then, is not to eliminate salt from the diet, but to make sure we are not eating too much of it on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help you be aware!

1. Read Nutrition Labels

Virtually every food product you buy at the store has a Nutrition Facts Label. It’s a law. The label shows the amount of sodium that is in the food. Other useful information about the food includes the suggested serving size, calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals. The general goal for sodium, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is an intake of under 2,300mg of sodium per day 2 .

2. Know Where Salt Hides

This tip goes hand-in-hand with reading the nutrition label, because you will start to see how abundant sodium is in certain types of foods. Foods with the highest sodium content tend to be the pre-packaged type because these are processed foods that have been preserved, for example, cured, smoked, or dried meat like bacon, ham, or beef jerky. One of the biggest offenders is microwavable food found in the freezer aisle – they are ready-to-eat and are filled with salt. Most canned foods also have high sodium, unless they are specified as “no salt added” or “low sodium.”

3. Use Large-Grained or Flaked Salt When Cooking

Do you ever wonder where the salty flavor goes when you are using that shaker on the meat or vegetables you are cooking? Even though you are adding salt, you are still not tasting it because of how it enters your food instead. Here’s how your tastebuds work: if you put a teaspoon amount of salt on your tongue, it’s going to be unpleasantly salty – this is because that salt is directly making maximum contact with your tastebuds. When your salt is instead “spread out” in your foods, you will need to use more of it to taste the same level of saltiness. Try using larger flaked or salt crystals instead of granular (see image at right) – the large crystal won’t “disappear” into your food, and you can taste the salt on the surface of your meat and vegetables – while consuming less sodium!

4. Use More Herbs and Spices

Salt is a flavor enhancer – bringing out the most pleasing flavors that foods offer. Using more than just salt in your cooking will allow you to get the most out of your meal, and be satisfied with less sodium. Give it a try! If you are used to a significant amount of salt, it will take a little time to get used to less salt. Fresh or dry herbs and spices can make a real difference in your dishes! You may notice you taste those first instead of the salt! Some very flavorful and common varieties of herbs used in cooking are rosemary, basil thyme, dill, cilantro, dried bay leaf and oregano. Some tasty spices are cumin, chili powder, ground ginger, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, and pepper. Mix and match to find your favorite ways to season your foods. You may find you need less salt!

5. Taste as You Go

The simplest tips are often the most overlooked! Get in the habit of taste-testing your food(s) before you salt and decide if the food even needs any salt. If you know you want salt – go ahead and add some, but a little at a time, from the shaker at the table. This not only will help you control your sodium intake, but it is a great method to keep from ruining any dish by over-salting.

Happy Cooking!

This material is funded by UDSA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Each jar and packet in the kitchen is part of a wider story, involving geography, culture and politics.

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I decided to index my herbs and spices for three reasons. The first, and let’s face it the most crucial reason is that I cannot leave my flat and therefore have started to stretch the definition of “leisure activity” to breaking point. The second was that I wanted to be able to bring an end to the annoying practice of having to unload a whole cupboard of non-perishable food stuffs because there might, just might, be another jar of cumin in there. And the third was I wanted to solve the mystery of my spice rack, which is: how can have more jars than I have space for, but not have any coriander anywhere? What herbs and spices were taking up space but not pulling their weight?

It became very clear early on that there was a runaway contender for the role of culinary bed blocker: sage. I have a staggering four jars of the stuff, bought from the summer of 2015 to the spring of 2019. I’m not, to be frank, entirely clear as to why or how this happened – there are some recipes that I once adored, but I have gone off through overuse, like this wonderful beetroot bay bourgigon by the excellent vegetarian cookbook-writer Anna Jones – but I have never really cooked with sage, and yet I have continued to buy it.

There’s a pleasing irony here, in that like so many herbs and spices, sage or salvia officinalis to give it its proper name, originates in the Mediterranean and has spread from there by traders and conquerors: in the case of sage, by the Romans. But it wasn’t spread as an ingredient, as cumin was: but as a supposed cure-all. That it could be used to add flavour to food was only a side-benefit, but actually these were its biggest real health benefits: its antibacterial qualities helped to preserve food, while the flavour it adds to food means that you can use less salt.

Sage also appears in The Forme of Cury, one of the oldest surviving cookbooks in written in English: a book so old it predates standardised spelling. The title refers not to an ancient English attempt to make curry, but from the French cuire to cook: the closest direct translation from medieval English to modern would, I suppose, be to call it How to Cook.

So why do I have so much of it, and why can’t I work out how to get some use out of it? Frantically Googling “can sage substitute for…” and then typing in the names of spices I actually use proved a dead end. I suspect the two are linked.

One startling discovery I have made about myself from indexing my herbs and spices is that I have a weird, and somewhat racist approach to restocking spices. I believe that if I have run out of garam masala, I must have run out of a host of other spices from the Indian subcontinent – but I use turmeric at a far greater rate than I use asafoetida, with the result that I have far more of the latter than I need, and not enough of the former. I regularly run out of coriander because it is so useful that I can’t find an ethnic ghetto to pigeonhole it into – so I never restock it until I run out of it. And I have more sage than I need because it exists in my mind in a small group of “English” herbs and spices alongside rosemary, oregano, mace and thyme – all of which I use at a greater speed (read: at all) as sage.

And my helplessness around sage links back to one of the best and worst things about the English food scene: its inferiority complex. The good thing about food in England is that chefs, restaurants and ultimately people are very open to trying new foods and recipes from other cultures: the problem is this emanates from a perception that English food is innately terrible, and that good eating is a privilege to be reserved to the rich.

The more I looked for ways to deplete my sage supplies, the more I found the answer in very old recipes – ones that have essentially been abandoned. As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says, sage is ultimately, “the offal herb”: it comes into its own when paired with the entrails and organs of meat: not just when mixed into sausages, but with brains, heart, kidneys, and lungs: all delicious cuts of meat when prepared in the right way, and which, if we’re to eat in a sustainable way, we ought to eat a lot more of. If we want to continue to eat meat sustainably we need not only to eat less of it but to eat differently – to get much more out of the carcass. Yes, give us steak, but give us ox heart too.

I suspect England’s food problem is partly linked to attitudes around class: around the world, the recipes that get the most out of the animal carcass are the recipes made by the poor, because, essentially, the landed gentry and the aristocracy took the prime cuts, while those who worked the land had to work out how to get the best out of what was left of the meat. Traditional recipes that get the most out of the meat have a cultural cringe to them – but it’s a cringe that we badly need to lose if we’re to eat more sustainably, and if I’m ever going to clear my backlog of sage.

This week I cooked…

A wonderful aubergine and coconut milk curry from Pushpesh Pant’s India Cookbook. It was really very simple: just chopped and diced aubergine, fried with chili powder and turmeric in vegetable oil for a few minutes before I poured a can of coconut milk into it, let it cook for another eight minutes until it had bubbled away. I think would go best with plain wholewheat chapatis as it has quite a sweet taste. I had it with brown rice because I, quite frankly, could not be bothered to make my own chapatis.

This week I fucked up…

The potato and courgette bake from Anna del Conte’s Vegetables All'Italiana. This is a really good recipe book and it is incredibly easy to follow. I have cooked it hundreds of times and don’t really use the book any more. Complacency set in and I did not measure the water – I just poured some in. The flavour was alright but the texture was incredibly watery as a result. Lesson learned.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

Grocery Hunt: Finishing off the spice rack (for now)

Hello! Welcome to Week 23 of the Grocery Hunt, Manchester Ink Link’s guide to Manchester-area grocery stores.

Each week, we ask our readers to give us five specific grocery items and five separate Manchester-area grocery stores so we could find the prices and availability of those items.

We’re also tracking the prices and availability of each item week by week with the hopes of finding the local grocery store with the best prices and best availability for items that our readers are looking for.

Before we begin, here are some caveats.

  • All prices were checked on Tuesday, June 8 from approximately 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Prices and item availability may change without notice.
  • Items may have been available during the aforementioned time but could not be found. Within this column, all efforts available to an ordinary grocery shopper were made to find the item. If you see an error here, please e-mail a picture of the item and the price tag to [email protected]
  • Unless asked for a specifically sized item by a reader, situations where stores have different sizes of the exact same item will be compared by weight or volume. If stores have multiple variations of an item with differing prices, the lowest price will be used.

Morton’s Iodized Sea Salt (26 oz.)

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – $2.29

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – $2.44

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – $2.49

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – n/a

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – n/a

Ginger (cost per g.)

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – $.07 per g.

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – $.09 per g.

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – $.10 per g.

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – $.12 per g.

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – $.13 per g.

Peppermint Extract (cost per oz.)

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – $1.94

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – $2.49

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – $2.50

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – $2.79

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – $5.99

Thyme (cost per gram)

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – $.04 per gram

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – $.16 per gram

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – $.17 per gram

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – $.24 per gram

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – $.26 per gram

Paprika (60 g.)

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – $1.29

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – $1.94

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – $2.99

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – $2.99

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – $4.29

Number of times when a store had the best price on a particular item (Year-to-Date) (After Week 23)

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – 33

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – 30.33

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – 17.33

Aldi: 1111 S. Willow St., Manchester, NH – 7.5

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – 6

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – 3

Price Rite: 365 Lincoln St., Manchester, NH – 1.5

Hannaford: 7 Kilton Rd, Bedford, NH 03110 – 1.83

Shaw’s: 1328 Hooksett Rd., Hooksett, NH – 1

Ocean State Job Lot: 1328 Hooksett Rd., Hooksett, NH – 1

Hannaford: 140 Bicentennial Dr, Manchester, NH – .5

Bunny’s Superette: 75 Webster St., Manchester, NH – 0

Saigon Asian Market: 476 Union St., Manchester, NH – 0

Whole Foods: 121 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – 0

A Market: 125 Loring St., Manchester, NH – 0

Number of times when a store had a particular item in stock (After Week 23)

Market Basket: 460 Elm St., Manchester, NH – 90

Hannaford: 859 Hanover St., Manchester, NH – 85

Walmart: 275 Gold St., Manchester, NH – 80

Shaw’s: 570 Daniel Webster Hwy, Merrimack, NH – 52

Target: 220 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – 33

Aldi: 1111 S. Willow St., Manchester, NH – 13

Shaw’s: 1328 Hooksett Rd., Hooksett, NH – 12

Price Rite: 365 Lincoln St., Manchester, NH – 8

Hannaford: 140 Bicentennial Dr, Manchester, NH – 7

Hannaford: 7 Kilton Rd, Bedford, NH 03110 – 3

Ocean State Job Lot: 1328 Hooksett Rd., Hooksett, NH – 2

Whole Foods: 121 S River Rd, Bedford, NH – 2

Bunny’s Superette: 75 Webster St., Manchester, NH – 1

Saigon Asian Market: 476 Union St., Manchester, NH – 0

A Market: 125 Loring St., Manchester, NH – 0

Previous Grocery Hunts

  • June 4, 2021: Grocery Hunt: BBQ supplies edition
  • May 28, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Getting spicy week two: Electric Boogaloo
  • May 21, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Let’s get spicy: Part One
  • May 13, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Cheese and Pickles and What Not
  • May 7, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Battle of the Liquids – Part Two
  • April 29, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Battle of the Liquids – Part One
  • April 22, 2021: Grocery Hunt: What would you pay for a Klondike Bar?
  • April 13, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Taking the Keto Challenge
  • April 9, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Steak Tips, Jumbo Shrimps, Greek Yogurt, Irish Butter and Vegetable Snack Product
  • March 31, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Everybody has the same price on White Claw…with one exception
  • March 24, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Ketchup prevents Market Basket sweep in Week Twelve
  • March 17, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Salsa and taco sauce are not the same
  • March 10, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Where’s the rutabaga?
  • March 4, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Saint Patrick’s beef edition
  • February 25, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Searching for the best part of waking up
  • February 18, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Saving a penny on Thomas’ English Muffins
  • February 8, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Five-way banana battle
  • February 4, 2021: Grocery Hunt: What are Lady Gaga Oreos?
  • January 28, 2021: Grocery Hunt: Which Hannaford has the Bucatini?
  • January 20, 2021: Scrapple gives Market Basket bragging rights in Week 3 of the Grocery Hunt
  • January 14, 2021: Walmart takes the crown in Week 2 of the Grocery Hunt
  • January 6, 2021: Introducing the Manchester-area Grocery Hunt!

Andrew Sylvia

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and license to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.


Early history Edit

The spice trade developed throughout the Indian subcontinent [1] by at earliest 2000 BCE with cinnamon and black pepper, and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind": species has the same root. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in China, Korea, and India. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation. [2]

Cloves were used in Mesopotamia by 1700 BCE. [note 1] The ancient Indian epic Ramayana mentions cloves. The Romans had cloves in the 1st century CE, as Pliny the Elder wrote about them. [4]

The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from early Egypt dating from 1550 B.C.E. describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures. [5]

Historians believe that nutmeg, which originates from the Banda Islands in Southeast Asia, was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BCE. [6]

Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade was the monsoon winds (40 CE). Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans. [2]

In the story of Genesis, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem Song of Solomon, the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices.

Middle Ages Edit

Spices were among the most demanded and expensive products available in Europe in the Middle Ages, [5] the most common being black pepper, cinnamon (and the cheaper alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Given medieval medicine's main theory of humorism, spices and herbs were indispensable to balance "humors" in food, [6] a daily basis for good health at a time of recurrent pandemics. In addition to being desired by those using medieval medicine, the European elite also craved spices in the Middle Ages. An example of the European aristocracy's demand for spice comes from the King of Aragon, who invested substantial resources into bringing back spices to Spain in the 12th century. He was specifically looking for spices to put in wine, and was not alone among European monarchs at the time to have such a desire for spice. [7]

Spices were all imported from plantations in Asia and Africa, which made them expensive. From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East, and along with it the neighboring Italian maritime republics and city-states. The trade made the region rich. It has been estimated that around 1,000 tons of pepper and 1,000 tons of the other common spices were imported into Western Europe each year during the Late Middle Ages. The value of these goods was the equivalent of a yearly supply of grain for 1.5 million people. [8] The most exclusive was saffron, used as much for its vivid yellow-red color as for its flavor. Spices that have now fallen into obscurity in European cuisine include grains of paradise, a relative of cardamom which mostly replaced pepper in late medieval north French cooking, long pepper, mace, spikenard, galangal and cubeb.

Early Modern Period Edit

Spain and Portugal were interested in seeking new routes to trade in spices and other valuable products from Asia. The control of trade routes and the spice-producing regions were the main reasons that Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed to India in 1499. [8] When da Gama discovered the pepper market in India, he was able to secure peppers for a much cheaper price than the ones demanded by Venice. [7] At around the same time, Christopher Columbus returned from the New World. He described to investors new spices available there. [citation needed]

Another source of competition in the spice trade during the 15th and 16th century was the Ragusans from the maritime republic of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. [9]

The military prowess of Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515) allowed the Portuguese to take control of the sea routes to India. In 1506, he took the island of Socotra in the mouth of the Red Sea and, in 1507, Ormuz in the Persian Gulf. Since becoming the viceroy of the Indies, he took Goa in India in 1510, and Malacca on the Malay peninsula in 1511. The Portuguese could now trade directly with Siam, China, and the Maluku Islands.

With the discovery of the New World came new spices, including allspice, chili peppers, vanilla, and chocolate. This development kept the spice trade, with America as a latecomer with its new seasonings, profitable well into the 19th century. [ citation needed ]

Spices are primarily used as food flavoring. They are also used to perfume cosmetics and incense. At various periods, many spices have been believed to have medicinal value. Finally, since they are expensive, rare, and exotic commodities, their conspicuous consumption has often been a symbol of wealth and social class. [10]

It is often claimed that spices were used either as food preservatives or to mask the taste of spoiled meat, especially in the Middle Ages. [10] [11] This is false. [12] [13] [14] In fact, spices are rather ineffective as preservatives as compared to salting, smoking, pickling, or drying, and are ineffective in covering the taste of spoiled meat. [10] Moreover, spices have always been comparatively expensive: in 15th century Oxford, a whole pig cost about the same as a pound of the cheapest spice, pepper. [10] There is also no evidence of such use from contemporary cookbooks: "Old cookbooks make it clear that spices weren't used as a preservative. They typically suggest adding spices toward the end of the cooking process, where they could have no preservative effect whatsoever." [15] In fact, Cristoforo di Messisbugo suggested in the 16th century that pepper may speed up spoilage. [15]

Though some spices have antimicrobial properties in vitro, [16] pepper—by far the most common spice—is relatively ineffective, and in any case, salt, which is far cheaper, is also far more effective. [15]

How technology is changing the spice trade

Single-source spices come with tasting notes and the exact location of their farm. They’re part of a new way to do business in the international spice trade.

When Ethan Frisch gets a misspelled Instagram message from an overseas account, he always responds. It’s usually not a scam, but a business opportunity.

“Hi,” began one recent conversation. “are u form newYork?”

“Yes I am,” replied Frisch, 32, from his home office in Jackson Heights, Queens. After a full screen shot worth of pleasantries, the messenger got to the point. His family grows turmeric in India and would like to export to Frisch’s spice company, Burlap & Barrel.

And little wonder. In just three years, Burlap & Barrel has built a network of 150 spice farmers around the globe. Each of the company’s 30 spices are labeled with tasting notes and the exact location of the farm where the spice was grown. Blue Turmeric, from Nghe An, Vietnam, tastes of baked apple, toasted almond and smoke. New Harvest Turmeric, from Karnataka, India, evokes ginger, jasmine flower, and honey.

Burlap & Barrel is one of several companies that have pioneered the sale of single-source, ethically-sourced spices — a new way of doing business in one of the world’s oldest and most storied industries. By leveraging technology such as smartphones to flatten its supply chain, the company pays its farmer suppliers five to ten times the going rate. Its customers include famous restaurant kitchens like Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park, powerhouse companies such as Brooklyn Brewery, and cooks in their home kitchens. Whether it’s for the taste or the social-justice impact, these customers are willing to pay double or even five times the price of common supermarket brands. Burlap & Barrel’s turmeric is $5.25 an ounce, roughly twice the price of grocery-store turmeric its black peppercorns will set you back $3.99 an ounce, about five times a typical grocery-shelf price.

The international spice trade dates back to biblical times. Spices, along with silk and silver, drove the beginning of global trade, explains Eric Tagliacozzo, history professor at Cornell University. “Spice tied very remote areas of the world, such as the so-called Spice Islands of Eastern Indonesia, to the rest of the world,” he says.

At its start, the spice trade transformed world history. The world’s major powers converged on areas that grew spice, where they struggled, often violently, over harvests, trade routes, and taxing authority. The people who lived in spice-growing areas experienced exploitation and even genocide. For instance, in 1621, the Dutch East India Trading Company enforced its virtual monopoly on the Indonesian spice trade by killing or deporting almost the entire native population of the Banda Islands and seizing their nutmeg.

Though the spice trade is less violent today, in other ways, it hasn’t changed much over the centuries. The vanilla in your spice cabinet probably grew in Madagascar, the black pepper in Vietnam, the nutmeg in Indonesia, the ginger in China. The world’s favorite spices tend to grow best in places far away from most of their consumers. Black pepper and cardamom are tropical, while cumin prefers the sub-tropics and mustard the temperate zones.

Most spices are still grown on small farms. Some grow best in a field, others in a jungle. Some can be harvested by machines, some only by hand. The flavorful part could be the seed, root, leaf, petals, or even the bark.

Likewise, size and color standards are little-changed since the colonial era. “It didn’t matter that one pepper had floral tones and another smoky tones,” says Sana Javeri Kadri, founder of Diaspora Co., a San Francisco-based spice start-up. “It was just about size. They thought: If the seeds are bigger, we’ll get more money.”

“People aren’t used to pepper that has nuance, floral notes, that tastes like that. They assume it’s some mysterious kind of spice.”

Today, consumers often want information about food supply chains — the path food takes from its origins to your kitchen. Labels such as USDA Organic, CarbonFree Certified, or Fairtrade offer information about the environmental and human impact of how foods were farmed. The concept of “terroir” — the natural environment’s impact on wine’s taste and character — now applies to nearly every kind of food.

Yet most spice labels only say where the product was packed, not where it was grown. Few explain how a spice’s origins affect its characteristics.

This has long rankled food professionals. “We go through this insane effort to source specific meat, fish, and vegetables, because, absolutely, it makes the food taste different,” says Rick Easton, chef-owner at Bread and Salt in Jersey City and a Burlap & Barrel customer. “Why should spices get short shrift?”

Easton cooks with several Burlap & Barrel spices, including its Zanzibar black pepper. “While the social and political aspect to this kind of sourcing is really important and really wonderful, it’s not what drives me,” he says. “If the pepper wasn’t amazing, I wouldn’t buy it.” The higher price doesn’t bother Easton. He says he’s able to use less spice because the flavor is so potent.

Customers often ask Easton what spices he’s used. “It brings me incredible pleasure to say, ‘salt and some black pepper,’” he says. “People aren’t used to pepper that has nuance, floral notes, that tastes like that. They assume it’s some mysterious kind of spice.”

In 2012, at an open-air market in Fayzabad, Afghanistan, a man sitting on a blue tarp tossed handfuls of cumin into the air, then caught the seeds in a basket. He was using the air as a sieve: stray grass and other botanical debris, mixed in with the cumin, flew away in the wind.

His work caught the eye of Frisch, who was at the market on a day off from his job as a humanitarian aid worker. Frisch had worked in New York restaurant kitchens between college and graduate school. Curious, he bought a scoop of cumin from the seller, took it home to his apartment in Kabul, and made a very memorable roast chicken. “I thought I knew my way around spices,” he says, “but I’d never tasted or seen anything like that cumin — the size, and color, the aroma.” Smaller and darker than cumin he’d cooked with before, it smelled more savory and piney.

The next time Frisch visited New York, he brought wild cumin and other Afghan spices as gifts. Everyone from his foodie father to his chef friends was wowed.

“Is there a business here?” Frisch asked his friend, Ori Zohar, who’d run an ice cream business with him after college. Zohar is congenitally entrepreneurial. In college, he’d stand outside University of Maryland’s graduation ceremonies with a stack of $20 bills, ready to arbitrage graduation caps and gowns: He’d buy the regalia, dry-clean it, and sell it to the next group of graduates at a tidy profit.

At dinner in San Francisco, Frisch pulled spices out of his backpack to show Zohar. The spices drew the chefs out of the kitchen. “That was part of me seeing that there’s interest here from the professional market,” recalls Zohar, who became Burlap & Barrel’s co-founder.

After dinner, Frisch and Zohar went to a gourmet supermarket. “We looked at their spice rack, and while there were some really small local brands, mostly it was super-large national brands selling commodity spice.” Home cooks looking for unusual, single-source spices were all but out of luck.

Why? Most spice companies import millions of pounds of spice. Brokers, traders, and auctioneers along the supply chain repeatedly mix one small farmer’s spice harvest with others’ spices. So it’s nearly impossible to know exactly where a particular scoop of spice comes from. That’s just fine for commercial and industrial buyers, which purchase 90 percent of the $2 billion in spices sold annually worldwide. They value consistency above regional variation.

This trading system gives small spice farmers access to overseas markets, but each supply chain link takes a cut of the ultimate purchase price. That can add up to meaningful price differences for small spice farmers, whose households are among the most likely in the world to live in poverty, according to the U.N.

This trading system also discourages innovation, argues Kadri of Diaspora Co. For example, a farmer she works with in Kerala, India, has experimented with cardamom growing to create a plant with maximum flavor. But his pods are small and not as green as the competition’s. That devalues his cardamom on the commodity market. “His flavor and aroma are the best,” says Kadri. “You don’t have to open up the pod to smell it. But on the conventional market, he would get nothing for his cardamom.”

Until recently, there was no meaningful alternative. “Intermediaries were critical for doing business even just 10 or 15 years ago,” says Zohar. “Most of the farmers we work with don’t speak English.”

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But increasing smartphone penetration has brought internet access to remote places that wired communications never reached. Google Translate, Skype, WhatsApp, and social media now allow an overseas company to find suppliers, dispatch trucks, and otherwise manage a multi-lingual, global business. For the first time in the spice trade’s long history, it’s possible to collapse a long supply chain to just one link: farmer to retailer.

That’s helped Raphael Flury of Pemba Island, Tanzania. He runs 1001 Organic, a cooperative of cinnamon, vanilla, clove, nutmeg, and pepper farms on Pemba, in the Zanzibar Archipelago off the coast of East Africa.

“Every four to five months, a new spice start-up pops up who wants to do business with us directly,” says Flury, who converses with spice customers on WhatsApp. Larger spice companies are also knocking at his door.

Indeed, “in recent years we have begun to see some companies work more directly with farmers,” says Laura Shumow, executive director of The American Spice Trade Association. Large spice companies mostly deal directly with farmers to acquire organic spices. But the practice is also spreading into the non-organic spice trade, when “companies want to ensure specific farming practices are followed,” Shumow says.

Frisch welcomes the competition. Burlap & Barrel is set up as a public benefit corporation, meaning that its corporate charter includes the requirement to serve the public good as well as turn a profit. In 2018, Burlap & Barrel paid the 1001 Organic coop on Pemba Island an average of $565 per farmer — roughly 60 percent of the average Zanzibari’s annual income. “We’re happy to see other companies embrace our approach,” Frisch says. “The more people there are working on this, the faster we’ll be able to make meaningful changes to the global spice trade.”

Besides, Frisch is pretty busy traveling the world, looking for new spices to buy and sell. During a recent trip to Nicaragua, he cracked open a just-harvested turmeric, revealing an otherworldly glowing orange color inside. “Digging turmeric out of the ground is like opening a treasure chest,” he wrote in an Instagram caption. “Lookit that color!”

Some unusually short and fat vanilla pods also caught his eye. But they weren’t ripe yet, he noted to his 8,000 followers, then asked, “Anyone want to come back in February?”



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