As Jimmy Buffett once said (he didn’t), you don’t need a passport to fly your tongue to Flavortown. You just need to actually, finally invest in the spices that will help you feel something. Venturing out to your local, storybook spice shop that made it through lockdown (thank goodness) will definitely make you feel like a quaint, 19th-century main character “running spice errands.” Anyways. If you don’t have one of those in your neighborhood, fret not. And if you’re not sure where to buy spices online? Don’t worry. [Extends hanky.] We’re here.
Now, if you’re able to, we suggest you do your best to support your local mom-and-pop spice shop (if you’ve got one—not everyone lives within walking distance of Kalustyan’s, believe it or not). Those places were hit hard over the past year and could use your help. However, not everyone lives in an area where a large variety of spices—or specialty spice stores—are available to them. If you fall into this category, it might be difficult to get your spice on, especially beyond the usual wilted, grocery store basil, cilantro, or rosemary.
Although most American grocery chains would love you to believe that spice drawers are a monolith, they aren’t. The number of different ingredients in international cooking is far vaster than what comes in a standard supermarket set. So, whether you’re looking to revamp your spice rack, expand your palate, find ethically sourced spices for your family recipes, or learn more about different spices (or if you’ve ever related a little too much to memes about white people eating unseasoned chicken breast), online spice shopping is probably your best option. Plus, since many spices you’ll be ordering are packaged with shipping conditions in mind, you won’t have to worry about losing any of the aroma or flavor of your ingredients during transport.
Now, let’s get spicy.
Burlap & Barrel
This company is so damn organized, recipe-accessible, and planet conscious. “As a Public Benefit Corporation, we partner directly with smallholder farmers to source spices that have never been available in the US before and help improve the livelihoods of our partner farmers,” says Burlap & Barrel (incidentally, the perfect name for a Country Bears spin-off about two BFF weasels). There are entire sections organized by use (ex. Baking, Beverages, Veggies, Grains & Pasta, and more), flavor profile (ex. Bright & Fruity, Aromatic & Complex, Sweet, and more), and ye old bestsellers, which makes shopping easier for both seasoned spice slingers and n00bs alike (the website has cooking and pairing tips for every spice). Before you ask, of course the company releases the details on its environmental impact report.
“Fresh, small batch, packed and processed by hand.” Spicewalla is yet another spice company that sounds like a PBS children’s show (or maybe Backyardigans?) due to its home-grown ethos, but it was actually started by four-time James Beard award nominee Meherwan Irani when he quit his job in 2009 to give the people what they want: spices. And not just errant, isolated spices (ICU, cayenne), but blends that speak to his own upbringing in India, where “a whole week was dedicated to making their own dhansak masala in [his] grandmother's home.” Hard bonus: You can also order refills for the cheery tins, saving packaging and eliminating the need to buy them all over again.
The Spice House
You’re a minimalist. You own Brightland olive oil, several terracotta vases, and know what makes for drool-inducing burrata. You’re seeking spices that carry their weight in the same chic country bumpkin/bury-me-in-raw-linen energy, and The Spice House delivers. The website is broken down by individual spices, blends, and something called “flat packs” that are near-weightless little flavor packs that the Spice House elves will deliver to your door, free of shipping. Don’t forget to mine ideas from its blog, too, where odes to rose water and essential how-to tips, like making a flavored margarita rim salt, await your ethical, vaxxed summer slut self.
Diaspora Co. is setting a shining example for equitable and sustainable agriculture companies. It works with 12 farmers and over 320 farm workers across six states to source India's “freshest, heirloom, and single-origin spices,” according to the website. Diaspora Co. also pays its farm partners an average of six times more than the commodity price, and is in the process of providing health insurance to all of the farm workers in its supply chain. Sana Javeri Kadri, founder and CEO of Diaspora Co., started the company in late 2017 to “create a radically new, and equitable vision of the spice trade, decolonizing a commodity back into a seasonal crop, and a broken system into an equal exchange.” The company also works closely with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to “identify and provide ongoing support to [its] partner farmers, all of whom are on the cutting edge of regenerative, and sustainable agriculture.”
Oh Etsy, how we love you. (What would we do without vintage Victorian kitchen art, avant-garde garden decor, and sleek, luxurious bedspreads? We don’t even want to think about it.) The good craftspeople at Etsy never disappoint—and their spice game is no exception. You can browse through tons of spice kits, spice racks and jars, and bulk spices from all over the world.
The new kid on the block is the coolest kid on the block (duh). Founded in May 2020, Omsom is the creation of sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham, who named their spice company after “a Vietnamese phrase meaning noisy, rambunctious, riotous. Most often used by parents (hint: ours).” The idea was to create accessible, beautiful flavor starter packs for some of their favorite meals and sauces (all available on their site) from countries like Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea.
Red Clay is a woman-owned company out of Charleston, and their spiced out goods are kind of like my stomach’s Pokémon. I gotta catch ‘em for my cocktails (scoop the spicy marg mix) and salads (see: the Everything Salt); my morning taters (a dash of the Spicy Red Mash), and ricotta toast (their spectrum of hot honeys is where it’s at). Red Clay is also sustainably sourced, and all their ingredients from nearby farms so you’re supporting local businesses when you buy their spices. We love to see it.
Buen provecho, and remember: That turmeric might stain your cutting board.
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