Your Saffron Might Come From New England, Not the Middle East — Here’s Why
A handful of U.S.-based spice companies are sourcing from domestic growers
Earlier this year, Burlap & Barrel pulled off a culinary magic trick: They extended ramp season. The New York City-based spice company has made a name for itself among chefs and home cooks by selling direct-sourced, single-origin — and wildly delicious spices — from across the globe. But this past May, instead of flying to India for turmeric, Egypt for caraway seeds, or Guatemala for cardamom (thanks to Covid-19 travel restrictions), co-founders Ethan Frisch and Ori Zohar drove due north to the Adirondack Mountains to forage ramp leaves during the wild plant’s famously fleeting season.
Frisch, a chef and humanitarian, and Zohar, a social entrepreneur, founded Burlap & Barrel in an effort to collapse the distance between consumers and sustainable spice farmers. But as it turns out, sometimes those farmers work surprisingly close to home.
“We partnered with a maple syrup grower because maple forests have the perfect environment for ramps,” said Frisch of Burlap & Barrel’s dried ramps. The farm’s crew of seasonal workers from Jamaica had just finished tapping the sugar bush when Covid-19 hit and the team got stuck stateside. “We ended up hiring them to help us harvest ramps during the three week period you can find them,” Frisch said.
Together, the team collected 1,000 pounds of fresh leaves, leaving the bulbs so the plants could regrow. The ramp leaves were trucked overnight to Burlap & Barrel’s co-packer near Syracuse, dehydrated, and bottled for year-round use. “They were processed within 24 hours of being harvested, if not less,” said Frisch.
Beyond their vibrant spring onion flavor profile, the dried ramp leaves (which are sold out for the season) represent a shift in Burlap & Barrel’s lineup towards including more domestically produced spices. (The company previously offered a run of red jalapeño chili flakes from Santa Cruz.) While the local agriculture movement has grown over the last decade, the sourcing of spices has remained something of a blindspot. It makes sense. Many spices like peppercorns, cinnamon, and vanilla beans thrive in tropical or subtropical climates…