Why aren't more spices grown locally?

 cinnamon

In our regular #SpiceSupport articles we dive into all aspects of spices, including where they originate and where they are now grown. As you may have noticed, a great of the spices are grown in countries other than the ones where most of our Members reside. But why is this so, especially given the recent emphasis on locally sourced foods? Kristen Hartke of NPR Food takes a look at this question

One of the people Hartke interviewed for her story knows a thing or two about spices. Lior Lev Sercarz, author of The Spice Companion and The Art of Blending, is a firm believer that, at least in the U.S., more of the spices that we use should be grown here. The reason for this, says Sercarz, is that big agriculture is more focused on commodity crops like corn and soybeans. 

Others believe that it is impractical to grow many spices here because a great many spices, like the cassia cinnamon shown above, require tropical or subtropical climates in order to flourish. Sercarz disagrees, noting that items like coriander, mustard, ginger, galangal, and paprika could easily be grown in the U.S. but are not.

There are some researchers exploring options for the growing of more spices in the U.S., including Margaret Skinner of the University of Vermont. She is part of a group looking into the viability of growing saffron and has recruited a few locals to give it a try. One factor that might hamper this foray is that saffron is extremely labor intensive, which might price U.S. grown saffron out of the market. But Sercarz again disagrees and points to the Espelette peppers grown in France as an example of how a region can embrace a spice and make it work. 

2 Comments

  • chriscooks  on  12/29/2017 at 5:24 PM

    I have grown saffron in Tennessee for about 25 years. It is hardy here (USDA zone 7a). It's next to my rosemary and lavender in the hottest and driest part of the garden. Yes harvesting it is labor-intensive and I don't know how it would be to grow commercially, but around 1 November every year I get a ton of blossoms and gladly harvest and dry this wonderful spice. You can buy the bulbs from some of the online retail plant suppliers; it won't bloom profusely the first year, but in years 2 to 4 or 5 you'll have lots. You may need to divide the plants or get new bulbs after that.

  • ellabee  on  12/30/2017 at 2:14 PM

    Here in rural western Virginia, several growers have taken part in a state program to encourage production of some niche crops, one of which is ginger. For the past few years I've been buying a pound of so in December. It stays fresh quite a while, and it all gets used one way or another: candied ginger, marmalade, and the dried remnants for tea. Feels good to know the the plants are organically grown, that the proceeds stay in the community, and that the carbon footprint's so low.

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