These Single-Origin Spices Transformed My Pantry, and I'll Never Cook with Anything Else
As a professional chef and wine writer, I'm pretty diligent about learning where my ingredients come from. From meat to vegetables to pinot noir, I prefer to work with local purveyors that use sustainable methods. I spend a lot of time looking for responsibly-made ingredients and hold the companies that I shop at to high standards. For all the time I've spent thinking about main ingredients, I have to admit that until recently, I didn't place as much emphasis on my spice sources. The truth is that spices should be just as carefully sourced as meat and vegetables, which is why I was lucky that a friend gifted me a set from Burlap & Barrel.
After tasting the spices and learning about the company's sourcing efforts and quality standards, I couldn't believe I had been living in a world of dull and flavorless spices for so long. Burlap & Barrel opened my eyes to what dry spices should taste like, and believe me, it's nothing like what I was using before. The products are sourced directly from small farmers who grow them sustainably using traditional techniques, in an effort to highlight the unique terroir of global regions. The company is working to end the inequality and exploitation of skilled farmers by buying directly from them, which helps keep quality up and prices down.
These spices are vibrantly pungent with tasting notes strong enough to rival a complex glass of wine. I'm working on replacing all of my old spices with undoubtedly better versions from Burlap & Barrel, and if you're still hanging on to that jar of clumpy paprika from two apartments ago, you probably should, too. Read on for the best spices to get you started.
To buy: Buffalo Ginger, $9 at burlapandbarrel.com
Ginger is one of my favorite dry spices because it can be used in both sweet and savory recipes and it's just as spicy and delicious in one as it is in the other. Burlap & Barrel's ginger is an heirloom variety that comes from a group of farmers in Northern Vietnam who dry it with hot air then grind it. It's surprisingly spicy with notes of pineapple and fresh herbs, and adds a kick to anything it's used in.
To buy: Flowering Hyssop Thyme, $8 at burlapandbarrel.com
As far as dried herbs go, dried thyme is a staple. A key player in herbes de Provence, thyme adds a floral, pine-like flavor to anything from soups to dry rub to tomato sauce. Most of the time, the dried thyme you see on supermarket shelves is dull, shriveled, and devoid of flavor. Not the Burlap & Barrel thyme. I was shocked to see how vibrant these little leaves looked when I opened the container and pleasantly surprised by their powerful aroma. This Flowering Hyssop Thyme comes from Denizli, Turkey, and is sun-dried to perfection before packaging.
To buy: Black Lime, $9 at Hive.com
If you hadn't heard of black lime before, prepare to meet your new favorite spice. Grown on a family farm in Guatemala, Burlap & Barrel's black lime is made from ripe limes that are dried in the sun until they oxidize (which causes them to turn black and savory) then ground into a fine powder. Remarkably tart without tasting bitter, this flavorful spice is bright and a little bit sour with deep, earthy notes of leather. It's perfect on fish, meat, and vegetables alike, and can even act as a garnish for sweet and sour cocktails.
To buy: Wild Mountain Cumin, $10 at Hive.com
This Wild Mountain Cumin made me question every taste of cumin I'd had before. It has a bright and pungent umami flavor that is so meaty, it's my secret weapon when making vegan and meatless dupes. The whole seeds are hand-picked by foragers in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan and sun-dried.