Chances are if you enjoy food, you love spices — spices give our favorite dishes the flavor we crave after all. Unfortunately, the conventional spice market is far from sustainable. Most spices available at the grocery store are low-quality blends that involve exploited labor in the supply chain, but Fair Trade and Direct Trade spices can provide a solution to this. When we choose to buy sustainable spices, we’re choosing a more ethical — and flavorful — pantry.
What Are Direct Trade & Fair Trade Spices?
Conventional spices are bought through indirect trade. They go through numerous distributors, exporters, and importers. With more people taking a share of the profit, the farmers aren’t left with much. There’s also little regulation over the quality of the spices.
Direct trade simply means that a product was bought directly from the farmers. Direct trade aims to combat the pitfalls of our current supply chain. Companies that use direct trade often have personal relationships with their farmers, which helps ensure a high-quality, fresh product.
Fair Trade aims to prevent the exploitation of farmers. Fair Trade spices will be ethically sourced and do not involve child or exploitative labor. Fair Trade ensures farmers are paid a living wage. Fair Trade Certification is a great sign, but many small companies may use fair trade practices and not be certified.
What to Look for From Sustainable Spices
Other common terms you’ll notice when shopping for ethical spices are:
- Single Origin: Single origin means that the spice comes from one place. This could be one farm or one region.
- Organic: Certified Organic spices are grown in a way that adheres to the USDA Organic standards. While organic is wonderful, it doesn’t necessarily mean the spices were sourced ethically.
Other Considerations for Ethical Spices
The spice trade has always depended on exploiting and colonizing the regions where spices grow. Most of our spices come from places that are primarily native to BIPOC. However, only a small percentage of spice companies are owned and run by BIPOC. Today, most farmers are still exploited by large corporations for their products.
It’s important to support BIPOC owned spice brands. It’s also important to choose companies that source directly from the places that their spices are indigenous to, and pay the local farmers fair wages.
If you’re just getting into sustainable spices, you’ll notice that most ethical spice companies don’t have extensive offerings. It’s more challenging to import sustainable spices so ethical brands often work with one specific region.
Where to Find Fair Trade and Direct Trade Spices
Below, you’ll find more than enough sustainable spice brands to fill your entire pantry. Most of these brands have direct trade spices or fair trade practices.
If you prefer to buy spices in stores, however, you can usually find sustainable spices at your local Co-Op, health food store, or farmers’ markets.
Founded by Sana Javeri Kadri after her extensive research on the inequalities of the Indian spice trade. Diaspora Co. is one of the most ethical and sustainable spice companies around. She has over 30 single-origin spices directly traded from 150 farms.
Diaspora pays living wages six times higher than the average wage. The WOC-owned spice company is incredibly transparent about their sourcing and even provides a sourcing map.
Kadri is passionate about connecting with the culture and honoring her heritage through Diaspora. Here you’ll find Indian spices such as Peni Meris Cinnamon, Nandini Coriander, and Kashmiri Chillies.
Conscious Highlights: WOC- Owned, Direct Trade, Single Origin
Burlap & Barrel sources directly from small farms and co-ops. Their spices are typically organic and grown in biodynamic farms using traditional and sustainable techniques. They personally work with the farms and provide fair and living wages.
Here you’ll find spices like Wild Mountain Cumin, Smoked Pimenton Paprika, and Purple Strike Garlic.
Burlap & Barrel is passionate about providing education to consumers on the importance of transparency in the spice trade. They know that consumers can create real change in the industry by choosing to buy sustainable spices.
Conscious Highlights: Single-Origin, Direct Trade, Non-GMO
Indigie Earth honors Aboriginal culture by selling spices that are Indigenous to Australia. Aboriginal-owned, Indigie Earth was founded by Shannon Winsor to provide sustainably sourced native foods to everyone.
Indigie Earth works with Aboriginal communities to set up their own farms and then purchases their spices. Here you’ll find spices like Ground Bush Tomato, Sea Parsley, and Aniseed Myrtle.
Indigie Earth also has its own cafe and retail outlet. The founder serves traditional Bush food flavored with their spices. She also features her botanical skincare line and natural products at the storefront and online.
Conscious Highlights: Indigenous-Owned, Woman-Owned, Gives Back
4. Fly by Jing
Inspired by the flavors of the popular restaurants in her hometown of Chengdu, Jing decided to start Fly by Jing. She sources and makes her natural spices throughout the Sichuan province in China.
Jing produces small, handcrafted batches. Everything is vegan, non-GMO, and doesn’t include additives. They sell different sizes, spice boxes, and pantry sets so you can try her whole line.
Jing sells spices individually, but she also creates delicious sauces using her spices and non-GMO oils. You’ll find sauces like Sichuan Chili Crisp, spices such as Tribute Pepper, and blends like Mala Spice Mix.
Conscious Highlights: WOC-Owned, Single Origin, Small Batch
5. Essie Spice
Founded by Essie Bartels, Essie Spice is a wonderful Black-Owned business you’ll love to try.
Each Essie Spice product is homemade in small batches using traditional West African cooking methods and Indigenous ingredients.
Essie Spice is family-run. Her sister imports their direct trade spices from her hometown in Ghana, while her family helps her package the spices.
Essie primarily sells sauces made from her spices as well as a few mixes. She creates delicious sauces like Coco-for-Garlic and Tamarind-Oh! You’ll also love her spice blends such as Mekko Dry Rub.
Essie is a talented chef and offers cooking seminars. On her website, you’ll find a collection of her traditional recipes featuring her sauces.
Conscious Highlights: WOC-Owned, Small Batch, Vegan, Direct Trade
6. Etsy Brands
Etsy is a wonderful place to find small, local businesses to support. Many brands on Etsy have direct trade, local, organic or fair-trade spices. Most businesses hand-make their spices in small batches.
Some of our favorite brands available on Etsy are:
- Pinch Spice Market: Locally made organic spices and blends.
- Megan’s Marvelous Medicinals: Fair-Trade and Organic spices.
- Zen Spice Traders: Organic, single-origin spices from Cambodia.
- Spicy Organic: Certified Organic spices directly traded from India.
Conscious Highlights: Handmade, Organic, Direct Trade, Fair Trade
Curio Spice Co. is a woman-owned business founded by Claire Cheney. They work directly with small farmers locally and globally to sell high-quality spice blends to restaurants and consumers.
They have primarily organic and fair trade spices. Their spice blends include mixes like Comfort Curry and Creole Spice. Curio has an extensive single spice collection including Black Lime Powder and Toasted Cumin.
Curio is passionate about supporting farmers. They pay above-market prices and strive to source from women-owned businesses.
Conscious Highlights: Woman-Owned, B Corp, Direct Trade, Fair Trade
If you’re looking for pure saffron, then look no further than Tahmina. Their saffron comes directly from the Northwestern fields of Afghanistan. They also use saffron in their tea collection.
Tahmina was founded with the mission of bringing ethical economic opportunity to “conflict-affected areas” in Afghanistan. The founder moved to Afghanistan to help farmers, particularly women, supply saffron to a global market.
Tahmina also packages their zero waste spices in reusable, recycled tin containers. They donate 10% of their proceeds to organizations in Afghanistan.
Conscious Highlights: WOC-owned, Gives Back, Organic, Direct Trade
Loisa is a Latin-owned business founded by a husband and wife who wanted to create organic and MSG-free popular Latin seasonings. Their high-quality spices honor their culture and traditional cooking. All of their spices are vegan, gluten-free, organic, and don’t contain fillers, coloring, or artificial ingredients.
Loisa offers “flavor trios” and combo packs if you’re interested in trying several spices at once. Their seasoning blends include Sazon and Adobo. They sell both blends and individual spices.
Loisa produces their spices in a US-based facility. They also donate 2% of their proceeds to foot justice and social justice organizations monthly.
Conscious Highlights: Latin-Owned, Certified Organic, Locally Made, Gives Back
Zameen was founded to help marginalized farmers in India supply spices to a global market. Zameen works directly with the local farms, using regenerative agriculture to cultivate sustainable spices.
Zameen only sells spices that can be grown without negatively impacting the environment. Their direct trade spices include rustic cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. They also sell sustainable handmade aprons and cooking classes with the founder.
Zameen uses recyclable and compostable packaging. They are a plastic-free company.
Conscious Highlights: Direct Trade, Single Origin, Organic, Regenerative Agriculture
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About The Author:
Alicia Briggs is a writer & editor specializing in slow travel & sustainable living. She’s worked in journalism since 2016 and currently writes for a variety of publications such as Sustainably Chic and Hidden Lemur. She has been a full-time traveler since 2018 and runs her own blog, Learning the Local Way, where she covers responsible travel & living tips.