Most consumers don’t know that the spices and seasonings sold on supermarket shelves may be years old. Yes, years. And that spices are nowadays nothing more than a commodity traded within an archaic system that is opaque and largely exploitative.
Conventional spices found in retail stores around the world are mostly stale and flavourless before they even reach our kitchens. Spices are cultivated in many developing countries, by small farmers or farmer co-ops. On their long journey from farm to table, spices undergo a huge amount of processing, adulteration and change many hands. They are traded by a multitude of middlemen before they even leave their country of origin and handled by a handful of large importers in each country that dominate the industry.
So volume and profit trump quality and equity. And by the time spices reach end consumers in western countries they are shadows of their former selves and bear almost no resemblance to the fresh, flavour-intense crops grown by hard working farmers.
The trouble with spices
To most consumers today, spices are synonymous with stale, powdery, lacklustre ingredients sold in undifferentiated plastic sachets, unsightly shakers or unloved self scoop containers. So it’s no surprise that spices are some of the most overlooked parts of cooking even though, as many chefs will tell you, they can transform food and set a dish apart.
Spices have been used by people since the dawn of time. They have been enormously influential throughout human history and impacted political, social and economic development the world over. They were considered so rare and valuable that they were used as currency and sought after by the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Arabs, Italians and British explorers who set up far reaching spice trade routes. Spices even sparked a war between the Portuguese and Dutch in the 17th century.
Today, spices are still mainly grown by tropical developing countries, such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, Madagascar and Malaysia. Spices have become so commonplace to the point they are a cheap commodity.
Demand from the food industry led to industrialised mass production with fresh whole spices becoming extremely difficult to find. Spices tend to be sold in bulk by the country of origin, then cleaned, graded and packed in the importing country by a specialist company who, in turn, sells the raw materials to a multitude of wholesalers and manufacturers. Those manufacturers often produce vast quantities of spices and seasoning products for many brands and supermarkets (a process called ‘white labelling’).
Because spices are a plant-based product and tend to degrade quickly once they are processed, mass manufacturers often use preservatives to extend their shelf life and a host of fillers like refined sugar and salt, artificial colours and flavours, gluten and MSG to improve their flavour and potency. Some also bulk up their spices with other cheaper ingredients such as husks, ground peanut shells or cheaper, similar looking spices or herbs (as was exposed during the fake oregano scandal in Australia a few years ago).
Another issue is that farmers come under tremendous pressure to produce large volumes of crops to feed demand from overseas importers and so they tend to use pesticides and chemically treat their crops instead of using organic practices.
All these multiple layers between the farmer/country of origin and end consumer and the clear prioritisation of profits over quality mean that spices are often chemically treated, adulterated and practically stale by the time they reach our kitchens. They lose much of their original flavour and traceability.
Our unique philosophy
But we believe that consumers deserve better. And so we set out to start a spice revolution that stands for quality, freshness and authenticity. The “third wave” movement which brought us craft beer, single origin coffee and bean to bar chocolate became a huge trend globally and showed us the stark difference between mass produced supermarket-grade products versus artisanal quality products made by people who deeply care about their craft.
We want to revolutionise the Australian spice industry by increasing consumers’ awareness and understanding of proper spices. We believe that, in the future, spices will return to their former glory as spice obsessed consumers demand more from those who purvey them.
Consumers are already learning about the importance of flavour profiles, provenance and a more refined production technique. They learn to appreciate freshness and craft. They explore and experiment with exotic flavours added to their cooking through the use of spices.
Celebrity chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi have popularised modern Middle Eastern cooking and encouraged us to hunt down exotic spices, like za’atar and sumac, and apply them in everyday cooking. In 2019, more and more home cooks and chefs are embracing a new cooking sensibility, firmly rooted in superior spices.
We love spices and started Sprinkle to demystify spices and change perceptions around how they are used in everyday cooking. But for consumers to be able to enjoy the magic of spices and share our passion, we knew we had to introduce higher quality spices to a larger audience.
The Sprinkle way
Before starting Sprinkle, we spent the best part of two years learning about the history and origin of spices and how to differentiate the good from the bad. We developed our own exclusive blend recipes and refined our manufacturing process to ensure we can deliver the best possible product. We thoughtfully designed a creative range of products inspired by global cuisines with an emphasis on authenticity and traditional blending techniques.
Our product collection is relatively small because we choose not to sell a vast array of mass produced, generic, lifeless mixes and pass them off as spices. To us, it’s all about creating the highest calibre product, anchored in origins, history and a real flavour expression.
So we make spices the right way, not the easy way. We’re different because we source mostly whole, fresh spices in small quantities. We then roast, grind and blend them ourselves in small batches using on our own recipes in Sprinkle’s small spice factory in Melbourne. We bottle our blends quickly once they are mixed, in quality recyclable glass jars to preserve their potency and aroma (and to avoid environmentally harmful plastic). We vacuum seal our products and keep them in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Because we believe that everyone deserves better. We believe in values not shortcuts.
Sprinkle is proudly committed to becoming the gold standard of spices in Australia. Our unique focus on sourcing, manufacturing, craft and freshness allows us to bring the story of each product to the people who use it and empower them to enjoy spices in a whole new way.