Image sourced from @burlapandbarrel
This month, we chatted with founder Ethan Frisch from Burlap & Barrel, a company that sources unique, beautiful spices for professional chefs and home cooks. As a Public Benefit Corporation, they partner directly with smallholder farmers to source spices in order to bring rare spices & help improve the livelihoods of their partner farmers. Check out an assortment of their products at The Alchemist’s Kitchen flagship location (21 E. 1st St, NY, NY) or online here!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Burlap & Barrel!
I’m a chef turned international aid worker, and my cofounder Ori is a former marketer and serial social entrepreneur. We’ve been friends for a decade, and we decided to launch Burlap & Barrel in early 2017 after I started smuggling spectacular wild cumin home from Afghanistan, where I had lived and worked for several years. We saw how excited our chef friends were to try unique, beautiful spices, and inspired by the single-origin revolution in coffee and cacao, we decided to try to do the same for spices.
How did you find your partners and sources for your spices?
We meet our partner farmers in all kinds of ways. Sometimes we’re introduced by local government officials or NGO employees who work with farmers, sometimes we meet through mutual friends working in regenerative agriculture, and sometimes our partner farmers find us! It’s hard to find the right kind of partner, though – a farmer who’s growing an exceptional crop, who has high standards for regenerative agricultural techniques and who wants to take on more control over the supply chain that they initiate. Most of our partner farmers have never exported before, and we set them up to do that with FDA registrations and food safety testing.
What do you hope that people experience while using Burlap & Barrel blends?
Our spices are truly special, grown by expert farmers with decades (or generations) of experience. Our direct relationships with farmers ensure that we get spices that have been ignored by the commodity supply chain. We hope that people start to think about where their spices were grown and the farmers who grow them!
Do you have a favorite?
Personally, I have a soft spot for our wild mountain cumin. It was the first spice we started importing, initially in suitcases on my trips home from Afghanistan. We were the first company to import this cumin into the United States, and it’s a privilege to be able to support rural, agricultural communities in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan through the sourcing and sales of their remarkable crop.
Can you speak a little bit to the popular phrase, food as medicine?
Spices are so special because, unlike most foods, they’re not a source of calories or macronutrients – they’ve always been purely about function and flavor. Spices include some of the world’s oldest medicinal plants, and researchers are still discovering new (and old) medicinal applications of spices that people love to eat.
Any recipe recommendations?
Try a new spice in a recipe you already love to cook! That’ll help you get a sense of how that specific spice changes the flavor of a dish, and will make it easier to experiment across other dishes as well.
Check out an assortment of Burlap & Barrel’s magnificent spices at The Alchemist’s Kitchen or online here!