One question we hear from people accustomed to buying supermarket spices is if gourmet spices are really worth the extra money. Aren’t they all really about the same?
It’s easier to know the answer to this question with a little understanding of what makes spices flavorful and how they get from the farm to your kitchen.
Spices get their flavors from the volatile oils they contain. These oils are organic chemical compounds that are a natural part of the plant from which the spice comes. Volatile oils are also known as essential oils. Volatile oils tend to vaporize over time and will waft away into the air carrying the spice’s flavor away with it.
Unlike fine wines, no spice gets better with age. The volatile oils not only fade away, they also oxidize over time. That is, they react with the oxygen in the air around them. This changes the flavor of the spice in a way that may make it taste bland, bitter, or just “off”.
Once a spice is ground, its surface area is increased significantly. With more of the volatile oils exposed, they evaporate and oxidize much more quickly.
Some ground spices lose a noticeable amount of flavor after just a few months! You know that tin of cinnamon that’s been in your mom’s spice collection for two years? Taste it and then taste fresh cinnamon as a comparison. You’ll be shocked at the difference.
Whole spices last longer than ground. They age at between 1/3 and 1/2 the rate of ground spices.
One thing you may be surprised to learn is that when you buy a supermarket spice, it may already be as much as a year old before you even take it home and use it for the first time. As a result, the spice you just bought may have already lost more than half its flavor!
Here is the path your spice takes from the farm to your kitchen…
Most spices are grown in far-off countries. India, Sri Lanka, China, and others grow spices for export. Some spices can only be grown in tropical regions, but cost also plays a big part in the dominance some countries have in the spice trade.
Once spices are harvested and dried by the growers, they are shipped to the USA in shipping containers that have no climate control. This journey takes about a month.
Once spices arrive at the factory, they are tested, cleaned, processed, milled, and packaged. Often the raw spices will be warehoused until needed and the finished product will be warehoused as inventory until needed by the distributors.
This warehousing and production can range between 1 – 10 months. Some factories may have climate controlled warehouses, but many do not. If spices are stored in a hot warehouse, they will age at an accelerated pace.
Spices and all other manners of food products are shipped from manufacturers to a grocery company’s distribution warehouse. From the warehouse, everything each grocery store needs will be packed into trucks and shipped to the physical stores. Distributors like to run a lean operation, so your spice will likely spend only a number of weeks to a month or so there.
Like the distributors, the store will want to keep inventory lean and not stock products in the back for too long. The bottle of cinnamon you buy at the supermarket was stocked in the back and on the shelf maybe a few days, weeks, or around a month.
All these various steps from A to Z are collectively called the Supply Chain. You can see that for spices from big companies sold at grocery stores, the supply chain can be very long.
Before you buy a gourmet spice, you’ll want to know a little about the company you buy from. Anyone can add the word “gourmet” to their product. There is no legal definition or legally mandated labeling requirement that controls how businesses use this word.
Some big companies have “gourmet” lines of spices that go through the same long, flavor-robbing supply chain as their regular spices do. The gourmet factor is mostly in how they apply different labels and differently colored lids. (Cue shocked intakes of breath.)
Supply chains are shorter when you buy spices directly from a small spice company—either from their web page or via e-commerce sites like Amazon. This cuts out more than half of the time spent in a traditional supply chain and gets you fresher and more flavorful spices.
In our effort to offer the best spices available, Burma Spice takes things a step further in shrinking the supply chain. Many of the most popular Burma Spice products go from farm to table in just a few weeks.
Consider our Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves. We take freshly picked leaves directly from farms in the USA. After washing the leaves, we dry them in a dark, cool room with low humidity. After three days, they’re ready to be packed and shipped to customers. We sell a lot of these and have new fresh leaves every two weeks. This makes a huge difference in flavor!
Not all spices can be grown well in the USA. The best Ceylon Cinnamon, for example, comes fro Sri Lanka. However, since Burma Spice grinds cinnamon ourselves in small batches, and then sells those small batches through e-commerce, we’re able to cut off 90% of the flavor-robbing time spent in a supply chain.
Many of our customers have tried Burma Spice Ceylon Cinnamon side-by-side with store bought cinnamon and have been amazed at how pronounced the difference is.
Are you curious to see for yourself? Well, we put our money where your mouth is! Burma Spice products come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Give it a try. Buy a bottle of Burma Spice Ceylon Cinnamon. Try it side by side with what you have in your kitchen. If the difference doesn’t blow you away, let us know and we’ll be happy to refund your purchase.