DiasporaCo. changes the way we buy spices. here’s how
When it comes to colonization, you may not immediately think of cooking spices.
However, the spice trade played a major role in attracting colonizers to various parts of the world. Spices were nothing less than an economic stronghold for anyone who controlled these tasty herbs, roots and seeds.
This made India a prime target for conquest.
Although the spice trade in india existed long before the 15th century, the arrival of explorer Vasca da Gama in what is now the coastal Indian state of Kerala in 1498 marked the start of the European race to dominate industry.
Often the result of violent struggles, control of the spices passed from the farmers who grew them to the European powers of the time.
Even today, spices are still a major economic force.
According to data from the Economic Complexity Observatory (OEC), the spice industry had a total trade value of US$3.61 billion in 2020 alone, with the United States ranking as the top importer of spices in the world.
Although hundreds of years later, the repercussions of a colonized spice trade remain.
Fortunately, DiasporaCo. do something about it. They ethically source high-quality spices, pay farmers fair wages, and honor the cultures from which these diverse seasonings originate.
And the spices you will get from DiasporaCo. may be different from anything you’ve ever tried. Read on to find out why.
DiasporaCo. Founder Sana Javeri Kadri was born and raised in post-colonial Mumbai.
After studying food justice in college, Javeri Kadri worked in marketing at a well thought-out grocery store in San Francisco called Bi-Rite.
In 2016, she had an idea.
The turmeric trend
“Turmeric was suddenly everywhere, but the bland products sold in the United States had nothing to do with the turmeric I grew up with in India,” says Javeri Kadri. “I started researching the spice trade and found that most turmeric [in the U.S.] was a mix, with no sense of place or respect for the people who grew it.
It was this sense of belonging and respect for the creators of spices that led Javeri Kadri on a 7 month trip to India to find out all she could about the spice trade.
She was shocked to learn that in 400 years, little had changed.
According to the Diaspora Co. website, “farmers weren’t making money, spices changed hands more than 10 times before they reached the consumer, and the last spice on your shelf was usually a dusty old shadow of what ‘she once was.’
So in 2017 at the age of 23, Javeri Kadri founded DiasporaCo. Start with just one spice—Pragati Turmeric—the company now offers 30 single-origin spices sourced from 150 farms across India and Sri Lanka.
Building a fair trade in spices
The goal is simple: to be leaders in building a fairer spice trade. Javeri Kadri thinks her background as a queer immigrant of color makes her a prime candidate to do just that.
“My background and the fact that I have a personal connection to the country where we source our spices from gives me a unique perspective,” she says.
Javeri Kadri’s role is far from “just” an office job.
“Every year I take two-month sourcing trips to India and Sri Lanka, where I seek out farmers who grow the most delicious spices,” she says. “We work with family farms that specialize in regenerative farming practices.”
Regenerative agriculture involves farming and grazing that contributes to biodiversity by restoring soil, removing carbon and improving the water cycle.
“Each spice takes us months to years to source, based on rigorous lab testing, in-person visits and, of course, multiple tastings,” she says.
Part of this rigorous testing involves the Indian Spice Research Institutewhich focuses on resource management, crop production and improvement, and safe spice protection technologies.
A commitment to excellence and authenticity
The result? Spices that are extremely fresh, fragrant and linked to the farmers who bring them to your kitchen.
“Take our Aranya Black Pepper, for example,” says Javeri Kadri. “It’s so much more fragrant and floral than most black peppers you’ll find on grocery store shelves. It really makes such a difference in everyday cooking.
So how do you ensure fairness and equality of exchange in the spices you buy?
“It’s all about education,” says Javeri Kadri. “Find out about the companies you buy spices from.”
She says there are three questions to ask when shopping for spices.
- Is the company transparent about how it sources?
- Is their supply chain clearly defined?
- Do they talk about how much they pay their farmers?
“If the answer is no, then you’re probably not buying from a company hoping to build equity within the spice industry,” says Javeri Kadri.
Invest in high quality spices
On top of that, don’t be afraid to spend a little more if you can afford it.
“Splurge on spices that you will use all the time,” she adds.
Quality, fair-trade spices may command a higher price than the generic brands you’re used to on grocery store shelves.
“In a system where fair trade is only a 15% premium, we pay what we think is a living wage,” says Javeri Kadri.
Far from being a handicap, she sees it as an investment in the future.
“We are proud to pay our agricultural partners on average 6 times more than the price of the goods”, adds Javeri Kadri. He supports “the kind of leadership and land stewardship that will build climate resilience and more delicious food systems.”
“One of the reasons I started Diaspora Co. was to restore a sense of pride and place to the spice trade in my home country,” says Javeri Kadri.
In this sense, DiasporaCo. is as much a spice business as it is a platform for the South Asian spice trade community to tell their stories of “freedom, struggle and diaspora through food”.
For Javeri Kadri, it is a community that connects deeply with culture, heritage and source.
Crystal Hoshaw is a lifelong mom, writer, and yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gymnasiums, and one-on-one sessions in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses at SimpleWildFree.com. Follow her on instagram.