When it comes to colonization, you may not immediately think of kitchen spices.
However, the spice trade played a major role in drawing colonizers to diverse parts of the world. Spices were nothing short of an economic stronghold for whoever controlled these flavorful herbs, roots, and seeds.
This made India a prime target for conquest.
Although the spice trade in India existed long before the 15th century, explorer Vasca de Gama’s arrival in what is now the coastal Indian state of Kerala in 1498 marked the beginning of the European race to dominate the industry.
Often the result of violent struggle, control of spices was transferred 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 Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), the spice industry had a total trade value of 3.61 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 alone, with the U.S. ranking as the top importer of spices worldwide.
While it may be hundreds of years later, the repercussions of a colonized spice trade remain.
Luckily, DiasporaCo. is doing something about it. They ethically source high quality spices, pay farmers fair trade wages, and honor the cultures where these diverse seasonings are sourced.
And the spices you’ll get from DiasporaCo. may be unlike any you’ve ever tried. Read on to find out why.
DiasporaCo. founder Sana Javeri Kadri was born and raised in postcolonial Mumbai.
After studying food justice in college, Javeri Kadri was working in marketing at a thoughtfully-sources San Francisco grocery store called Bi-Rite.
In 2016, she got an idea.
The turmeric trend
“Turmeric was suddenly everywhere, but the bland stuff being sold in the U.S. was nothing like the turmeric I’d grown up with in India,” says Javeri Kadri. “I started researching the spice trade and discovered that most of the turmeric [in the U.S.] was a blend, with no sense of place or respect for the people that grew it.”
It was this sense of place and respect for the originators of spices that led Javeri Kadri on a 7-month journey back to India to everything she could about the spice trade.
She was shocked to find out that in 400 years, not much has changed.
According to the DiasporaCo. website, “farmers made no money, spices changed hands upwards of 10 times before reaching the consumer, and the final spice on your shelf was usually an old, dusty shadow of what it once was.”
So in 2017 at 23, Javeri Kadri founded DiasporaCo. Starting with just one spice—Pragati Turmeric—the company now offers 30 single-origin spices from 150 farms across India and Sri Lanka.
Building an equitable spice trade
The goal is simple: To be leaders in building a more equitable spice trade. Javeri Kadri believes her experience 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 from which we source spices gives me a unique perspective,” she says.
I started researching the spice trade and discovered that most of the turmeric was a blend, with no sense of place or respect for the people that grew it.
Javeri Kadri’s role is far from ‘just’ an office job.
“I do two months-long sourcing trips to India and Sri Lanka every year, where I seek out farmers who are growing the most delicious spices,” she says. “We work with family-run farms who specialize in regenerative farming practices.”
Regenerative agriculture involves farming and grazing that contributes to biodiversity by restoring the soil, removing carbon, and improving the water cycle.
“Each spice takes us from several months to years to source, based on rigorous lab testing, in-person visits, and, of course, multiple tastings,” she says.
Part of that rigorous testing involves the Indian Institute of Spices Research, which focuses on resource management, crop production and improvement, and protective technologies for safe spices.
A commitment to excellence and authenticity
The result? Spices that are exceedingly fresh, fragrant, and connected to the farmers who bring them to your kitchen.
“Take our Aranya Black Pepper, for instance,” says Javeri Kadri. “It’s so much more fragrant and floral than most of the black pepper you’ll find on grocery store shelves. It really makes such a difference in everyday cooking.”
So, how do you ensure equity and equal exchange in the spices you buy?
“It’s all about education,” says Javeri Kadri. “Read up on the companies you buy spices from.”
She says there are three questions to ask yourself when shopping for spices.
- Is the company transparent about how they source?
- Is their supply chain clearly laid out?
- Do they talk about how much they pay their farmers?
“If the answer is no, then you’re probably not buying from a company that’s 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 to.
“Splurge on the spices you’ll use all the time,” she adds.
Quality, fair-trade spices may have a higher price tag than the generic brands you’re used to on grocery store shelves.
“In a system where fair trade is a mere 15 percent premium, we pay what we believe to be a living wage,” says Javeri Kadri.
Far from a liability, she sees this as an investment in the future.
“We’re proud to pay our farm partners an average of 6 times above the commodity price,” Javeri Kadri adds. It supports “the kind of leadership and land stewardship that will build climate resilience and more delicious food systems.”
We’re proud to pay our farm partners an average of 6 times above the commodity price. [This supports] leadership and land stewardship that will build climate resilience and more delicious food systems.
“One of the reasons I started Diaspora Co. was to bring back a sense of pride and place into the spice trade of my home country,” says Javeri Kadri.
In this sense, DiasporaCo. is as much a spice company as it is a platform for the community of the South Asian spice trade to tell their stories “of freedom, struggle, and diaspora through food.”
To Javeri Kadri, it’s a community about connecting deeply to culture, heritage, and source.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and one-on-one settings 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.