Who doesn’t love a little bit of spice? Not only do spices significantly improve the taste of your food, but they’re also a good source of vitamins, nutrients and other antioxidants. But did you know that conventional spices are not necessarily that sustainable?
Chances are that most, if not all, the spices lined up in your kitchen racks right now have not been packaged and transported sustainably, are not produced ethically and have been grown using pesticides… And let’s not even get started on quality!
For a long time, consumers haven’t really paid attention to how sustainable spices are. After all, despite being an important ingredient, spice ranks low in the produce hierarchy – there are bigger things to worry about. But things are changing; with consumers starting to take more notice and focusing on all aspects of the food industry, spices are increasingly getting roped into conversations regarding sustainability.
Similarly, the values of buyers are also changing. In a recent survey, a significant majority of respondents said they were ready to pay up to 35 percent more for a product that is environmentally sustainable.
See also: 10 Useful Food Sustainability Terms
What are sustainable spices?
While there is no strict definition on how a spice becomes labelled as sustainable, to put it simply, we can say that it’s sustainable if it is of high quality, ethically produced and strives to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint.
First, let’s look at production. High-quality, sustainable spices are usually single-origin, meaning they come from a single place – a single farm or region – as opposed to the blends prevalent in most supermarket brands. Keeping things single-origin preserves the spice’s flavour and gives consumers a fresher, more intense experience.
Another term you will see is ‘organic spices’, which means exactly what you think – spices that were grown without the use of chemicals, preservatives or pesticides. Aside from the growing process, how spices are bought from farmers is also important. The hallmark of sustainable spices is direct trade with farmers. Conventional spices are bought through indirect trade and as such, a company goes through a chain of distributors, exporters, importers and other parties to secure their order.
Direct trade results in a more equitable relationship with the actual spice producers themselves, giving them a larger slice of the revenue instead of losing money through a plethora of middlemen. Sounds familiar? Indeed, it does – fair trade for the win!
And finally, a low carbon footprint. Another benefit of dealing directly with farmers is that the supply chain is significantly shortened, thus saving on transport costs and emissions.
Sustainable spices are also packaged differently than their conventional cousins. For instance, they’ll use recyclable materials for their packaging or encourage you to bring your own containers – as with Hong Kong bulk stores like Live Zero and Slowood, or even century-old chefs’ favourite Yuan Heng Spice Company – to maintain carbon neutrality.
Where to buy sustainable spices in Hong Kong?
If you’re new to the world of sustainable spices, the first step would be to visit one of the many farmers’ markets Hong Kong has to offer. The easiest to visit would probably be the farmers’ market at the Star Ferry Central Pier, which currently runs on Wednesdays and Sundays, but there are also farmers’ markets in Tai Po, Mei Foo and Fanling.
Aside from the bulk buy retailers mentioned earlier, another option is to hit up SpiceBox Organics in the Mid-Levels, Kennedy Town and Tseung Kwan O for a variety of organic spices; they even have their own in-store vegetarian cafés for a quick bite or drink during your shop!
There’s also Regency Spices, a Hong Kong-based online store that specialises in sustainable spices. You can opt for your order to be packaged in recyclable paper to make it even more eco-friendly.
But the best way to access sustainable spices? Grow them! There’s no better alternative to fresh seasoning than by plucking something delicious straight out of your spice and herb box. Try looking around Prince Edward Flower Market to see what you can grow in your kitchen, window box, balcony or garden – and enjoy!
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