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Spice company links farmers around the globe with American palates

Ex-aid worker helps farmers export spices

Spice maestro Ethan Frisch has become a friend to farmers across the world. The relationship started when the former New York City chef was distributing aid in Afghanistan and came across ingredients he'd never tasted before. He thought those flavors should be in American kitchens, too. 

"I started bringing those spices home not as a business — just to share with friends in the restaurant industry," he told CBSN. 

When they asked for more, Frisch delivered. "There was a problem in the industry that it wasn't delivering ingredients that chefs were really excited about, and I saw a pretty clear way that I could solve that problem." 

"It's never happened before"

To fill the void, Frisch co-founded Burlap & Barrel, a single-origin spice company that sources ingredients from small farms in more than a dozen countries, including Guatemala, Iceland, India, Spain, Turkey, Vietnam and others. The partnership allows these farmers to export their own spices for the first time. 

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Ethan Frisch sources spices from small farms across 14 countries and exports them to the U.S. Ethan Frsich

"It's never happened before in the history of the spice trade, and the spice trade is one of the oldest industries in the world," he said. "We have set up a system where farmers can make a lot more money and know exactly where their products are going." 

Not only do consumers learn where their spices come from, but farmers get to see how their products are packaged, marketed, and consumed. To help spread the word, Burlap & Barrel maintains a Facebook group. 

When "people post a picture of the scrambled eggs they made with our Zanzibar black pepper, the farmers in Zanzibar can actually see those pictures," Frisch said, referencing the archipelago and islands off the coast of Tanzania.

Spotlighting farmers' "hard work"

Farmers say it's the opportunity of a lifetime, according to Frisch. "The best conversations are the ones where we show up on the farm and the farmer goes, 'What took you so long? I've been waiting for you to show up for 15 years.'"

But Frisch emphasizes that the farmers are front and center of Burlap & Barrel's business. "It's about highlighting a farmer's skill often honed over generations, to grow something that's absolutely exceptional and then just figuring out that last step of the supply chain. The hard work is done before we show up."

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