Scent may be the fastest way to recall places and times from our memory—but it can also transport you to faraway lands. Thanks to this slew of small-batch Southern spice companies bring the flavor, the heat, and the wanderlust of worldwide travels straight to your pantry. From the sustainably grown turmeric fields of India to a table in Thailand, these are the spices, salts, and blends we’re reaching for when the urge to travel is real.
Southern Spice Companies: Blends
We’ve been fans of Meherwan Irani’s Chai Pani restaurants since he launched them more than a decade ago, mostly for the bold use of spice and heat he applies to Indian street food. With the launch of his spice company Spicewalla in 2017, he started delivering fresh, thoughtfully sourced spices and blends to home cooks. Today, you’ll find a robust selection of spices, as well as blends crafted by Irani (many of which are inspired by his mother and grandmother), plus collaborations with chefs and restaurants across the South.
Our picks this season are the Forestry Camp Smoke Rub ($8.79), made alongside the Asheville restaurant of the same name, which offers a flavor-packed rub for smoked meats (try it on a butterflied chicken), as well as a tin of Diaspora Co. Turmeric ($11.09), made with a company dedicated to releasing single-origin, direct trade, sustainably farmed turmeric from India. This pungent version, some of the most fragrant we’ve tried, is ginger-y with bitter, earthy notes.
Crafted in small batches, Beautiful Briny Sea’s salts, salt blends, and sugar blends are meant to simplify the cooking and seasoning process—rather than creating your own at home, artisan producer Suzi Sheffield makes the magic for you, creating blends like the Cha Cha Delish ($8), an earthy, criollo-style blend of garlic, onion, pepper, and citrus that kicks up the flavor on grilled foods, as well as the Hot Steve ($8), a smoldering, sweat-inducing chile salt. Meanwhile, as its enchanted name implies, the smoky, rosemary-laced Unicorn Salt ($8) adds a thrillingly bit of wizardry to everything it seasons, from grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes to your homemade breads.
It’s hard to justify purchasing an entire jar of, say, Szechuan peppercorns, when all you need them for is one recipe. Southern spice company Occo has set out to remedy that by packaging high-quality spices in single-serve, airtight aluminum (read: recyclable) packets. A number of well-known chefs, including Asha Gomez and Nina Compton, are on board and have partnered with the brand to develop recipes with specific spices, which Occo then neatly packages and ships out in folder-like packs. We’re fans of Gomez’s Singapore Noodles ($5)—the pack comes with just the right amounts of coriander, cumin, garlic powder, crushed chili flakes, and turmeric.
Southern Spice Companies: Blends and Teas
This Nashville-based shop is a small but fragrant home to hundreds of spices, spice blends, and teas, curated by owner Aarika Patel, whose parents once also owned a spice store in town. Just browsing this selection at this spice company will take you along the winding spice routes, but Patel’s glass-vial sets make the selection easier, especially since she ships direct.
The Up in Smoke set ($25) brings all the heady scents of outdoor cooking with a sampling of smoked black peppercorn, smokey citrus salt, hot smoked paprika, and others, while the more location-specific sets, like the Thai Spice ($25), make dabbling in international cuisines an easier lift—instead of making multiple stops to pick up chiles, seeds, peppers, and spices, they’re tidily packaged in handy amounts.
- by Erin Byers Murray