How to Spice Up Your Kitchen Equitably

Diaspora Co. is creating a more equitable spice trade, one piquant masala at a time.

diaspora spices on a shelf

Andria Lo / Diaspora Co.

It began with the turmeric lattes. California-based Sana Javeri Kadri had an epiphany when she realized that the turmeric many Americans were dunking in their coffee was “dusty, old, and had no real traceability.” With flavor memories of the piquant, deeply flavored turmeric back home in India, she dived headlong into research on the spice trade.

To her dismay, she discovered that the system still had remnants of the subcontinent’s colonial past embedded inside. As she told Treehugger over email, “I was disappointed, but not surprised to learn how many different layers were there within the broken distribution model, and how little the farmers themselves were getting paid by the middlemen who distributed their spices.”

So, in 2016 she packed her bags for Mumbai, where her family has lived for generations. She spent over half a year visiting farms across the countryside and even the Indian Institute of Spices Research. A year later, when she was just 23, she launched Diaspora Co. with a single spice, Pragati Turmeric. “The goal was not only selling the freshest single-estate spices from family farms in India, but of creating a more equitable spice trade by paying our farmers fairly,” says Javeri Kadri.

Today Diaspora Co. retails over 40 spices and spice tools (such as the hand-spun brass container for spices or masala dabba made by Bangalore-based metal-spinning company Tiipoi), sourcing from India, Sri Lanka, and also Bhutan eventually. On the anvil is the launch of six masalas. “We now work with 200 family farms, and that number keeps growing! So, we’re chipping away at the system, farm by farm,” she says.

Sana Javeri Kadri
Sana Javeri Kadri, Diaspora Co.'s founder.

Aubrie Pick / Diaspora Co.

The Taste of Home

The most popular spices from their repertoire include their first product Pragati Turmeric and the fragrant Aranya Pepper, along with the Chai Masala, for which they spent four years sourcing the ingredients to perfect the concoction. A cohort of home chefs are their most loyal customers, who Javeri Kadri says relish the freshness of the spices. “In the traditional way of doing things, spices changed hands several times, and would often sit on the grocery store shelves for months (or years, even!) before they actually made it into someone’s kitchen. All of our spices are jarred and make their way to you within months of being harvested, so they’re as fresh as can be.”

While sampling spices, their first test is gauging the flavor. “We’ll get into in-depth conversations and onboarding processes with potential partners to make sure our values are aligned and that the partner has the resources to scale and maintain our quality standards,” says Javeri Kadri. This process can stretch from a few months to a few years, setting harvest techniques, processing, and quality controls in place, double lab testing the product before it is launched in the market.

trio of baking spices in glass jars

Melati Citrawireja / Diaspora Co.

An Equitable Future

In India, traditionally, spices have been grown by small family-run farms. Today, climate change, water scarcity, decline in pollinators, and overuse of fertilizers is posing a challenge to the community. Regenerative agriculture is emerging as a possible solution, with young farmers becoming stewards of the land and leading the movement.

“It’s honestly been so exciting to see the rise in regenerative agriculture across South Asia—especially being spearheaded by indigenous communities, women, and young people. This is the way that our ancestors were farming, but a double whammy of colonization and industrialization has meant that a lot of that ancestral knowledge and connection to the land has been lost over the past few generations,” Javeri Kadri says.

This challenge cannot be met without consumers who support this movement, which is why educating the customer is essential. On their part, through social media and other platforms, Diaspora Co. has been transparent about its processes, sharing detailed sourcing information as well as information on usage of the spices.

Diaspora Co. chai masala blend

Andria Lo / Diaspora Co.

“I think the big shift that actually needs to happen is amongst consumers: understanding that natural and regenerative farming is going to require a ton of support as well as a reframing on what food should cost, how fast it should get to you, when it should be available, and who should profit most.” As they launch more spices, Diaspora Co. is serving the flavors of South Asia to the world, while it helps to build a fresh narrative for its partners.