Here, Vice President of Global Sourcing for Frontier Natural Products Co-op Cole Daily explains the difference between organic spices and their non-organic counterparts, the steps taken to ensure the organic integrity of spices coming from abroad, and offers tips on how to maximize the shelf life of spices in your pantry.
Q: How are organic spices grown and processed differently than their non-organic counterparts?
A: Organic spices are grown without using any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Because of this, organic products are processed differently as well. While in the field, products are usually subject to more intensive hands-on work. Weeding and sometimes even harvesting are usually done by hand. Further, processing aids like anti-caking agents, are restricted when raw ingredients, such as herbs and spices, are being processed for final packaging. Silicon dioxide, which mitigates clumping and hardening of ground spices, is one of the few approved free-flowing/anti-caking agents allowable under NOP guidelines.
Q: Are organic spices grown outside of the United States held to the same organic standards as those grown within the U.S.? What steps does Frontier take to ensure the organic integrity of spices grown abroad?
Spices grown outside the United States are held to the same standard as those grown domestically. The National Organic Program has aided in this resolve as there are no allowances for any differences. Frontier partners with organic certification agencies throughout the world that audit our farmers and farmer groups to ensure they are operating within NOP guidelines. Further, we have a team of spice and botanical buyers that travel overseas to audit, train and support our farmers worldwide. Frontier works with them on technical and processing support and we also get involved in supporting their local infrastructure improvement projects. We have provided metal detection capabilities for our suppliers at source for example, and have also contributed resources for suppliers’ processing capabilities such as grinding and cleaning equipment. By providing resources at source farmers can benefit by providing a more value-added, higher quality product. These activities are guided by our ethical sourcing program, Well Earth, which has helped us bring high quality products to our customers while helping support local communities around the world.
Q: What is irradiation? Are organic spices allowed to be irradiated?
A: Irradiation, for lack of a better way to explain, is the process by which an item, in this case a spice, is exposed to radiation. In the case of spices, small doses of ionizing radiation like gamma rays, x-rays or electron-beam processing are used to kill bacteria in the spice. It is not allowed in regulations of organic food. The only pasteurization system allowable for organic spices is steam pasteurization. Both a continuous flow system and a batch system have been proven effective for the pasteurization of organic spices.
Q: How long should spices be kept, and what is the best way to store them?
A: Spices, if kept in a dark place at room temperature, can last for up to 3 years. The more processed an item is, the shorter its shelf life. So items that are ground should be replaced at least every 2 years. Light and oxygen break down spices rapidly, so keeping spices in a cupboard rather than out on the counter in your kitchen will allow them to last longer. Of course, buying smaller amounts of spices either through Frontier’s bulk program or our Simply Organic mini-spices is another way to limit the amount of time you might store a less-frequently used herb or spice since this maintains fresh aromas and robust flavors.
About Cole Daily
Cole Daily is Vice President of Global Sourcing for Frontier Natural Products Co-op, working there since 1991. As a member of Frontier's sourcing team, Cole helped Frontier grow its pioneering organic spice business into one of the largest in the United States by developing strong relationships with organic suppliers around the world. He has worked as a Board member for the American Spice Trade Association and holds a B.A. from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and an M.B.A. from the University of Iowa.