We decided to research and formalize our standards for herbs & spices, trying to get a handle on what herbs & spices you can buy that are grown in the USA, the premium in price you pay for them, some history and the reason why they may not be grown in the USA, or might be much more expensive. Spoiler alert, there are a lot of fantastic herbs and spices grown in the USA.
Garlic is a staple in every kitchen. While most would assume that their garlic came from California because they were once the biggest producer of Garlic, in fact about 80% of garlic in the world comes from China. However, the trade war has imposed tariffs on Chinese goods which has helped US garlic growers regain market share previously held by the Chinese. Not everyone is a fan of the garlic tariff — McCormick relies heavily on Chinese garlic.
You can usually identify garlic imported from China by the lack of roots, because they are legally required to remove the roots to prevent soilborne diseases from entering America. Most American growers choose not to remove the roots.
Though American-grown garlic is around three times more expensive than Chinese ones, there have been studies that show that California Garlic is heavier and denser, the flavor lasts longer, and we certainly agree with that. There are not a lot of California Garlics sold online but you can get the best ones from Chistopher Ranch, California’s top grower, for $29.99 (2 lbs). Christopher Ranch’s organic garlic is 100% natural and contains more vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids than imported varieties according to the National Food Laboratory.
Every dish we eat here at Buy Localized has one flavor-enhancing spice in common: Salt. As simple as it may seem, salt adds that extra “oomph” to the platter. There are multiple types of salt, and each type has a different production process. There are several methods to harvest salt in the United States. Solar is the most common, but I still see the vacuum evaporation method used by some salt producers. For larger industrial quantities, mining is done from underground salt deposits in Kansas and Utah.
Personally, I’ve found that sea salt is a lot healthier as it is an alkaline mineral that is beneficial to our body’s electrolyte balance, unlike chemically produced salts that could be unsafe for consumption due to contaminants.
The USA is one of the world’s top salt-producing countries. There’s one amongst many salt artisans in America, the Jacobsen Salt Co., that I like. Their salt is plastic-free and hand-harvested from the Oregon Coast.
Is it worth the price? Yes! At $2-3 an ounce, you get a fundamental spice that’s natural with a delicate flavor. It easily wins over the cheap yet chemically manufactured variants, and it’s what I like to pick up.
Black pepper is another spice we can only find grown in Hawaii, and even then we can only find 1 seller and it appears they are out of stock, and around twice the price of premium foreign pepper. We can’t make heads nor tails of black pepper, unlike many spices there seems to be almost no discussions at all about producing it domestically, nor any big barriers to domestic production. According to the US department of agriculture there is a reasonable chunk of the USA, in the south east, where it’s possible to cultivate, and it doesn’t have many natural pests. There are quite a few guides on how to grow it at home. For the moment we would advise you to contact Greenwell farms in Hawaii, or to choose a premium ethical version like this one.
Red pepper flakes
Over here at Buy Localized I put Chili flakes on and in almost everything! It is surprisingly difficult to find red pepper flakes that state they are grown in the USA. The USA still grows a lot of the peppers used in red pepper flakes, usually cayenne, but the spice producers mix it with foreign grown peppers to make their end product. Our pick for American grown red pepper flakes is Gustus Vitae, out of California. Their small batch red pepper flakes are delicious, and are all sourced from farms in California.
Traditional oregano is native to Eurasia, though the USA does have a native plant that is called mexican oregano, which is quite similar. Traditional oregano can grow in most of the USA, though commercially it’s typically grown in California. Like with red pepper flakes we have been impressed with the US grown oregano from Gustus Vitae, it’s got a fantastic flavor.
Basil is part of the mint family of plants, just like oregano, and is grown commercially in a number of US states including: Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, and North Carolina . It’s actually surprisingly difficult to find dried USA grown basil, the vast majority of the dried basil we have found was grown in Egypt. I assume most of the domestically produced supply is sold fresh, however we did find and enjoy this one, from Nature tea.
The only place we could find commercially grown Vanilla in the USA is in Hawaii, there are a number of companies operating farms there charging prices around twice as much as for foreign vanilla. The issue with vanilla is it can only be grown near the equator, and it’s very labor intensive. The bees that will pollinate it are only found in its native habitat, in Mexico, therefore to pollinate the plants they actually put some of the pollen on a sliver and manually insert it into the other buds. Currently 75% of the world’s vanilla is grown in Madagascar, and there are some incredible stories that get reported on about it. In our opinion you’ve got some good options in the Hawaiin grown brands, like the Vanillery, or Hawaiin Vanilla Co. They are working on making some commercial plantations in Florida as well, so stay tuned as we keep everyone up to date on those.
Soybeans and Soy Sauce
The USA has now become the world’s leading producer of soybeans. With a large volume of soybeans produced in the country, the USA exports half of production to other countries, with Mexico and Canada as stable markets. However, Brazil is recently becoming more competitive with production and price.
There are numerous products made from soy such as biodiesel, ink, oil, food and candles which are eco-friendly and non-toxic to use. Due to its diversity, soybeans can be transformed into almost anything. Henry Ford thought about making it into clothes and cars. Some of the most well-known use of this protein-rich legume is making it into cheese, tofu and of course, soy sauce. There are a lot of soy sauce brands and makes, but I really like Bluegrass Soy Sauce-Microbrewed. We found this beautifully crafted yet affordable soy sauce at a price of $2.66 / Fl Oz. It’s made from Non-GMO soybeans grown in Kentucky, and fermented in bourbon barrels, giving it a unique, bold taste. Significantly better in flavor and strength than the generic store-bought soy sauce.
We were very pleasantly surprised, a lot of really fantastic tasting spices are grown in the USA. We were also disappointed in how hard it was to get a lot of this information. Apparently you can import spices in bulk from Asia, divide them into small containers and you magically have Made in the USA spices, which we don’t agree with.
Doing this research has shown us something we almost always find, there is a lot of really great stuff made in the USA. I’m part of a lot of online communities about American made products, and the average viewpoint seems to be that everything is made abroad, and that’s not what we find. The USA is the third largest manufacturer in the world, and we continually encounter high quality, good value, interesting products that are made there.