We've introduced our range of organic spices in their new SpicePucks to both help home-chefs to become even better chefs, while also positively impacting the environment. We are posting a series of blogs discussing the environmental impact of our products.
Today’s story is about wasted natural resources ...
Each year, we throw away a fair amount of spices and herbs, either because they have lost their potency, have become old, or the container is almost empty. Throwing out spices and herbs obviously does not compare to the huge amount of food that is thrown out each year.
However, if we don’t look downstream towards the landfill, but instead, upstream at the impact on agriculture, spices demand a fair amount of natural resources and wasting them has significant impact. Each spice and herb requires a certain amount of space, certain soil conditions, and human labor before it can be harvested, processed, and prepped for sale to homechefs like us.
Spices and herbs are harvested from plants that require land, seeds and water as well as, hopefully, only natural fertilizer to grow. Unlike fresh fruit and vegetables, spices and herbs also require a fair amount of tender love and care after the harvest. Many must be washed and then carefully dried, both of which requires additional land, resources, and labor. Most dried spices and herbs then need to be cut & sifted or ground and carefully packaged. There are only very few spices and herbs that undergo minimal processing and remain whole (e.g. Juniper Berries). The "post-harvest" requirements differ greatly from simply packaging fresh fruits and vegetables at the field and shipping them to our local store.
The post-harvest processing of spices or herbs are often performed by the same farmer or in nearby facilities. Conceptually, reducing the waste of herbs and spices across the world, would require less farming and processing of spices in the first place. That reduction should translate into reduced labor and space requirement by farmers and free up labor and space to farm other agricultural products. The processing side should also see a reduction of labor, resources, and space. The reallocation of all of these resources towards farming more fruits and vegetables should increase produce availability worldwide and could contribute to a reduction of world hunger.
One great example is Saffron, which requires large amounts of land and labor. Each acre of Saffron farming generates only 2.5 lbs. of Saffron (versus almost 10,000 lbs. of corn for each acre). The post-harvest processing of Saffron also requires a fair amount of space (to dry) and manual labor to ensure that the tiny, single Saffron strings remain usable (not molded or otherwise destroyed) and potent.
Considering the difficulties of farming and of harvesting, Saffron is by far the most expensive spice and every ounce that is being wasted required a large amount of land and labor. Principally, all spices and herbs require significant amounts of land, resources, and labor, more than their small size would indicate.
Unfortunately, estimating the actual amount of natural resources that are prone to be wasted every year is extremely difficult since each spice and herb is being farmed differently, harvested, and processed differently all over the world. However, that does not mean that the arguments are invalid.