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Evaluating Burlap and Barrel Spices: A Taste Test of Excellence

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

Burlap and Barrel is a company you may have seen on Shark Tank. They’ve made it their mission to provide high-quality fresh spices in the most ethical manner possible.

Their fair trade spices are sourced around the world from small farmers, improving the livelihood of these families and their communities.

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About Burlap and barrel

Burlap and Barrel is a public benefit corporation that aims to provide the best quality spices while supporting small farmers. They emphasize sustainable practices to reduce the environmental impact of our global food supply chain.

The company often partners with celebrity chefs and charitable foundations to raise awareness of various issues and generate donations for their causes.

Burlap and Barrel were featured on Shark Tank, where they turned down the deal they were offered. However, they have been able to utilize their exposure from the show to further their cause.

From their site:

Our mission is to end inequality and exploitation in food systems by connecting farmers to high-value markets, helping smallholders farmers generate larger share of the product’s value, and establishing long-term, mutually-beneficial partnerships.

Sustainability and Ethics

Burlap & Barrel operates as a Public Benefit Corporation with a mission to transform food systems by empowering smallholder farmers and establishing equitable supply chains.

They aim to address the historical inequalities of the spice trade by fostering transparent, direct relationships with partner farmers worldwide. Through these partnerships, they ensure fair compensation, paying farmers 2-10 times the commodity price.

Since their inception, they’ve disbursed over $1.7 million to partner farmers, fostering resilience and growth in their communities. The company prioritizes sustainable growth and long-term relationships, investing over $400,000 into partner farmers’ livelihoods in 2022 alone.

They collaborate closely with farmers, providing support for increased production, diversification of crops, and value-added processes. 

Regular farm visits and communication deepen their understanding of farmers’ needs and market dynamics, facilitating mutual growth and market resilience.

In addition to their commitment to fair compensation and sustainable practices, Burlap & Barrel offers consumers exceptional quality spices sourced directly from transparent supply chains. 

Personal Experience and Recommendations

Overall, I would 100% recommend using these spices, particularly for the spices you use most frequently. However, they are also great for the ones you love but have difficulty finding at your local grocery store.

The quality of the spices far outweighs the negatives in the usability of the jars.  I should note that as I used the spices more, this became less of an issue; I adapted to the pour and had better control over the amount used.

I would also encourage you to check out their recipe page, where you can filter their recipes by type of spice, diet (including vegetarian and vegan), and meal.

Product Review

I decided to try out a few of their many spices for a review.  I wanted to try a mix of options, including some that are similar to what I already had at home to compare, some blends, and some unfamiliar flavors. It was so hard to narrow it down!

In the end, I chose 6:

For what it’s worth, you can buy a package of every spice in their inventory for $699.99 (value $835.22). But I don’t have that kind of money.

1
Purple Stripe Garlic
Purple Stripe Garlic
From Burlap and Barrel: Our Purple Stripe Garlic powder, grown in the mountains of northern Vietnam, is savory and sweet, and its flavor adds depth and complexity to everything it touches. The powder can be used in place of fresh garlic, or as an upgrade to standard garlic powder.

Add it to tomato sauces, stews, salad dressings or simply it onto stir-fries or pizza. The rich, buttery aroma is a welcome addition to cooked dishes, breads and even as a sprinkle topping for pizza!

This is an heirloom variety with small bulbs and a purple stripe on its papery skin.
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My Take: This garlic powder is MUCH more potent than the grocery store brands you may be used to. Their advice to use less in your dishes than usual is good.

On side-by-side taste testing with garlic bread, it definitely has a more floral, complex taste than regular garlic powder, which is identifiable, even in recipes with other spices.

2
Toasted Onion Powder
Toasted Onion Powder
From Burlap and Barrel: Our Toasted Onion Powder has an exceptionally rich, sweet, toasty flavor that leaves other onion powders in the dust. It’s versatile, as happy in a blend as it is shining on its own.

The delicious allium flavor comes through in stews, stocks, braises, rubs, dressings, savory breads and more. It can even be used in sweet baked goods — its onion-y sweetness is unlike anything we’ve ever tasted.

Our onion powder is made according to a meticulous process of heating and cooling that develops a warm, caramelized flavor. Densely layered yellow onions are sliced and dried before being ground, and the deep flavor is a reflection of the care that goes into the processing of the onions.
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My Take: The product description is pretty accurate.

While the intensity of this product is not quite as noticeable as the garlic powder above, it is still stronger. But all three of us noted that it had a noticeably sweeter taste than the store-brand onion powder.

Despite taste-testing it in a savory setting, none of us were bothered by that sweetness. I also noticed the difference in other recipes.

3
Purple Dulse Flakes
Purple Dulse Flakes
From Burlap and Barrel: Our Purple Dulse is a savory, umami, colorful seaweed that is sustainably wild-harvested from the pristine waters of the North Atlantic Ocean along the rocky coasts of the Gulf of Maine between the US and Canada. It’s is perfect for soups, stews, stir-fries, sauces, salads and any other dish that needs an extra oomph. Use in cooking and garnishing for an irresistible nutty flavor or as an alternative to salt. It makes a great accompaniment to starches and sharp cheeses.

This dulse is solar-dried to preserved its nutrients, which include protein, dietary fiber, vitamin A (beta-carotene), iron, potassium, magnesium, chlorophyll, trace ocean minerals and B vitamins. It’s also an excellent source of iodine!
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My Take: This is such an interesting product! I've used it mostly to garnish my rice when we make various Asian-inspired dishes. It's absolutely gorgeous on the plate and brings a bit of that ocean taste to the dish.

What it is not, however, is salty. When I used it instead of salt for a few dishes as recommended, we all had to go back and add salt in the form of table salt or soy sauce.

It still has a great taste, though!

4
Herbes de Provence
Herbes de Provence
Herbes de Provence is an iconic blend of hardy, aromatic herbs and a cornerstone of French cooking. Unlike every other product in the US, ours is truly grown and blended in Provence itself, by a cooperative of farmers who cultivate organic heirloom herbs and craft a perfectly balanced, traditional mélange.
Add to tomato sauces, roasts, pan sauces and any other dish for a boost of savory, fragrant aromatics.
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My Take: This is a blend I've seen used on Food Network but have never cooked with before. It's a milder product than those described above.

I would compare it to the standard Italian blend; there's overlap but with a different flavor profile. I've found myself using the two interchangeably in my kitchen, and it helps add some variety to my dishes without having to seek out majorly new recipes.

5
Za’atar
Za’atar
Our spectacular Za’atar is grown and blended in Palestine, where it has been a staple seasoning, topping and condiment for as long as recorded history. The name za’atar refers to both the herb itself (a relative of oregano) and the classic blend where the herb is ground and mixed with sesame, sumac and salt. Use as a finishing spice, a seasoning to roast meat or vegetables, or as a dip mixed with fresh olive oil.

Za’atar is a blend named after its key ingredient, a Levantine species of oregano that flourishes in the region’s characteristic arid conditions, and it also includes sesame seeds, sumac and other ingredients, depending on who’s making it. Good za’atar tastes savory, deeply herbal, piney, nutty, tart and peppery.
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My Take: Za'atar is a relatively new-to-me blend that I love but have a tough time finding. In fact, the only place I've been able to find it is about an hour from my house, and only available in their bulk spice blend.

It was good in the dish I made with it, but it definitely was no comparison to the flavor of this product. Likely because what I bought sat in a bulk container for who knows how long!

Burlap and Barrel's description is spot on.

6
Smoke ‘N’ Herb
Smoke ‘N’ Herb
From Burlap and Barrel: Smoke ‘N’ Herb is a floral, tropical, all-purpose blend of salt, white and black pepper, herbs and smoky chipotle chilis. It’s a flavor to be treasured, with top notes of mint and fennel, umami in the middle and a funky finish. Smoke ‘N’ Herb is complex and effortless at the same time, with layers of herbs, spice and everything nice. Use it in rubs and marinades, or grind fresh over meats, vegetables or grains as a finishing touch.

This heady blend was made in collaboration with Ghetto Gastro, a Bronx–based culinary collective. They use food as a tool to tell stories about where we come from and the cultures that inspire us. Working together with Ghetto Gastro on this blend was, in their words, “an easy choice” because “we’re aligned when it comes to ending exploitation in food systems and beyond.” Stease the day and get grinding!

We’re proud to donate $1 from the sale of every jar to organizations supporting cannabis justice in our New York City community.

Unfortunately, this spice blend does not contain any actual cannabis.
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My Take: This product was a lot more mild than I expected. In contrast to the other products, where I used less than I usually do, I found I had to use quite a bit more than usual.

This was surprising because I expected a product in a grinder to be more potent than the others.

It is quite good when used as a garnish on top of finished recipes or in olive oil as a bread dip. I just found that when used as the main seasoning, say for tofu, it was very easily drowned out by anything else I may have added to the dish.

Packaging and Delivery

The delivery took 2-3 days, which is pretty good considering we aren’t dealing with Prime here.

It was packed pretty tightly in a cushioned envelope, with each spice further protected inside.

It also came with a fun surprise: 2 free kitchen towels!

As you can see, everything came in safe and sound.

Taste

I wanted to spend some time taste-testing the various spices before I put up my review. 

In the picture below, I set up a blind (to my husband and son) taste test using the Burlap & Barrel Spices versus a similar product I had in my spice cabinet already.

The three rows are for the 3 of us.  The columns are, in order, Burlap and Barrel Purple Stripe Garlic, garlic powder, Burlap and Barrel Toasted Onion, and onion powder.

The informational insert that came with my spices said to start with half the amount that I would usually use, so I tried my best to do that just by sprinkling from the container.

The results were unanimous across each spice.  The Purple Stripe Garlic was leaps and bounds better than the garlic powder I already had. 

We all agreed that we would definitely be able to taste a difference once this garlic powder was used in a full recipe rather than just on some toasted bread.

The onion was also deemed better but was more subtle. The flavor was deeper and sweeter but not as strong as the garlic.

My son ate the piece that was darker than the rest and reported a much bigger difference between the Burlap and Barrel spice and the one I had in my cabinet.

This is likely because it had quite a bit more seasoning on it than the other two (more on that later).

toasted crostini slices with various seasonings to taste test

Next, I decided to use the Smoke ‘N’ Herb blend on some breakfast taco filling I was making to eat for the rest of the week.

The best way I have to describe this blend is that it is similar to an Italian blend but amped up and smoky.  This product comes with a grinder top, which has its pros and cons. 

The tofu with the seasoning blend was fantastic.  I could still taste it pretty well with the rest of the filling ingredients added in. 

However, the addition of the salsa and goat cheese (a plan I had before I received the Burlap and Barrel delivery) drowned it out some. 

The next time I ate the tacos, I used shredded mozzarella instead, with no sauce, and I could taste the seasoning pretty well.

The last dish I made (that I remembered to photograph) was halloumi rolls.  

These are pretty simple to make: diced onions and halloumi, shredded mozzarella, and spices rolled up in puff pastry. Then, slice and bake the rolls. Serve with a big salad.

I used the Za’atar seasoning for this instead of the generic Italian blend I usually did, and it was definitely better than usual!

Usability

The usability of the products is where I came across the only cons of my spices.

The holes in the top of the powdered spices are too large, making it difficult to sprinkle the garlic and onion powders across the bread evenly.  This is why you see the blackened spot on that taste-test bread above.

I tried to get some of it off, but you can clearly see where a “chunk” of toasted onion powder was dropped instead of a sprinkle.

This isn’t a problem when using these in a regular recipe, but it definitely was a problem any time I tried to sprinkle the powders evenly on the food.

But the biggest problem lies with the grinder top.  When I tried to tear the perforated plastic off the top to open it, the entire lid popped off, causing me to spill a decent amount over my counter and a bit on the floor, which was understandably aggravating.

When I got the bottle put back together, I found that the grinding motion actually unscrewed the top of the jar, making me dump whole seasonings into the pan.

If you look super carefully, you can actually see the whole spices on the tofu above, even though I spooned a good bit of it out.

To use the grinder, you have to hold the base of the lid in place and then grind the spices into your food.   

Again, it’s not terrible, but it’s also not something I have to do with the pepper grinders I buy at the grocery store.

Other products

Burlap and Barrel provides a variety of products. I recommend their Spice Quiz to get started.

Especially if you’re overwhelmed by all of their options!

I took the quiz after I had already chosen my 6 products, and 2 out of the 6 recommendations matched up. From the remaining recommendations, I had just bought one at the store (crushed red pepper).

Two were ones that I considered buying, and the third was a set of 3 different blends.

Read on for some idea gathering!

Single Spices

Burlap and Barrel carries both basic and more exciting spice blends.

Their everyday basics page includes spices such as cinnamon, cumin, paprika, turmeric, chili powder, 5 spice, curry, and more. 

Each product specifies where they are sourced and gives interesting information about how their flavor profiles may vary from the products you are used to using.

Blends

The blends include flavor profiles from all over the world.

Examples include Adobo and Sazon from Puerto Rico, Berbere from Ethiopia, Chai from Zanzibar, and Five Spice from Vietnam.

But that alone doesn’t even do justice to the variety of blends they have.  You’ll also find things like Pickling Starter, Everything Brownie, Köfte Bahrat, and California Heat.

Collaborations

The Burlap and Barrell collaborations are such a cool idea.  

These are publications, celebrity chefs, other food companies, and non-profits that have created special blends or products just for Burlap and Barrel. Many of these are designed to generate funds for their special cause.

The Smoke’N’Herb from above is one example.  Mark Murphy, Bon Appetit, the LA Times, Jon Kung, Sohla and Ham El-Waylly, and Anjali Bhargava are some of the many other collaborators.  

In addition to seasonings, Burlap and Barrel have teamed up with Sfoglini to create a custom sun-dried tomato pasta,  Goodnow Farms to make a caramelized onion chocolate bar, and Barkha Cardoz to create an Indian Cookbook.

Burlap and Barrel Spice Club

The Spice Club is a quarterly subscription box that includes 4 full-sized seasonal products, 1 new collaboration, spice stories, recipes, and a special treat from another food company.

The cost is $45 per box, and could potentially make a great gift!

Burlap and Barrel Recipes

burlap and barrel promo code

Burlap and Barrel has offered my readers a special discount code!

If you spend $15 or more, they’ll give you a free grinder top bottle of whole black peppercorns.  Remember to add them to your cart, then enter code DietitianJenn to get your free product!

Criticisms or challenges with Burlap and Barrel Spices

Just like anything else, there are a few drawbacks to Burlap and Barrel.  

First off, their pricing is quite a bit higher than what you’ll find in the grocery store. 

And while this makes sense, given the drastically higher quality and fair-trade sourcing of the products, it can be cost-prohibitive for many people who are feeling the grocery store squeeze right now.

I would recommend being selective with 1-2 products starting out rather than immediately replacing your entire pantry stock.  

The second drawback is the availability of their products.  To me, this is a fairly mild drawback, but you can only buy Burlap and Barrel spices online.

Considering the ease of buying online nowadays and how quickly I received the package, I’m totally fine with this mild inconvenience. Particularly for harder-to-find spices. 

Their packaging was high-quality enough to ensure no breakage of products.

Lastly, because of how they source their products and their dedication to the freshest spices possible, some products are only available seasonally.

Again, this is 100% understandable, but it may come as a surprise when we’re not used to thinking about the seasonality of our dried spices and herbs.

Conclusion

Burlap and Barrel spices offer a unique and high-quality option for those looking to elevate their cooking experience.

Their commitment to sourcing directly from smallholder farmers around the world results in exceptional flavors that truly stand out in the kitchen. From single-origin peppercorns to smoked pimentón, each spice tells a story of craftsmanship and dedication.

By choosing Burlap and Barrel spices, home cooks can not only enhance their dishes but also support sustainable farming practices and empower communities globally.

With an impressive range of products to choose from, Burlap and Barrel is sure to become a staple in any discerning cook’s pantry.

Where can I buy Burlap and Barrel spices?

The best place to do this is directly from the source, their website.
Other options include Amazon, Wal-Mart (online only), and Hive.

What are the best Burlap and Barrel spices?

This largely depends on your preferences! According to Amazon, the top 5 rated products are the Royal Cinnamon (4.7/5 from 921 ratings) , Sun-Dried Tomato Powder (4.6/5 from 222 ratings), Purple Stripe Garlic (4.6/5 from 145 ratings), Za’atar (4.5/5 from 519 ratings), and Zanzibar Black Peppercorns (4.5/5 from 58 ratings).

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