Table of Contents
Kebede, S. 1990. Domestic production of spices and herbs. p. 489-491. In:
J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press,
Domestic Production of Spices and Herbs
- DOMESTIC INDUSTRY PROBLEMS
- STIMULATING DOMESTIC PRODUCTION OF SPICES AND HERBS
- Paprika: an Example
The United States is a major importer of spices and herbs in the international
trade. In 1987 alone, the U.S. imported spices, herbs, spice and herb
oleoresins and essential oils in excess of U.S. $400 million. Some 91
countries export their raw spices and processed products to the U.S. every
year. Consumption in the U.S. of most herbs and spices has increased from a
little over one pound per person in 1965 to over two pounds in 1985 (Burns
1987a, b, Tucker and Maciarell 1987).
With the increase in consumption and increased importation, the industry is
experiencing major quality differences between products received from different
countries and, in some cases, between the same products from the same country
of origin. Quality differences observed are due to such factors as sanitation,
crop maturity, color value or stability, oil content and composition, and seed
size. Many of these differences could be due, in part, to variation in
harvesting times, processing techniques, or simply cultivar differences. The
problems associated with the procurement of raw products abroad are forcing the
industry to spend an ever increasing amount of money to correct these
shortcomings of one form or another and, causing a reevaluation of procuring
additional materials domestically. The following factors highlight some of the
major industry problems:
There is no simple solution to get around most of these difficulties as long as
we depend on imported products over which the industry (the buyer) has little
About 50 kinds of spices and herbs are annually imported into this country.
Knowledge of the source for these products may provide some information about
growing needs and cultivation practices of these plants. Many of the most
familiar spices such as allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, are
fruits or seeds from perennial woody plants adapted to tropical climates. Such
plants can not be grown on commercial scale in the U.S. However, some 40% of
the spices and herbs from the list of imports are of the annual and short
growing season crops. A number of these cultivars could be grown commercially
in many areas of the U.S. In fact, a great number of these are now grown on
commercial scale on farms on the West Coast. For a variety of reasons,
American farmers do not seem to be fully exposed to the potentials of these
crops if grown on contractual basis and for commercial scale. Factors that may
have disinterested farmers from such enterprise in the past could be:
- Quality differences in the raw product contribute to higher end product costs
because of additional standardization processes needed to produce uniform
- Political problems, changes in weather conditions where the spices are grown,
and government interference with the flow of trade from the traditional
exporting countries are making it difficult to consistently get the quantity
and quality of acceptable products at acceptable prices.
- Public awareness for some chemical contaminants on raw spices and herbs and
other agricultural products has forced USDA/FDA to be more strict on imported
raw agricultural products. Checking for some of the suspected chemicals is
very expensive and time consuming.
Although many more problems exist, the situation is improving. Interested
farmers now may contact the USDA, some state universities, the American Spice
Trade Association, or individual spice and herb processing companies and obtain
assistance in the production and marketing of these products. Some processing
companies in the U.S. are interested in promoting the domestic production of
these imported materials. Production contracts could be worked out with
processing companies for mutual benefit, providing price and quality of
domestic production is competitive with imports. Most important, studies are
now underway at some institutions to develop high quality disease resistant and
mechanically harvestable spices and herbs for the American farms.
There are problems of both an economic and non-economic nature that must be
overcome before the U.S. can become a major spice and herb producing country.
The research community should target its work to solve the long range problems
and leave it to the industry and the growers to adjust to the short term
- Production of spices and herbs is labor intensive. In general, American
farmers like production of crops that are more adapted to mechanical
- Marketing of spices and herbs without pre-arranged-ranged purchase contract
could be difficult and highly risky.
- Most farmers find it difficult to obtain technical help from agricultural
institutions or extension specialists on spices and herbs.
The situation in paprika may be summarized as follows:
Needed: High dry weight yield per unit area and high color value per
unit of dry product.
Major Producers: Spain, Eastern Europe, North Africa, California, and
Cultivars Grown: Require long growing season, all are hand harvested,
none are resistant to the common viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.
- Limited to narrow production areas of California and New Mexico.
- Land at present growing areas is expensive ($4000-5000/acre).
- Pod color lacks the Spanish and Eastern European hue.
- All are manually harvested.
- No disease resistant cultivars.
- All require 8-9 months of growing season.
Developing early-maturing (5-6 months) paprika could revolutionize paprika
production. It could push production into areas with lower operating costs, a
climate more favorable to fruit set and lengthen the harvesting and processing
season resulting in a lower final cost. These factors alone could contribute
to reduced imports and shift more of the market to domestically produced
paprika. Favorable changes on any single point mentioned above, could make a
substantial change in the position of U.S. paprika in world markets.
Basically, herbs are purchased for their essential oil values and flavor
characteristics. Imported herbs by the same name and from different countries
may have different quality standards. United States grown herbs have qualities
that are comparable to or better than herbs from the best known traditional
sources. A concerted effort on the part of growers and processors is now
needed in the U.S. to improve cultivars and agricultural practices. Research
is needed to develop the following:
- Early-maturation (5-6 months).
- Germination at lower temperatures (55°-60°F).
- Fruit set at high temperatures (90°-100°F).
- Disease resistance.
Solutions to these problems could significantly improve the position of
American farmers to economically produce many of the spices and herbs that can
be grown under our domestic climatic conditions. Assistance from the
agricultural institutions, the USDA and other interested parties will speed-up
the process of this change. Within the last 12 years, our company, Kalsec,
Inc., has developed contractual growers of spices and herbs within the U.S. and
neighboring countries to the point where we are now nearly self sufficient with
respect to four of our major products. We have projects underway to develop
the production of 3-4 types of herbs with domestic growers. Clearly, the
domestic production of many imported herbs and spices can be successfully
accomplished if we all work together.
- Cultivars and species that can be propagated easily and for low cost are winter
hardy, and adaptable to machine harvesting.
- Determine optimum time for harvest and maintain maximum quality.
- Determine optimum cultivation practices for maximum quality and maximum
- Determine the herbicides that can be used in herb production.
- Burns, T.J. 1987a. The economic significance of the American spice industry.
In: J.E. Simon and L. Grant (eds.) Proc. Second National Herb Growing and
Marketing Conference. Purdue Univ. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 530:127-128.
- Burns, T.F. 1987b. The role of the American Spice Trade Association in the
importation, sale and establishment of industry standards for herbs/spices. In:
J.E. Simon and L. Grant (eds.) Proc. Second National Herb Growing and Marketing
Conference. Purdue Univ. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 530:129-131.
- Tucker, A.O. and M.J. Maciarello. 1987. Trends in the U.S. importation of herbs
and spices. In: J.E. Simon and L. Grant (eds.) Proc. Second National Herb
Growing and Marketing Conference. Purdue Univ. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 530:6-11.
Last update March 25, 1997