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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, Portland, OR.

Domestic Production of Spices and Herbs

Selashe Kebede

    1. Paprika: an Example
    2. Herbs


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 control.


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: 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 changes.

Paprika: an Example

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 New Mexico.
Cultivars Grown: Require long growing season, all are hand harvested, none are resistant to the common viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.

U.S. Production:

Cultivar Requirements
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:
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.


Last update March 25, 1997 by aw