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The Artisan Hoax? Bring Meaning Back to Artisan Spices

Updated on August 4, 2013

According to Orth, it's all about finding spice plantations from around the world that use sustainable practices, such as growing organic, non-irrigated herbs and spices. But not only that, specialists must have the following characteristics.

"Firstly, I believe an artisan is someone who is particularly skilled at hand-crafting a specific good," Orth said. "In so doing, the artisan is opting to specialize and apply their skills towards a particular craft.

"Secondly, I believe artisans craft their goods using traditional tools and techniques. In many cases, the tools that an artisan relies most heavily on are their own two hands."

What does Artisan Really Mean?

I recently read a Time article about the Artisan hoax, and the sudden meaninglessness of the word. While I admit I never knew what "Artisan" meant, I knew "quality" was an attribute. But as the Time article pointed out, when Dominoes calls their pizzas artisan, is quality really a factor?

As a food lover/blogger, I particularly search for Artisan spices to include in my recipes. But my utter confusion had me turn to an expert in the artisan field, Robert Orth of Calicutts spices.

A Chili Powder blend with slow toasted Chiles, and Cumin seeds over a fired cast-iron skillet to bring out the spice's volatile oils.
A Chili Powder blend with slow toasted Chiles, and Cumin seeds over a fired cast-iron skillet to bring out the spice's volatile oils. | Source

What is a True Artisan?

Orth's final belief on the true meaning of Artisan is whether the specialist has passion about what they're making. If they don't, well, they're not an artisan. Simple as that.

"Artisans are abundantly passionate about the goods that they create, and it’s that passion which undergirds the artisan’s motivation to get out of bed every morning," Orth said. "Where all of these characteristics come together and passion intersects with the entrepreneurial spirit, is where you’ll find the true artisan."

6 Artisan Spice Blends

Set of 6 Artisan Spice Blends (Your Choice)
Set of 6 Artisan Spice Blends (Your Choice) | Source

Think "Health" When Thinking "Artisan"

Orth pointed out that there are many levels of being an artisan, and therefor, many levels of artisan goods. Upholding these three characteristics are fundamental in finding the tastiest, healthiest, and most memorable foods, herbs and spices available. Don't be fooled by commercial gimmicks that claim their foods are artisan.

If you can't remember these three characteristics, then just remember this one important detail: health.

"Health is important, and a cornerstone value of the business is to not cut corners to make a quick buck," Orth said. "Cutting corners in the food business often jeopardizes health."

I can think of many businesses that "cut corners to make a quick buck." While I have no idea whether Dominoes crusts or spices apply such practices, I'm resolute on two facts: first, quality is a contributor to spices. It defines the taste of a meal, and has the ability to turn an ordinary recipe into something extraordinary. Cliché? Yes. But true.

Second, Dominoes is not healthy. Neither are many name brand companies that claim their foods are artisan. And as Orth points out, health-not just quality-is essential within artisan goods.

Is Dominoes Artisan?

What do you think? Is Dominoes, and other commercial businesses Artisan?
What do you think? Is Dominoes, and other commercial businesses Artisan? | Source

Debunk the "Artisan Myth"

So let's debunk the Artisan myth. It sheds a bad light on businesses that are truly artisan. Instead, let's be aware of what makes an artisan product artisan. As a foodie, I want maximized flavor and freshness. For that, the artisan has some work to do.

"In my business, every herb and spice receives special attention," Orth said. "If it's an herb, the herb gets hand rubbed. This helps to release the herb's volatile oils, and contained within those oils is maximized flavor!"

But what about artisan spices? The cupboards of foodies across the globe are well stocked with spices such as cumin, coriander and fennel. I can attest to that with a simple picture of my own kitchen cupboard. But do these spice brands offer maximized flavor, or just an expensive price and pretty label?

"If it's a spice, they get slow-toasted individually over a fired cast-iron skillet to help release their volatile oils," Orth said. "Sometime's they'll go in the oven to gently roast."


Gently Roasted Sweet Spices

Orth included cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg among the spices in need of gentle roasting. This lengthy process is worthwhile in the end. It keeps spice blends pure and non-diluted with fillers like chile stems, and cardamom hulls.

Are you currently wondering if your own spices are artisan? Then do like me and demand answers by heading the companies site and ask them specifically: "Do you apply these practices? Can your spices be considered 'artisan'?"

Is your Kitchen Cupboard "Artisan"?

If you don't have artisan spices and herbs in your cupboards, now is a good time to start. Taste the difference between Calicutts Spices chili powder to the chili powder in your cupboard. It's the quality, care, passion and one heck of a lengthy process that separates Artisan from True Artisan.

"For the artisan, the best reward comes in the intangible form of customer praise towards their product," Orth said. "It’s about the satisfaction of hearing customer’s convey how beautiful, or delicious, or beneficial, the artisan’s hand-crafted products are. For me, keeping all of that in mind, I believe that is the profile of a true artisan."

Bottom Line

  • Artisan spices are organic and non-irridated
  • Most artisans practice traditional techniques
  • There are many levels of artisans; upholding the three characteristics can separate good artisans from great artisans
  • Health is important within artisan foods, such as spices
  • A lengthy process is necessary to release volatile oils that creates the essence of the spice or herbs flavor
  • Artisan is not a hoax; but there are gimmicks

What is Artisan? Take the Quiz!

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