Market Monday: Spar Supermarkets and Modern Spice Trade

Gewürz(regal)inseln bei Spar

Compared to the stories of explorers and conquerors, trade on the Silk Road, and peppercorns worth their weight in gold, spices seem to have become nothing more than a little spice.

Pepper is just put on the table or awaits in the ready-made package you get in fast food places, for free and hardly worth anything.

At the same time, mention of spices still conjures up ideas of the exotic and the luxurious and a notion of special flavors and a healthful effect…

Thus, a wide selection of spices is usually only found in high-scale markets while ordinary supermarkets just offer the ordinary standard selection.

All that made it very noticeable to me, especially coming after a half year in China, when I walked into a “Spar” supermarket (one of Austria’s biggest chains) and found it presenting spices in their own, and large, area.

Spice (Rack) Islands...
Spice (Rack) Islands…

It was noticeable enough to me, in fact, that I went and asked representatives of that chain to explain…

Turns out, they have their own advisory panel made up e.g. of doctors who recommended this focus, and the offer is reportedly being taken up by the customers.

I must admit, I still wonder how much the average customer knows of those spices and their use, let alone decides between different producers when they offer the same spice(s).
(And I’d also know how much more diversity there would be, not least among chile peppers, even among the relatively good selection of true pepper, as well as with Sichuan pepper.)

But, it would appear that I’m just thinking in too complicated a way. (Not the first time.)

Local Producers (here at a Spar in Salzburg)
Local Producers (here at a Spar in Salzburg)

Apparently, people tend to just pick a recipe they want to try out, then use the ingredients list for their shopping ;)
Hardly the type of market I normally show in this series, but supermarkets have become the dominant players when it comes to food, including spices – and they play interesting roles.

Spar, for example, also works with smaller local producers in certain regions, making their products available more widely and more conveniently…

And many more products in general, and even some rather less well known spices, are thus much easier to find, in this case in Austria.


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