In May 2014, a team of military veterans got together in Brighton, MA to start Rumi Spice, a line of high quality, sustainably farmed saffron products sourced from rural Afghan farmers. It was then that founders Kimberly, Emily, and Keith set out on their mission. Their goal? To help build a strong agricultural system, thereby empowering the people of Afghanistan.
The team knows that there are many challenges facing the country, but they are determined to strengthen Afghanistan’s greatest resource… its people. It’s with this in mind that they seek to connect Afghan farmers to the international market, where products are in high demand!
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Rumi Spice products available on Undiscovered Kitchen:
- Rumi Spice Saffron Tea Kit: This saffron-infused loose leaf green tea has a bold color and flavor, and comes complete with instructions on how to brew the “Afghan” way.
- Rumi Spice Saffron (0.5 Gram): For those looking to give the spice a try. Add it to your favorite recipes for a Middle Eastern kick.
- Rumi Spice Saffron (1 Gram): For the established saffron fan. Once you’re hooked on it, stock your spice rack with this full-sized tin!
With an emphasis on the distinctly savory spice saffron, Rumi Spice offers authentic Afghan flavoring to your favorite dishes. Its flavor can only be described as “complex:” while some find it pleasantly bitter, others claim it’s lightly sweet. It pairs well with most meats Saffron is a highly versatile spice that can be included in infinite recipes, like paella, meatballs, drinks…even cookies!
Recipe: Saffron Vanilla Snickerdoodles
- 30 Rumi Spice Saffron threads (this will create 1/8 teaspoon of ground saffron)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 egg (room temperature)
- Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle until they are in a powder form. You can also mince the saffron as another option as well. Essentially, the finer the saffron, the more flavor and color will come out into the cookies.
- Put the milk and saffron into a small saucepan and cook over very low heat. When it starts to bubble, you can stop (~185 degrees F). As another option, you can put the milk and saffron into a small microwaveable bowl and microwave just until the milk is hot (20-30 seconds). Cover and let it steep for about 10 minutes until the milk becomes yellow.
- Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl.
- In a mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth (1-2 minutes). Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and sea salt and mix on low speed until well combined. Now mix on medium speed until light and fluffy (4-5 minutes).
- In a medium bowl, combine the milk mixture, egg, and vanilla extract and whisk it like a Polaroid picture? …Or until it’s well blended. With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg mixture very slowly in a steady stream until it’s smooth (30 seconds). Make sure to clean the batter off the edges and mix again for another 30 seconds. Now mix on low speed until the texture is consistent.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mold ¼ cup portions of the dough into balls and place them on the baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 16 minutes until golden, rotating the pan about halfway through. Ideally at this point, they should slightly undercooked in the center. Let them cool on the pan for 10 minutes before removing.
- Finally sit back and enjoy your well deserved treat with perhaps a cup of Rumi Spice Saffron Green Tea!
Who are the business founders and when did you launch the business?
Our founders are Kimberly Jung, Emily Miller, and Keith Alaniz. Rumi Spice was officially started on May 5, 2014.
What inspired you to start your business?
While on service, one of our founders met an Afghan farmer who had several kilograms of saffron lying around because he had no sellers. We realized that if we were able to create a safe channel to new markets for farmers, we would be able to help make saffron into a cash crop in Afghanistan, diverting attention from other, more dangerous crops.
Where do you currently make your product and how did you find the process of finding a kitchen to be like?
Currently, we import saffron from Herat, Afghanistan, and most of the packaging is done here in Brighton, Massachusetts. Saffron is a raw material, so we don’t really need a formal kitchen, but there can be challenges in creating a transparent, direct line of transfer with the farmers that we work with, which we are working through as our company grows.
Did you have a background in the food/drink industry when you started? (If not, what was your background?)
Not at all! I went to West Point and got my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering before serving as an Army Officer. It was during this time in Afghanistan that my fellow co-founders and I came up with the idea for Rumi Spice.
A business idea that was left on the editing room floor?
We are constantly working on developing our product, especially in terms of our retail packaging. Saffron has a simple, elegant beauty, and we seek to highlight the rich red tone of our Afghan saffron in the packaging. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve changed the labeling on our .5 gram and 1 gram products because it wasn’t the right shade of purple! That’s what makes this team so great – we have a hunger for perfection, which constantly drives us to improve in everything that we do.
What are some examples of rookie mistakes you made when starting out?
I wish we had been better about being upfront about goals and realistic expectations, both from ourselves in terms of the progression of the company and also from our employees in terms of task completion. It is a lot better to say “yes we reached that goal” or “no we didn’t” than to leave things open for interpretation.
Your biggest business challenge to date?
A big challenge that my team and I faced recently was fulfilling an order of a large quantity of individual packets of .03g of saffron for a recipe company. It was the first time we were forced to hire external help, and through the process, we learned a lot about planning (best way to package, required tools, time to package) and meeting deadlines. It was very difficult, but I am extremely proud of the way we came together to come with solutions to the issues we encountered!
How do you stay motivated in the face of competition?
Having spent so much time in Afghanistan, my co-founders and I have grown attached to the region and aspire to do as much as we can to help the Afghan citizens improve their quality of life. Despite the competition and challenges we face, we know that our work is very important, not only for the success of our company but also for the betterment of the Afghan people.
What’s the strangest customer request or feedback you’ve gotten?
While we were exhibiting at the Fancy Food Show in NYC this past June, someone told us that our company name was misleading because he thought we sold all kinds of spices. This struck as strange because we had never heard anything like that before. After discussing amongst ourselves, we realized that our name allowed us the opportunity to expand into other Afghan raw products in the future, which is exciting! What I’ve learnt through this company is that there really is no such thing as bad advice – everyone sees things in a different way, and hearing their side may help you catch something that you missed!
What are your goals for the next year?
Obviously, the goal is to continue to increase our outreach in terms of farmers and employees, which we are starting to do with the processing facility we are currently building in Herat. Someday, we might consider working with other Afghan products like pistachios to further increase the number of Afghans that we can help!
What makes your company unique?
There are many companies that work with spices and saffron, but what makes us unique is our story. As a veteran-founded company targeting economic development in Afghanistan, a country marked by poverty for years, we are able to connect to a lot of people because our passion for our product and the farmers that cultivate the product is palpable.
What’s your team or company motto/mantra?
“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” -Rumi.
We like this quote by the famous philosopher because we truly believe that if you are passionate about something, as we are about helping the Afghan farmers, then you have the power to do it.
Advice for someone with a great artisan food or drink idea?
Go out there and start talking to people and meeting people in your community – that’s the best way to find your inspiration! Especially in the speciality food industry, it is really important to have a solid network to build off of.
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