Living trends are part of the reason for this popularity, as people are spending more time at home and less time traveling and eating out. Many consumers are also concerned about food safety, and feel safer growing and using garden fresh herbs when they cook.
Cooking has changed as well, as ethnic cooking has become more popular. New herb varieties have been introduced for ethnic recipes and to liven up many traditional favorites. Here are a few that are popular with market growers and consumers alike:
- Sweet Thai Basil. Popular in Thailand, where it is called “Horapha,” and Vietnam, where it is called “Hun Que.”
- Chinese Leeks. Also called garlic chives, the flower stalks, complete with buds, are sold as “Gow Choy” in Chinese grocery stores and farmers markets.
- Epazote. This herb has long been used in traditional Mexican cooking, mainly to season chili sauces and bean dishes. A side benefit is that epazote aids digestion and helps prevent flatulence.
- Papalo. A popular herb in Hispanic cooking, with a flavor similar to cilantro and arugula.
- Shiso. This spicy oriental favorite, with a distinct cinnamon/clove flavor, is used in cooking, sushi and salads. Both red and free varieties are popular.
Because ethnic herbs are not as widely used or available as traditional herbs like parsley, market growers find they can be more profitable as a cash crop. Buyers include gourmet and ethnic cooks, restaurant chefs, farmers markets and grocery stores.
Market growers can profit with both fresh-cut herbs and plant sales in the spring. Two or three plants clustered in a 6-inch pot can be sold for a much higher price than a single plant in a 4-inch pot, yet costs only a few cents more to produce. As one successful herb grower reports:
“If you stay a little different, you remove yourself from the competitive market. A larger potted plant holds up better than smaller plants, and produces a heavier root system, which keeps the customer more satisfied. The smaller pots just don’t have the same survival as the larger plants.”
Market growers have found a recipe handout that explains how to cook with ethnic herbs can boost sales of potted plants and fresh cuts. Another sales booster is encouraging customers to pinch a little leaf off and taste the plant, so be sure to bring a “sampler” plant or two!
To learn more about making money as a herb grower, read Growing Herbs For Profit.