Cooking at her mother’s side growing up in Ghana wasn’t exactly inspiring for Essie Bartels. “She would have a whole spice rack with 24 different spices and she would only use four to five of them,” says Bartels, who went on to found spice company Essie Spice.

The inspiration for that—and a willingness to explore her mother’s spice cabinet on her behalf—came from watching food television.

“I was like, ‘I’ll try this same dish, but use marjoram instead.’”

After moving to the United States for college, she lamented the lack of familiar flavors and launched her company in 2013. Her collection of sauces and spice blends marries traditional ingredients from her upbringing with the multicultural tastes she fell in love with while traveling the world.

Her Coco-for-Garlic Sauce combines coconut oil (common in West African cooking) with roasted garlic, shallots and peppers, inspired by her travels to Western Europe. Her Mekko Dry Rub adds a dash of Chinese five spice, cardamom and star anise to Ghana's ubiquitous kebab powder.

“I brought all of those influences and added my spices from home,” she says. “That’s when I started falling in love with cooking—when I could experiment.”

Essie Spice

See more from Essie Spice here in the Milk Street Store.