Essie Bartels
Justin Walker

This Small-Business Owner Goes Global on Sweet, Sour and Salty

Occupation: Owner, EssieSpice, New Jersey

Find her:

Essie Bartels moved to the United States from Ghana at 18 and spent the first part of her career at a multinational corporation, seeing the world. The flavors from her travels found their way into her home kitchen and then into her line of sauces and spice blends that meld international flavors with those of her native West Africa.

“I was in Mexico and tried these tamarind candies,” she says. “Tamarind is naturally a bit sour, but they added a lot of sugar so people would buy them. Then, the science part of my brain kicked in: I decided to melt the candies with water and put them on chicken wings, and that’s how my tamarind sauce came about. Tamarind is a tropical fruit from West Africa, but it’s now used in Caribbean food. It’s funny how everything comes full circle.”

Her best-selling Mango Chili Medley was inspired by a Jamaican Scotch bonnet chile sauce she was making when her sister suggested adding mango to balance the heat. Bartels likes using it as a spread, dip, or marinade. The Coco-for-Garlic sauce is her ode to time spent living and traveling across Western Europe. “It’s got roasted garlic and peppers with shallots and honey, but it’s made in a coconut oil base, which is traditional in West African cooking,” she says.

Though healthier cooking relies heavily on spices and herbs to boost flavor, sodium levels in premade blends can exceed daily recommendations. So keeping health in mind was an important step for Bartels. “I’m very particular about making sure I make great food that’s not bad for my customers.” she says.

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.