Beyond the Ethnic Aisle: 6 Vegan-Friendly US Brands Championing South Asian Culture
6 Mins Read
An increasing number of diaspora startups in the US are championing their South Asian heritage with offerings that pay homage to their culture while catering to a broad audience.
When I lived in the UK, my bedroom was always known as the spice market. I genuinely had more spices than clothes, stocked in big batches because they were never from my local supermarket. Instead, I’d always get them from India, filling an entire bag with all the spices every time I was travelling, alongside chips packets that I would find for five times the price in London, and Maggi. Because always, Maggi.
It’s a reality many South Asians will know of and relate to. Moving out of home to a new country is always a challenge, so it’s really helpful to have food – also known as instant happiness for many – that you’re familiar with and reminds you of home. Whether that’s homemade paranthas destined for the freezer, family recipes and condiments passed down multiple generations, or spices that we grew up around.
In the US, there’s now a plethora of brands catering to people like this, alongside citizens of South Asian heritage and the wider American population, sharing a taste of the subcontinent’s best offerings and entrepreneurial talent.
Here are some of the trailblazing US brands championing South Asian culture (shoutout to culture magazine The Juggernaut, a media platform dedicated to stories and news about the South Asian diaspora that showcases many of these startups):
Since we’re talking about spices, Diaspora Co. is a company I would have loved to have in the UK. Founded in 2017 by then-23-year-old Indian expat Sana Javeri Kadri, it sources single-origin spices straight from India and Sri Lanka, paying farmers four times the commodity price on average. It’s an elevated experience for South Asian cuisine fanatics – almost what I’d call specialty spice – with everything from ground varieties and whole spices to dried chillies, jaggery and tea.
Diaspora Co. also sells merch and accessories like chai caddies and masala dabbas (spice boxes found in every Indian kitchen), alongside gorgeously illustrated, bright tins of proprietary spice blends. Each individual spice has tasting notes and details about the harvest year and origin too. Plus, there’s a really neat Build Your Own Spice Shelf feature to personalise your rack.
You can buy Diaspora Co.’s products online via its website for $10 per pack.
Founded 10 years ago by first-generation Indian American Chitra Agrawal and her now-husband Ben Garthus, Brooklyn Delhi is a condiment company putting outstanding vegan twists on traditional Indian sauces like tikka masala, cashew butter masala and coconut cashew korma. On top of that, it offers two hot sauces based on Indian chillies, alongside chutneys and achaars (South Asian pickles).
The company uses clean-label formulations for its preservative-free products, with all ingredients being carefully sourced to suit each recipe (down to the kind of coconut cream and variety of mangoes). It’s also been endorsed by Canadian Indian influencer Lilly Singh – need I say more?
You can buy Brooklyn Delhi’s products online via its website for $10 per pack.
One of the newer brands on this list, Paro was founded by Umaimah Sharwani earlier this year, named after her mother. The company makes Pakistani-inspired meal kits that can be prepared in under 30 minutes, with both of the dishes being vegan.
Sharwani. who moved to New York from Pakistan for her education, always wanted a piece of her mother’s cooking, carrying ziplocked boxes of her lentil and spice mixes. Now, she’s spreading the love with meal kits for Kitchari and Masoor Dal. And if you’re not vegan, there’s a South Asian chilli crisp named after the South Asia tempering technique, Tarka, which uses ghee.
You can buy Paro’s meal kits online via its website for $10 per pack.
If you’ve ever had nimbu paani, you know that stuff hits different. To help you get a taste of the real thing, Bollygood makes a range of sparkling drinks inspired by the classic Indian lemonade, which is light on ingredients but heavy on flavour.
It was founded in 2021 by Maxie Henderson, who grew up in Canada in a South Asian household, spending summers visiting her grandparents in India. She launched the brand after realising there was a lack of representation of Indian beverages in US supermarkets. Bollygood has two flavoured lemonades and limeades that pack more than a punch, with the bubbles taking the refreshment to the next level.
South Asians love – and are known for – their heat. With that in mind, Alyzeh Rizvi and her husband Ahmer Zaidi launched Peepal People, a fermented hot sauce company, in 2020. It’s an ode to their Pakistani roots with a nod to their American home. Hot sauces aren’t something you find in Pakistan as a traditional food. Americans, though, love a good hot sauce. So they decided to blend Pakistani flavours into an American condiment for a beautiful marriage of culinary cultures.
Peepal People – named after the fig tree native to the subcontinent – offers three hot sauces, with a milder green chilli base, a fruity and versatility yellow chilli variant, and the extra-spicy red chilli version with bhut jholakia (ghost pepper).
Snacking is ingrained in South Asian food culture, and bringing a piece of that to the US is Vishal Ramakrishnan with his biscuit brand Kanira. The company makes healthful vegan biscuits (cookies, if you’re American) with ingredient sourcing and quality a high priority. It champions millets as an environmentally friendly and farmer-supporting food group – these require two to three times less water than grains like oats, wheat and corn, and can withstand higher temperatures.
The clean-label biscuits come in three flavours, all with a gluten-free base. They’re packed with prebiotic fibre and 4g of plant protein per serving, with half the sugar and carbs found in conventional biscuits.
You can buy Kanira’s products online via its website for $19.99 for a three-pack.
Bonus: Mango People
Okay, so this isn’t a food brand, but it’s a fantastic cosmetics company that we had to include. Growing up in Canada, Sravya Adusumilli struggled to find makeup that reflected her skin colour, and realised it’s a wider problem faced by the South Asian community in North America. So she launched Mango People in September 2020.
The brand’s name is a direct translation of the Hindi term for ‘common man’, with vegan makeup products inspired by Ayurveda and powered by adaptogens. The company claims it’s carbon neutral and its products are “infinitely recyclable”, given the packaging is made from recycled aluminium.