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Julie’s Place is very excited to announce a wonderful long lunch with herb and spice guru, Ian “Herbie” Hemphill.
Ian, author of “Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition”, among other respected books, will take you on a journey through the Middle East to learn about and experience their use of spices. And while he does, Julie Goodwin will cook for you the dishes that bring the stories to life. The lunch will consist of multiple delectable courses with wines.
Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to experience a journey through the world of spice with a peerless expert. And a beautiful lunch as well!
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Spice Appreciation Class
Introducing an informative spice appreciation class with Ian “Herbie” & Liz Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices.Spices are quite literally on trend as never before. We see spices in the majority of restaurant and café menus, the amazing colours and textures of spices feature in food magazines, and even restaurants and boutique food outlets call themselves by spice names to reinforce their foodie credentials.Nonetheless, mystery has surrounded spices, their origins and uses for thousands of years. However, how much do you really know about these wonders of nature, and the best ways to buy, store and use them in everyday meals?In this Spice Appreciation class, Ian “Herbie” Hemphill, author of the award winning Spice & Herb Bible, will take you on a magical mystery tour of the world of spices, while Liz prepares delectable tastings. Herbie will navigate through the exotic waters of the history of the spice trade. You will learn about many different spices, their origins, and how they are processed and traded. Most importantly, Herbie will de-mystify their flavours so you will feel comfortable using them in everyday cooking.Your ticket includes entry into our lucky door prizes giveaways at the event.Date: Friday 2 August 2019
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Julie’s Place is very excited to announce a wonderful long lunch with herb and spice guru, Ian “Herbie” Hemphill.
Ian, author of “Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition”, among other respected books, will take you on a journey through the Indian sub-continent to learn about and experience their use of spices. And while he does, Julie Goodwin will cook for you the dishes that bring the stories to life. The lunch will consist of multiple delectable courses with wines.
Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to experience a journey through the world of spice with a peerless expert. And a beautiful lunch as well!
As we wish you all the best for 2019, we want to thank you all most sincerely for giving us our busiest December in years. It’s great to know that the spice kits are still working well as gifts for your family and friends, and that your kitchens are well stocked with the best spices you can find.
It’s many years now since we introduced the suburb-specific Balmain and Rozelle Spice mix. Originally it was created at the request of Tourism NSW, when it was running a promotion for that Sydney area. After all this time, we feel that the sunny, fresh and outdoorsy profile of this mix would be better described as Sydney Spice. We have been running the same product under both names for nearly a year, and the time has come to let the old Balmain and Rozelle name slip away. So, if you’re a fan, look for it under the new name, Sydney Spice, for the same great flavor.
How often have you looked at your Turkish or Middle Eastern recipes and wondered about Urfa Biber (also called Isot or Pul Biber)? They are small Turkish chilli flakes, and we have finally found a supplier. Differing from most dried chilli flakes, the Urfa Biber flakes are mixed with a little vegetable oil and salt, giving them a salty tang similar to Sumac, with very pleasant rich yet not too hot chilli flavor. I’ve been putting Urfa Biber in our muhammara dip (see our website for the recipe), which is a staple in our house. We’ve also found a dusting of Urfa Biber is just the ticket on seared scallops. And because we love a little touch of chilli just about any time, we’ve mixed equal parts of Sumac and Urfa Biber, for a tangy, tasty, and slightly hot finishing touch, to sprinkle over our salads
Autumn Box of Ideas
The Autumn Box of Ideas has given us lots of fun as we’ve developed the recipes using some of our newest products. Rose Harissa is a star, as we can see from our sales that you’re loving it. Also in this season’s Box of Ideas are: Bill’s Steak Rub, Herbs de Provence, Tagine Spice Mix and Mustard Seed Ground. We’ve taken a mix’n’match approach this time, so you’ll find there are lots of variations and riffs to give you more options. It’s in an autumn-leaf russet-coloured box, and as usual, the price is $25.00 plus postage
Rose harissa is the most versatile of spice blends. Kate, who develops the recipes you see on our website, keeps a sauce on hand, simply made with Greek yoghurt, rose harissa and a little crème fraiche. It’s great as a dressing on a salad, or a drizzle over a grill. We love the dry mix sprinkled over slices of haloumi before we cook them in the pan … easy
Escape from the City
Did you happen to catch Escape From the City on ABC TV recently? Thanks to the few minutes shown where our old friend Simon Marnie visited the Herbie’s factory and had a nicely spiced meal with Herbie at home, lots of people have realized that we really are still in business … closing the shop in Rozelle did not mean that we ceased operations.
Laksa Spice Mix
Have you fallen into the habit of picking up a jar of curry or laksa paste when you’re at the supermarket? It’s so easy, isn’t it, whilst you’re there? Perhaps it’s time to remind you that pastes are mostly powdered spices mixed with onion, garlic, oil and water. (Read that label!) You have those extras at home, don’t you? Is it time you re-discovered our amazing Laksa Spice Mix? Most laksa pastes contain powdered shrimp, so if you’re vegetarian or vegan, ours is one of the few that will suit you. Many of our regular customers say they don’t bother to order laksa when they’re out any more, because they know they can make a terrific one at home, using their Herbie’s mix!
Spice Tours of India
It seems that our Spice Tours to India are back – we’re just having so much fun! Our forthcoming India – Food and Festivals later this year was filled from the list of those who had asked to kept informed as plans evolved. Plans are afoot for a tour in January 2020, focusing on Chillies (including the largest wholesale chilli market in the world) and those spices grown in the south of India, as well as some amazing not-so-well-known ancient historical sites. Plus a nice serving on the side of the kind of unbelievable luxury that India does so well for its visitors. If you’d like to know more about dates, costs etc, just let us know and we’ll put you on the email list and keep you updated as plans take shape.
The Essential Ingredient
The Essential Ingredient has moved from Rozelle, where it had become the quasi-Herbie’s, just up the road from where our shop used to be. With no renewal available on the Rozelle lease, they have found beautiful new premises in Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, where Sydney cooks can still find the complete Herbie’s Spices range, as well as all their other special kitchen needs. We wish all at Essential well in the new locality.
Making your own bespoke gin can be fun and satisfying if you have the right botanicals. Herbie’s Spices Ginspiration Spice Kit, combined with a vodka of your choosing, is a great way to commence your gin journey.
Juniper Berries are the main ingredient that must be used to call a product Gin. However there are a number of other botanicals, which when used in the correct proportions, open an Aladdin’s cave of exotic bespoke tastes for the adventurous gin drinker.
These spices are infused in vodka for just 3 days, you then strain the liquid off and bottle for your enjoyment, over ice or with your favourite tonic water.
JUNIPER BERRIES (Juniperus communis)
There are many different species of juniper, ranging from small shrubs 1.5 to 2 m high that provide us with the juniper berry of culinary use, to 12 m tall trees. Juniper bushes are compact with grey–green, ridged, sharp needle-like leaves that protrude at right angles, making the berries painful to harvest unless one is wearing strong gloves. The greenish-yellow flowers are indistinct and are followed by small, 7–10 mm diameter berries that take three years to mature. Initially hard and pale green, juniper berries ripen to blue–black, become fleshy and contain three sticky, hard brown seeds. When dried, the berries remain soft but if broken open, one will find the pith surrounding the seeds is quite friable. The aroma of juniper is immediately reminiscent of gin, with a woody, piney, resinous smell that is somewhat flowery and contains notes of turpentine. The flavour is equally pine-like, spicy, refreshing and savory, making it an excellent foil for rich, gamey or fatty foods. Although considered harmless to most, pregnant women and people with kidney problems are advised to avoid too much juniper.
Origin and History
Juniper trees are native to the Mediterranean, Arctic Norway, Russia, the north-west Himalayas and North America. Juniper has been regarded as a valuable item for medicinal purposes since the birth of Christ and has been considered throughout the ages as a magical plant. The Greek physicians Galen and Dioscorides wrote of juniper’s virtues around 100 AD and it is also mentioned in the Bible. Because of its air-cleansing piney fragrance, the foliage was used as a strewing herb to freshen stale air, and the Swiss burnt the berries with heating fuel in winter to sanitise stale classrooms. Juniper berries were sometimes utilised as a substitute for pepper, and they have been roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Gin, the alcoholic drink that derives its unique flavour from juniper berries, is named from an adaptation of the Dutch word for juniper, jenever.
Because juniper berries take three years to mature, a tree will bear both immature fruits and ready-to-be-harvested blue–black berries at the same time. The best-quality berries are picked by hand when ripe (usually in autumn) as any form of mechanical harvesting will crush these small pulpy spheres, allowing them to dry out and lose much of their flavour. We found picking juniper berries – nestled among their treacherous, needley foliage – so painful that we resorted to removing them with chopsticks. This was an inordinately slow task, which at least had the side-benefit of greatly improving our chopstick-handling skills.
Buying and Storage
Juniper berries are at their best when they are still moist and soft to the touch, squashing relatively easily between one’s fingers without crumbling from excessive dryness. It is not unusual for some berries to have a cloudy bloom on their indented, smooth blue–black skins, and although this is a harmless mould, berries that have not been properly dried may be excessively cloudy in appearance. Always wait to crush or grind juniper berries just before you use them, as the volatile component evaporates rapidly once exposed to the air. Store in a cool place in airtight packaging.
Juniper berries perform a unique role by contributing as much to the character of food through their ‘freshening’ ability as they do by way of their specific taste profile. As well as flavouring a dish, juniper cuts the gaminess of game, reduces the fatty effect of duck and pork and removes a perception of stodginess from bread stuffing. For this reason juniper berries are included in recipes for all sorts of game, such as venison, including reindeer in Scandinavia and wild duck in Ireland. They are added to fish and lamb and blend well with other herbs and spices, especially thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, allspice and onions and garlic. One application I am particularly fond of is in a simple chicken casserole, moistened with plenty of rough red wine and spiced with all the above plus a few juniper berries.
For information on hundreds of herbs, spices and spice blends, see The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill and published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Herbie is Guest Speaker at Tramsheds on 18th November at 11:00am
Join us inside Tramsheds every Sunday for our Growers Markets from 8am-2pm!
In collaboration with Bodega 1904, our weekly Growers Markets feature a selection of seasonal fruit and veg from a selection of our favourite growers, sustainable products from community providores and a changing schedule of workshops and masterclasses featuring winemakers, cheesemakers, chefs, authors and artists.
This Sunday 11 November our line-up includes a selection of local favourites.
DATE AND TIME
SUN, 28 OCTOBER 2018, 8:00 AM –MON, 1 JANUARY 0001, 12:00 AM
Meet our guest speaker, Ian (Herbie) Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices, for an entertaining and informative spice conversation.
In this talk Herbie will navigate through the exotic waters of the history of the spice trade. You will learn about many different spices, their origins, and how they are processed and traded. Most importantly, Herbie will answer your questions, de-mystify their flavours and explain the principles behind spice blending, so you will feel comfortable using them in everyday cooking.
Tramsheds is an all-weather undercover precinct with free parking available for the first 2 hours, and free parking after 6pm.
Food safety … food security … everyone hears the term, but unless you’re in the industry, you don’t quite know what it means. So let us fill you in on just what is involved in keeping your herbs and spices the way you want them to be. Certification by HACCP is the first step. The letters stand for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, and means that risks are assessed and pre-empted before problems occur, using a paper trail that ensures that everything is accountable and traceable. Quarantine of allergens is a good example … we have a dedicated mixer in a separate area, used only for nut and sesame mixes such as Dukkah and Za’atar, and nut raw materials are kept in a separate quarantined area shut away from all our other herbs and spices. A total clean-down process follows immediately after packing any products that contain possible allergens.
Allergens such as gluten are measured in parts per million. If any trace is found, it must be declared (in other parts of the world, a small leeway is allowed). So if you can imagine three grains of wheat amongst one million coriander seeds, that’s enough to mean that our labeling must show that presence as “may contain traces of gluten”. This tiny amount can be due to wind-borne glutens when a field of wheat is nearby to a field of coriander.
We are constantly vigilant with our incoming goods, as we are in an industry that is older than the Bible, and full of tricksters and age-old adulteration practices that are only slowly reducing. Trusted suppliers send their goods with a certificate of analysis, but sometimes the more unusual spices come from very remote rural areas where this is not possible. Analysis of imported materials is an ongoing cost for us, in order to be sure that we are worthy of the trust you put in us.
What’s new at Herbie’s? We’ve been busy creating a truly magical Rose Harissa – if you love our original Harissa, you’ll find this one a little milder and more complex. Use it to make a sauce, or mix to a paste with oil and water and spread onto chicken before roasting or steaming.
Also new, by special request, is Bill’s Steak Rub, in honour of our Californian stockist, Bill Williamson (see more later). It’s his favourite combination of porcini powder, pepper, onion, garlic and paprika for the perfect barbecue result.
There are two new spice kits in time for your Christmas shopping … or shopping for yourself and your family. The Box of Ideas, as always, brings new and different products to you every season. This Summer we’re looking at classic favourites that are appropriate for Christmas … Turkey Stuffing Mix, Gunpowder, Quatre Epices Savoury, Apple Pie Spice, and Satay Spice Mix. You’ll have all your holiday catering solved, for the modest cost of $25.00 plus postage.
Also sparkling new is our blue Vegan Kit, full of delightful healthy recipes enhanced by our Yemini “Hawaij” Mix, Furikake Seasoning, Bread Maker’s Seed Mix, Barberries, Korma Curry Mix and Ras el Hanout Super. Recipes include Pea Hummus with Seeded Crackers, Super Noodle Salad, Hawaij Roasted Carrots and lots more delicious meals. You don’t have to be a committed vegan to love this kit in our $38.00 range – it’s all delicious!
We also have good news for gin makers … diced orris root. You can now make your own gin without the cloudiness of a powder. So when you draw that person-who-has-everything in your Kris Kringle, and you opt for our Ginspiration Kit, the diced orris root will be a star inclusion in the kit.
There have been cries of shock and horror when it’s discovered that things are not what they seem – the oregano adulterated with olive leaves some time ago, and more recently the honey that proved to be not quite all honey. Look at it this way … when supermarkets promise ever-cheaper prices, and consumers want to pay less and less, it’s a case of getting what you pay for. When a producer is forced to sell a product for less than it costs to produce, naturally, that producer will minimize the cost by adding a cheaper component, or go out of business, leaving a team of blameless workers out of work. The ball’s in the court of the consumers.
Over 21 years, a chap’s allowed to change his mind, right? Herbie has reviewed his Herbie’s Favourites kit, after over 15 years, to reflect his all-time favourites, in his favourite curry-coloured box, it’s now $38.00.
We recently paid a visit to our Californian stockist, Williamson Wines, in the pretty village of Healdsburg. It’s always refreshing to see a different take on the use of spices and blends … for instance, a marrying of horseradish and Shichimi Togarashi coating a thinly-sliced steak fillet. What a fantastic and unexpected use for a blend that we had always expected to see used mostly with seafood! Cajun spice mix used on chicken wings with mirin and sesame oil was another delightful surprise. These fresh looks at old favourites can remind us all to keep our minds open to new possibilities at all times.
Are you a Rozelle local? We’re going to be in Rozelle at The Essential Ingredient’s Christmas bash on 29th November, from 5.00 to 8.00pm. We’ll be showcasing our Ginspiration gin, and showing you some quick dip ideas for your entertaining season.
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Herbie’s Spice Essentials
DATE AND TIME:
Sun. 28 October 2018
10:30 am – 1:30 pm AEDT
Cooking School at The Essential Ingredient
731-735 Darling St
Rozelle, NSW 2039
Join Australia’s spice guru Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill and daughter Kate (authors of The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition) in this hands-on class to explore the colourful and vibrant world of spices. Learn how spices bring readily available ingredients to life, including the art of making your own spice blends.
This will be the only hands-on Herbie’s course we will be running this year due to Kate’s schedule in the U.K so book early to avoid disappointment!
Muhamurra dip with za’atar flatbread (includes making flatbread)
Herbie has long been the nickname of Ian Hemphill, one of Australia’s foremost culinary herb and spice experts. Herbie and wife Liz started Herbie’s Spices in 1997, and after Forty-Five years of working in the herb and spice industry, Herbie is a well-respected and popular figure amongst his peers, in Australia and overseas.
Kate Hemphill, Ian & Liz’s eldest daughter, is an accomplished cook, a graduate of Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London, recipe contributor to The Spice & Herb Bible, and developer of most of the inspirational recipes you will find on www.herbies.com.au website.
1. Cancellations are not refundable.
2. The Essential Ingredient reserves the right to alter or cancel a class without notice. In the event of a change, you will be contacted on the daytime phone number provided to us at time of booking.
3. Registration is from 30 minutes prior to the class start time.
4. All classes and events require closed-in shoes.
5. We cannot accommodate dietary requirements in all cases. Please contact us prior to booking on 02 9555 8300.
What do you think of when you hear the word Curry? Does the image of a big pot of a protein swimming in lots of delicious rich gravy, served with rice and pappadams, come to your mind? When a curry powder is made, it is basically a spice mix, just as Baharat, Chermoula and barbecue blends are spice mixes. Don’t let yourself be restricted by preconceived ideas when you see a curry blend … use it to flavour a mayonnaise for salads, add it to your home-made vegetable soup, or use it to season the chops on your barbecue. (Don’t forget to add salt!) You’ll love the discoveries that come your way when you open your mind to wider horizons.
Speaking of curries, do you know about the Great Australian Curry? Throughout October and November, Australians are encouraged to host their own curry event, sharing a meal with family and friends and inviting guests to donate in order to provide a hand up to families living in poverty throughout Asia. With this hand up, families in need can build their own business and provide food, shelter and an education for their children. We at Herbie’s Spices are happy to be supporting this worthy cause, and it may appeal to you as well. For more information, see www.greataustraliancurry.org.au
When we look back on the food scene of 2018, the one ingredient that will stand out will be turmeric, which is being touted as a wonder food that will keep us all alive and well forever. These health claims are based on the component curcumin which is believed to have anti-inflammatory and other properties. What is not mentioned so often is that there are two types of dried turmeric powder … Madras turmeric, which is a sunshine yellow powder best used for its mild flavour and colouring capabilities, with a curcumin content of around 3.5%; and Alleppey turmeric, a rich orange colour with an oilier feel (it will roll itself into little balls if you swirl some around in a bowl), an earthier flavour, and up to 6.5% curcumin content. So, if you are looking for a health benefit, make sure you ask for the right one. We advise against expecting miracles. Use it in normal culinary applications, and don’t overdose!
Because of its robust flavour, Alleppey turmeric is our preferred one to use when we are making blends such as Chermoula and Persian spice mix. While we’re on the subject of turmeric in your diet, if you’re looking for easy ways to include it, don’t forget our turmeric-rich blend called Tempero Baiano – not a common name, as it’s a South American blend. There’s a great seafood stew recipe on the back, and we love to add it to our home-made soups. You’ll also find Turmeric Chai and Turmeric Seafood Rub to enhance your healthy diet.
Buttons, Brooches etc Handy Storage
Herbie’s has just had its twenty-first birthday … my, how the time has flown, and what good fun we have had! In this current anti-plastic bag age, we are proud to say that, for all these years, our Herbie’s Spices retail carry bags have been paper. The fact that our beautiful products are packed in a high-quality plastic zip-lock bag with low oxygen-transference is because it’s the very best way for you to store your spices to keep them at their best. But they are not single-use bags: in our house, you’ll find Herbie’s zip-lock bags keeping buttons organized beside the sewing machine, different-sized screws tidily separated in the workshop, and rings and brooches neatly stored and easily found. The empty bags are easy to wash, and you’ll find that, once you manage to prise up one corner of the label, it peels off easily. Tell us how you use your empty Herbie’s bags!
Did you enjoy the Winter Box of Ideas, and the way it expanded your repertoire of delicious warming meals? The reasoning behind the regular Box of Ideas is that it can work like a spice club, a new one for every season, but without tying you in to an annual club subscription. No product is ever repeated, so you can accumulate a wide range of spices by investing $25.00 four times a year. Our pretty spring-green box for this season contains Barberries, Desert Oak Ground (an Australian native you may not have met before), Italian Herbs and the delicious new Kashmiri “Basaar” curry, to bring you salads, comfort foods and more to see you through spring, that most changeable of seasons.
What’s new at Herbie’s? There are so many wonderful ways of combining spices in different parts of the world (see our South American Tempero Baiano, mentioned above), and we’ve had customers ask for a Yemeni Hawaij spice blend. We’ve been happy to oblige, and this richly peppery spice mix is a hit as a seasoning for our winter lentil/vegetable stew, although more traditionally used with foods like fried chicken. The main ingredients in the blend are black pepper, coriander, cumin and turmeric, with sparky elements of caraway, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves to give it life and balance.
We’re also pleased to announce the arrival of true Mexican oregano. Whilst our Australian-grown oregano has always been a perfectly adequate replacement, the Mexican has a different botanical name Poliomentha longiflora. Now your Mexican cooking can be truly authentic!
The vanilla problems mentioned in previous newsletters continue to bother us. Isn’t it great that we have discovered other ways to make our sweet foods interesting? If you don’t have vanilla, use a little ground star anise, fennel pollen or ground cardamom seed to enrich your custards, ice creams and desserts.
Sometimes the number of spices on offer can be daunting. There are just so many, and there are lots of names that aren’t familiar. If you feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, or you know someone who feels that way, there’s a part of our user-friendly website that can really help. On our home page, you will find, on the right hand side of your screen, “Herbie’s Q&A Videos – filmed in the USA”. You’ll feel as though you are having a conversation with Herbie, as he answers all your questions.
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SPICE APPRECIATION IN CONVERSATION AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD OF SPICES AT HEALTHY LIFE BONDI JUNCTION 12th August from 12:00 noon to 2:00pm
(With Ian “Herbie” Hemphill)
This is your chance to talk about spices with Australian spice guru, Ian Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices.
Herbie is the author of the award winning Spice & Herb Bible, an authoritative herb and spice treatise sold in Canada, the USA, the UK and Australia. Copies will be available for sale and signing by Ian on the day.
Some of the subjects you can discus with Ian are:
The history of the spice trade and the Hemphill family’s obsession with herbs and spices for over 50 years.
The difference between a herb and a spice.
Vanilla, how it is grown and processed.
Storage, how to store and what does shelf life actually mean?
Quality and Adulteration, what is quality, how to identify and why it is important?
Herbs and spices are key to healthy, sustainable diets.
Cinnamon and cassia, what’s the difference and why you need to know.
Pepper, once the world’s most traded spices.
Chilli and all its derivatives, unknown to India, China and Europe only 500 years ago.
Ras el Hanout the most exotic Moroccan inspired spice blend on Earth.
Fragrant Sweet Spice, is another exotic blend for everyday use.
We have recently noticed an increase in awareness of mastic as an ingredient, so have decided to share some previous information to help demystify this fascinating and useful spice.
Mastic is the name given to the resinous gum that exudes from the scored bark of the Gum Mastic Tree. There are many varieties of mastic trees (Pistacialentiscus) in the Mediterranean and Middle East, yet most of the world’s production of gum mastic comes from the “Protected Designation of Origin” trees (P. lentiscus var. Chia) that grow on the Greek island of Chios. The name mastic derives from the Greek word mastichon which means to chew.
Mastic has a slightly resinous, pine-like flavour and can be chewed just like chewing gum. Mastic is used in cooking for the consistency it gives to Greek slow-cooked lamb, it is used in ice cream and in The Spice & Herb Bible there is a recipe for an Asparagus and Mastic Summer Soup.
Between June and September, Mastic farmers ‘hurt’ the trees by scoring the bark. The tears that ooze out in stalactite-like strands fall onto white kaolin clay that has been spread on the ground below the trees. This promotes drying and contributes to the clarity of the mastic that falls onto it.
Mastic flowing from the scored bark of a Chios gum mastic tree
In this grove of gum mastic trees you can see the white kaolin clay that is spread around the base of the trees prior to scoring the bark.
The gathered mastic is then stored in cellars to further solidify, and during winter, families in the mastic villages clean and grade the resin into different sized ‘tears’ ready for sale.
Mastic stored in a cellar ready for cleaning and grading in winter.
Extract from Spice Notes & Recipes by Ian Hemphill:
The gum mastic tree, or schinos as the Chia variety is called in its native Greek island of Chios, is a slow-growing, hardy evergreen tree that averages 2–3 m in height, although some have been known to reach 5 m. The mastic tree has shiny dark-green leaves, resembling those of myrtle. The trunk is rough and gnarled and when tapped yields a clear resinous substance which when coagulated is called gum mastic. The valuable gum mastic flows when the grey bark has been cut, or ‘hurt’, to tap the supply. Full growth of these charming trees is achieved after 40–50 years, and some trees are known to be up to 200 years old. Mastic production commences when the trees are five to six years old, reaching maximum yield of up to 1 kg per tree when the tree is 15 years old. The end of a tree’s productive life comes at about 70 years of age.
The sappy gum hardens after ‘hurting’ and is most often seen in either large (3–5 mm) or small (2–3 mm) pieces, referred to as ‘tears’. The texture of these tears is brittle and somewhat crystalline. When broken, mastic tears reveal a shiny surface resembling a piece of chipped quartz and release a faint pine-like aroma. The flavour is initially bitter and mineral-like, becoming more neutral after a few minutes chewing, when it takes on the consistency and opaque fawn colour of chewing gum. Even after 15–20 minutes chewing, a surprising degree of mouth-freshening flavour remains, unlike today’s highly flavoured chewing gums, which seem to expire in a matter of minutes. In cooking mastic does contribute to flavour although its main function is for texture and as a binding agent. A gum mastic oil is also produced by distillation of the leaves and branches of mastic trees, however, few cooks would be familiar with it as its primary use is in the manufacturing of sweets, liqueurs and medicines.
Origin and History
One legend, which I feel is particularly appropriate, has it that when Saint Issidoros was tortured to death by the Romans in AD 250, his body was dragged under the mastic tree. Upon seeing the saint’s mutilated form, the tree started to cry with real tears.
There are many varieties of mastic trees in the Mediterranean and Middle East, yet most of the world’s production of gum mastic comes from the Greek island of Chios, where an unsurpassed passion and dedication to the gum mastic tree is evident, and there is even a Gum Mastic Grower’s Association. Mastic has a long history that dates back to classical times and is mentioned by erudite Greek authors such as Pliny, Dioscorides, Galenus and Theophrastus. Mastic was well known to the pharaohs, and was mentioned by Hippocrates (the ancient doctor known as ‘the father of medicine’) as a cure for all manner of ailments from baldness to intestinal and bladder problems, as a paste for toothache and to apply in cases of snakebite.
From the tenth century on, Chios became famous for its masticha. The name derives from the Greek word mastichon, which means ‘to chew’ and is the root of the English word ‘masticate’, for it was as a chewing gum and mouth freshener that mastic was commonly used. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the production of mastic was highly organised and controlled by the ‘Scriba Masticis’, clerks whose job was the registration of the production of gum mastic. Such was the importance of mastic that during Turkish occupation, mastic-producing villages on Chios were given special privileges, such as their own management and permission to strike the church bells. In all there were 21 mastic villages, which paid their tithes with 26 tonnes of mastic and were thus made free from paying all other taxes. As with most valuable commodities, the penalties for stealing gum mastic were draconian to say the least, and the severity related directly to the quantity stolen. Receivers of stolen mastic also had the same punishment meted out to them. These punitive measures ranged from having one’s ears and/or nose cut off, to branding with red-hot steel on the forehead, or getting your eyes burnt out. The ultimate penalty was hanging, if one was caught with over 200 kilos. Thus Kyriakus Pitsiccoli of Angona, when on one of his many visits to Chios between 1435 and 1440, was heard to say, ‘If you wish to live in Chios, just keep the gum mastic and never steal it.’
Today the Gum Mastic Grower’s Association lists 64 uses for mastic, extolling among other things, its anti-cancer properties, use in treatment of duodenal ulcers, benefits for oral hygiene and use in South Morocco and Mauritania as an aphrodisiac.
Production of gum mastic is still strictly controlled and occurs between June and September. This begins by first cleaning and levelling the ground around the base of the trees with white clay – called ‘currying’. The white clay contains limestone, which promotes drying and contributes to the clarity in mastic that falls onto it. The first cutting, or ‘hurt’, of 10–20 wounds is made on the trunk, typically in the morning, which is the best time for maximum sap flow. Up to 100 cuts are made over the season, however, too much ‘hurting’ of young trees will inhibit future yields. Over the next 10–20 days, coagulation takes place as gum mastic oozes out of the cuts. The tears are collected, first using a special tool called a ‘timitiri’ to remove them from the trunk. The rest of the mastic on the ground is collected, put into wooden crates and transferred to the houses where it is sorted, ready for cleaning by the village’s womenfolk during winter. After sieving to remove any adhering leaves and soil, the gum is washed in cold, soapy water, rinsed thoroughly and spread out on bags inside the houses to dry. After drying, a small knife is used to remove any remaining dirty particles. Much of the winter in the mastic villages is spent carefully cleaning the summer’s production by hand to prepare it for sale. Clean gum mastic is categorised into three main grades. ‘Pitta’ is the foam that occurs when many drops become one; this grade is the largest (pieces up to 7 cm in diameter) and has an oval shape. Next are large tears, which measure about 10–15 mm in length, and small tears that average 3–6 mm in diameter. Tiny pieces are classified as powder, and any uncleaned remains left over are usually distilled for use in perfumes and alcoholic drinks, such as ouzo and raki.
Buying and Storage
Gum mastic can be purchased from Greek and Middle Eastern food stores and specialty food retailers. The most common pack size is 1–5 g because it is relatively expensive and a recipe only requires a small amount to be used at a time. Tears should be quite clear and transparent with a slight golden tone. The best storage conditions are in a cool place, as exposure to extreme or prolonged heat will cause the tears to become cloudy and discolour, with a subsequent loss of flavour.
Mastic appears to have myriad applications ranging from the medicinal to the functional, including use as a stabiliser in paints, and for making varnishes, especially for musical instruments. It has been used in the production of tyres, aromatic soaps, insecticides and electrical insulators. Frankincense is produced from gum mastic and rosin, and mastic has been used in the tanning, weaving and bee-keeping industries. Where mastic really shines of course is when it comes to culinary uses. Besides being used in toothpaste, chewing gum and confectionery, it is an ingredient in the making of liqueurs. Included in the best and most authentic Turkish delight, it is found in recipes for breads and pastries, ice-creams, sweet puddings and almond cake.
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Spice Appreciation with Ian (Herbie) & Liz Hemphill in WA
Ian & Liz Hemphill will be visiting Matters of Taste Cooking School in Western Australia on 2nd June 2018 to entertain and inform about the world of spices.
Come to our Guest Presenter EVENT on Saturday 2nd June 2018
Ian (Herbie) and Liz Hemphill are the gracious owners of the iconic Herbies Spices based in Sydney. If you want to know anything about spices, they are the perfect people to answer your questions. With seemingly infinite knowledge, they join us for Spice Mastery.
Over forty five years of working in the industry, including face-to-face lectures to groups from the general public, industrial brokering, manufacturing and marketing, has made Herbie a well-respected and popular figure among his peers, in Australia and overseas. We use Herbies Spices in class to make our food taste exceptional.
Ian and Liz will take you on a fascinating and mind-boggling journey into the mystical world of spice. From Ian’s childhood growing up with his spice pioneering parents in the 50’s, to travels around the globe in search of stunning produce, Ian and Liz have many stories to tell.
Delight in this fabulous 3 hour class and leave with a greater knowledge of how to exquisitely spice up your cooking!
Class: Spice Appreciation Saturday Afternoon EVENT June 2nd 2.30pm to 5.00pm – 40 participants, row seating, Demonstration Style, Tastings included $89.00.