Tag Archive: Behind the Scenes

  1. SPICE TRAIL WITH IAN HEMPHILL @ JULIE’S PLACE, GOSFORD

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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!

  2. Juniper, Gin and Ginspiration!

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    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.

     

    Botanicals included in the Herbie’s Spices Ginspiration Spice Kit are: Juniper Berries, Coriander Seeds, Rose Petals, Orange Peel Pieces, Orris Root GranulesGrains of ParadiseCubeb Peppercorns, Lavender Flowers, Schinus Pink Peppercorns and Sri Lankan Cinnamon.

     

     

     

    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.

    Processing

    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.

    Use

    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.

     

  3. Herbie is Guest Speaker at Tramsheds on 18th November

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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

    EVERY SUNDAY BETWEEN 8AM – 2PM

    GUEST SPEAKER FROM 11AM – Ian ‘Herbie” Hemphill from Herbie’s Spices

    LOCATION
    TRAMSHEDS, 1 DALGAL WAY
    FOREST LODGE, 2037
    PRICE
    FREE

    Guest speaker – 18th of November
    From 11:00am

    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.

  4. NEWSLETTER SUMMER 2018 – 2019

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    NEWSLETTER                                                   SUMMER 2018-19

    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.

     

    We wish you all the very best for your Christmas and holiday season.

    Herbie and Liz

  5. Spice Essentials with Herbie & Kate in Rozelle

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    Herbie’s Spice Essentials

    DATE AND TIME:
    Sun. 28 October 2018
    10:30 am – 1:30 pm AEDT
    LOCATION:
    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!

    The Menu

    • Muhamurra dip with za’atar flatbread (includes making flatbread)
    • Schichimi seared tuna with ponzu dressing
    • Chicken Bastilla
    • Lavender and Lemon Olive Oil Cakes

    Plus making your own spice blend to take home using Herbie’s original Spice Pyramid ©

    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.

    Booking Conditions:
    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.

    Click here to view our full terms and conditions.

  6. NEWSLETTER SPRING 2018

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    NEWSLETTER SPRING 2018

    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.

     

    Happy Spicing,

    Herbie & Liz

  7. Spice Appreciation in Conversation at Bondi Junction

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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.

    For more information and recipes refer to;

    The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill

    HEALTHY LIFE BONDI JUNCTION

    Shop 1025, Level 1 (In front of Coles)

    Westfield Shopping Centre

    Bondi Junction, NSW, 2022

    Tel: 02 9389 3266

  8. Mastic Update

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    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 (Pistacia lentiscus) 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

    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.

    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.

    Mastic stored in a cellar ready for cleaning and grading in winter.

    Mastic 'tears'

    Mastic ‘tears’

    These are the mastic tears we sell at Herbie’s Spices.

    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.

    Processing

    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.

    Use

    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.

    Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition with over 120 new recipes by Herbie's daughter Kate.

    Source: The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill. Published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

    Herbie visits Chios, the home of Gum Mastic.

  9. Spice Appreciation with Ian (Herbie) & Liz Hemphill in WA

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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.

    Book on this page.

    Included in this class….

    • Slow Roasted Sumac Tomatoes, Avocado, Leaves, Crostini
    • Ras el Hanout Chicken, Roasted Vegetables, Couscous
    • Chicken Chettinad, Steamed Rice
    • Fragrant Berries with Matters of Taste’s Housemade Yoghurt

    Dietary Information

    Whilst we endeavour to accommodate food preferences and allergen avoidance, some classes are not suitable for participants with life threatening reactions.

    You are welcome to contact us for any further clarification and to ask further questions regarding the suitability of this one-off class content.

  10. Spice Mastery with Ian (Herbie) & Liz Hemphill in WA

    Comments Off on Spice Mastery with Ian (Herbie) & Liz Hemphill in WA

    Ian & Liz Hemphill will be visiting Matters of Taste Cooking School in Western Australia on 1st and 2nd June 2018 to entertain and inform about the world of spices.

    Choose from a Guest Presenter EVENT or come along and join us as part of our popular Friday Lunch Club class series.

    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!

    LIMITED NUMBERS – 2 CLASSES ONLY

    Class #1 FRIDAY LUNCH CLUB June 1st 11.00am to 1.30pm – 24 participants, table seating, Demonstration Style, Full Lunch included $125.00. Book on this page.

    Class #2 Saturday Afternoon EVENT June 2nd 2.30pm to 5.00pm – 40 participants, row seating, Demonstration Style, Tastings included $89.00. Book on this page.

    Included in this class….

    • Slow Roasted Sumac Tomatoes, Avocado, Leaves, Crostini
    • Ras el Hanout Chicken, Roasted Vegetables, Couscous
    • Chicken Chettinad, Steamed Rice
    • Fragrant Berries with Matters of Taste’s Housemade Yoghurt

    Dietary Information

    Whilst we endeavour to accommodate food preferences and allergen avoidance, some classes are not suitable for participants with life threatening reactions.

    You are welcome to contact us for any further clarification and to ask further questions regarding the suitability of this one-off class content.

  11. Stroll in a Spice Garden

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    Herbie strolls in an Indian Spice Garden with a group of travellers.

    A modern trend in agriculture is to focus on broad-acre cropping to achieve greater efficiencies. One may be surprised to learn that many spices are still grown on small family-owned holdings, where more than one crop is cultivated. There is a simple logic to this method, one that has served Indian spice farmers for centuries, and has a few key reasons for being sustained.

    These are:

    • A diverse planting is less likely to be wiped out by one disease that affects only one crop
    • Different plants are harvested at different times, spreading the workload and averaging out the farmer’s income stream
    • Prices will always fluctuate, and a diversity of crops helps to stabilise a farmer’s revenue

    Herbie and Liz visited India with a group of spice travellers in March 2018, and these were some of the interesting things we saw when strolling through a family-owned spice farm in Kumily, in the south western state of Kerala, India.

    Spike of Green Peppercorns

    This is a spike of green peppercorns ready to be harvested.

    Pepper is a tropical climbing vine, and the flower raceme is fertilised by the monsoon rain running down it. After a good monsoon, the spikes will be full of plump green berries.

     

    Remains of Pepper Vine Flower Stem

    Peppercorns that are left on the vine will gradually ripen and turn yellow then red.

    Ripe, Red Peppercorns on Stem

    To make black pepper, the green berries are threshed to remove the stems, then put out on mats in the sun to dry. During drying, an enzyme in the skin of the peppercorn turns it black, and creates the volatile oil that gives black pepper its characteristic flavour and aroma.

    Peppercorns Drying Before Sieving

    After drying, the peppercorns are sieved to remove pieces of stalk, and ‘light berries’. Light berries, (often called ‘pinheads’) are empty berries. That is they don’t contain the white centre you see when you crack a peppercorn. The white ‘heart’ of a peppercorn contains most of the piperine, and it is piperine that gives pepper its heat.

    Cleaning Dried Black Pepper

    The waste material is usually ground and added to low grade ground black pepper.

    So how is white pepper made?

    Ripe red peppercorns are soaked in water for up to a week in a process called ‘retting’. They are then removed from the water, macerated to remove the enzyme-containing skin that makes a peppercorn turn black, and dried in the sun. The result is a white peppercorn that is hotter than a black one, and does not have a black pepper taste.

    Here’s a question for you:

    What do you think is hottest, very black ground black pepper or pale grey ground black pepper?

    The answer is counter-intuitive. The pale grey one is the hottest, as it is made from complete black peppercorns, which have a white core and have not been adulterated with pinheads (empty berries).

    The next spice we came to was one of my long time favourites, Cardamom.

    Cardamom Pods and Flowers

    Cardamom is a member of the ginger family, and unlike ginger it flowers at the base of the plant. After flowering the green cardamom pods form like little green peas.

    Close Up Cardamom Flower

    Cardamom pods are one of the few spices that are dried in the dark. This helps to retain their green colour and optimum flavour.

    Cardamom is considered to be an environmentally friendly spice, because the plants like shade and are cultivated in rain forest areas that don’t have to be cleared. The shady canopy in the forest provides an ideal environment for cardamom.

    The same spice garden was dotted with a number of clove trees, all in bud. Cloves are native to the Indonesian spice islands and are now grown in many tropical parts of the world, including Kerala.

    Clove Buds

    These clove buds will be harvested just before they open into flowers. Like pepper, the clove buds will be put out in the sun to dry and the enzyme that naturally occurs in a clove bud will turn it black and create the volatile oil eugenol. Eugenol is a strong natural anesthetic and antiseptic.

    While in the spice garden we were fortunate enough to be given an insight into one of the oldest forms of trade negotiations. 

    The spice trade has always been surrounded in mystery, and one of the most fascinating rituals that prevails is the method of negotiating prices!

    This video starts to explain the process of secret spice negotiation

    What a secret negotiation looks like to the observer

     

     

    This is what’s going on under cover!

     

     

    For more information about spices and the spice trade, see The Spice & Herb Bible Third Edition by Ian Hemphill, published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario Canada.

  12. NEWSLETTER – AUTUMN – 2018

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    NEWSLETTER                                                                         AUTUMN 2018

    What was your stand-out food experience over the Christmas season?  We had an American-themed Christmas lunch for our staff at our place, and everyone was blown away by the pork ribs.  (And speaking of our wonderful staff, were you all happy with our service in the run-up to Christmas?  The girls were super-busy and worked very long days to make sure everything went out on time.)  The recipe is a bit too long to go on the Rib Spice label, so here it is:

    American-Style Pork Ribs

     2 whole racks of baby back ribs                

    ¼ cup Rib Spice Mix

     Barbecue Sauce:

               125 grams bacon, rindless                         1 brown onion, diced

               4 cloves garlic, minced                              1 can crushed tomatoes

               ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce                      ½ cup apple cider vinegar

               1 cup molasses                                             1½ cups brown sugar

               2 Tablespoons Rib Spice Mix                      salt to taste

     Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.

     Lay the ribs out on a cutting board and pat dry with paper towels.  Season both sides of the ribs with the spice mix.  Line a baking sheet with foil and set the ribs on top.  Wrap the ribs tightly in the foil and bake in the oven for 2½ hours.

     Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium high heat.  When the dry pot is heated, add bacon and fry until crispy, making sure to render as much fat as possible from the bacon. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat, then add the onion and garlic.  Sweat for about 5 minutes until onion is translucent.  Add the tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, molasses and sugar. Stir until the ingredients are well incorporated and beginning to dissolve.  Cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for at least an hour, or until the ribs are almost done.  Adjust seasoning, puree sauce with a stick blender until smooth.

    Once the ribs are cooked, remove them from the oven and unwrap the foil.  Heat griller/broiler or barbecue.  Brush sauce generously over the ribs and grill or barbecue with lid closed, bone side down, until the sauce is crusty and sticky.  Serve with extra sauce on the side.  (There will be leftover sauce, which will keep well in the fridge in a screw-top jar for a couple of months, until you make the ribs again.)

    ————————————————————————————————————-

    Back in the days when there really were pirates in the Caribbean, vanilla farmers used pins to mark each bean with their own distinctive pattern – like a brand on livestock – to discourage thieves.  That habit seems quaint to our sophisticated 21st century eyes, but only a matter of months ago, our vanilla supplier in Mexico had a large part of her valuable harvest stolen, and without that old-fashioned branding, there is no way of identifying the stolen beans when they enter the market somewhere else.  The theft of the vanilla was probably due to the world shortage at the moment which is driving the prices up.  We’ve had no alternative but to pass these awful increases on.

    Rack of vanilla being carried inside for curing overnight

    Price rises, sadly, are sometimes inevitable.  In our 21 years of business, we have never imposed an across-the-board price rise.  Each product is studied individually to assess the cost, and the price is adjusted either upwards or downwards depending on the current situation, bearing in mind fairness to you, our customers, and making sure we can continue to survive in our business. Although wages growth has been slow, we are happy to pay our invaluable staff above award wages, and unseen costs such as workers’ compensation insurance continue to rise.

    PEPPER SICHUAN WHOLE 15g

    Sichuan Pepper

    Can quality be too good? Whilst everyone is looking for cheap cheap food, manufacturers have to make compromises.  How do you make something cheaper?  The easiest way is to add more water, more salt, or more inferior ingredients. Because we have not allowed ourselves to be drawn into the supermarket world, we are lucky that we can maintain the quality standards that we set when we started Herbie’s Spices. The one downside is that people can be taken by surprise by the unadulterated flavours of some spices. Sometimes we have phone calls from worried consumers, positive that something is wrong because their cooking tastes different.  One lady was sure we had added chemicals to our Sichuan pepper, but it was just that she had never tasted a product of that freshness and quality before.  Sichuan pepper is a strong flavour, and should be used with care.

    Furikake Japanese Seasoning

    What’s new at Herbies?  We’ve been inspired by the spread of Japanese food – even the most mundane of shopping centres offers a Sushi Bar these days!  So we’re proud to introduce our lovely Furikake Seasoning, gently redolent with nori flakes and the nutty crunch of toasted and black sesame seeds, a touch of sugar, balanced with chilli, orange peel and sansho.  This is the easiest of spice mixes to use … simply sprinkle it over anything!  We particularly like it on sushi, tossed through a prawn/noodle stir-fry, or simply with stir-fried greens. In a 40g pack, the price is $5.95.

    We’ve taken the Japanese influence to our Autumn Box of Ideas, in our little autumn-leaf coloured box at the usual price of $25.00.  Along with the new Furikake Seasoning, we have Black Lime Powder, Bay Seasoning and Tarragon – all very sympathetic to a very fishy Easter season.  A mention regarding fresh tarragon: if you have bought a bunch of tarragon with yellow flowers, it’s not true French tarragon, but the less-flavoursome Mexican tarragon.  Use the dried one, which is definitely French tarragon, if you’re not sure.

    Seriously Chilli Spice Kit

    The price increases mentioned previously have naturally had an effect on the prices of our popular Spice Kits.  We’ve carefully gone through the contents of every kit, and have managed to keep the cost as reasonable as possible, with a small increase from $35.00 to $38.00 for each kit.  At the moment, the $25.00 range of spice kits will remain the same.

     

    Happy Easter, and happy spicing, of course!                      Herbie and Liz