Stroll in a Spice Garden

March 27, 2018 posted in Behind the Scenes

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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!

Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition

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.

Explore All
post

Meal Ideas for Isolation

We thought that in these unprecedented times, it would be appropriate to share some handy meal ideas to ease the stress of isolation and potentially limited food sources. Having to self-isolate creates an opportunity to brush up your cooking skills and have some fun experimenting with some flavours you may not have tried before. Let’s face it, everyone can cook. Have you ever grilled
post

Spices and Spice Blends for Vegetarian and Vegan Cooking

In this short video, Ian "Herbie" Hemphill talks about how Herbie's Spices, herbs and spice blends are all suitable for vegetarian and vegan cooking. A great spice blend for vegan meals is Aloo Gobi Masala. All ingredients are listed on the labels, so you know exactly what you are getting. For a wealth of information on spices, herbs and making your own spice blends,
post

Herbie’s Newsletter Summer 2019 – 2020

We’re all in accord about single-use plastics. Having seen huge drifts of plastic in the pristine seas off the Indonesian islands, we know just how important it is to get rid of those shopping bags, plastic wraps and sandwich bags. When one gets emotional about bad plastics, it’s easy to begin to demonize all plastics, and perhaps it’s timely to repeat this message from our Newsletter of some years ago.

post

Spices & More in South India Jan-Feb 2020

We invite you to join us, Herbie and Liz, as we return to our beloved India to take you to some places where many tourists don’t go! And some amazing places that you just can’t miss. This is designed as a holiday, not an endurance test, and we have made the itinerary a little more leisurely than some earlier tours, so that you arrive home refreshed and well. Be a part of our small group and join the fun!

post

Herbie’s Newsletter Spring 2019

What kind of meal do you think of when you hear the word “curry”?  The origin of our English word is Kari, meaning a spiced sauce.  The English took the idea back home from the colonies, and the classic Madras curry – well-balanced and flavoursome - became a staple in the English household.  The French, meanwhile, had colonized the Pondicherry area on the south-eastern
post

Newsletter Winter 2019

What is Single Origin? We see it emblazoned on tea, coffee, spices and other foodstuffs.  It’s pretty simple really.  If all your potatoes have been grown in the Hunter Valley, they are single origin from that region – they don’t all have to come from the same farm. If, say, a coffee blender buys beans from Africa and South America, and mixes them all
post

Easter Spice Essentials

With Easter just around the corner, it’s time to think about the spices you’ll need for your Easter recipes. For all those sweet recipes such as cakes, biscuits and hot cross buns, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and cardamom are traditional, along with Mixed Spice. For extra fragrance and flavour, try using our Fragrant Sweet Spice Blend as an aromatic substitute. Easter is a great time
post

Herbie’s Newsletter – Spring 2021

Home Made Pizza Like so many Australians, we have had plenty of lock-down time during winter.  Our fabulous local pizzeria closed for a time, and we had to make our own pizza – not so difficult, really.  Here’s a simple dough recipe: mix 400g white bread flour with 1½ teaspoons of dry yeast and 1 teaspoon Italian Herbs.  Dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in
post

Welcome to our New Website

The first thing you will notice is that this website looks quite different to the one you may be used to. In response to the many questions we have received from our customers over the years, we have built in many new features that will enhance your shopping experience. While navigating the site is intuitive, we've described some of the many new features here.
post

Herbie’s Spices Newsletter – Winter 2021

Following through on our gradual revision of the Spice Kits, we’ve had a look at the Al Fresco kit.  At our place, outdoor meals often include big sharing platters, which enable those who are hungry to really dig in, and those with bird-like appetites to pick gently at morsels, without any embarrassment about how much is put on, or left on, the plate.  So we’ve
post

Black Pepper Beef Recipe at Spice Village, Kumily, Kerala, India

Braised Black Pepper Beef, with Chef Manoj at Spice Village, Kumily, Kerala, India Serves 4-6 1kg beef tenderloin, trimmed Masala Marinade 1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil ½ cup grated fresh coconut 2 shallots, peeled and sliced 2 teaspoons coriander seeds 5 small dried red chillies, seeds removed and chopped 3 sprigs curry leaves 1 tablespoon crushed black pepper Braising Curry Sauce 1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut
post

Herbie’s Spices Newsletter – Autumn 2021

We trust that you have all survived Australia’s quiet introduction to the new year. Isn’t it wonderful that, in times of trial and frustration, cooking, eating and sharing bring such consolation? For those of us separated from our loved ones by insurmountable obstacles, we can be encouraged by improving conditions this year.

post

Herbie makes Avial (South Indian Vegetable Curry) in South India

Herbie loves being in South India, the food and the people. In this video he makes Avial (a South Indian Vegetable Curry). Making lightly spiced meals is one of life’s great pleasures, made all the simpler with our Herbie’s Spices all-natural spice blends.

post

Herbie’s Newsletter Summer 2020-2021

A world-wide annus horribilis is drawing to a close, and all we want for Christmas is a better year ahead. For many, time spent in confinement has been a time for reflection, communicating with loved ones, and cooking up a storm.

post

Herbie Makes a Curry in Kumily

In this video, following a short elephant ride, I have the audacity to show my Indian friends at Spice Village how I make my Saturday Curry!

post

Herbie’s Newsletter Spring 2020

Rose Harrisa Mackerel Spring is a time always associated with flowers.  Cauliflowers, broccoli and broccolini, even cabbage and kale, are all flowers, and it occurred to us that one could make a culinary bouquet by adding rose harissa to these flowers.  We started the experiment with rose harissa sprinkled on cauliflower cheese, then progressed to rose harissa stir-fried with broccolini, and broccoli florets tossed with rose
post

Why Herbie is Obsessed with Spices

During this time when many of us are isolated, either voluntarily or forced, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the things I cover at the beginning of a Spice Appreciation Class. As classes are off now, here goes a virtual communication! People often ask why I am so obsessed with spices. This video explains where it all started,

Join the inner circle

Herbie’s Spices Inner Circle fills a need in the community of cooks and food lovers for early-access & upcoming events to all those hard-to-find herbs and spices.

Please enter valid email.
Subscribe