NEWSLETTER: Autumn 2006

March 01, 2006 posted in Newsletters


There are always little buzz-words and catch-phrases that can tell you, in retrospect, just which time-zone they were in. Remember fibre? These days it’s low GI. Remember low-fat? Now it’s 97% fat-free. (Thanks, Catherine Saxelby, for those updates.) There is a new word in the food business now; the word is provenance. With the advent of mad cow disease and foot and mouth disease, people are anxious to know exactly where their food was coming from. Who bred the beef? What pastures were they grazed on? This is something that makes Farmers’ Markets so popular – we like to know we’re speaking to the man who grew the potatoes, tomatoes or cherries we’re buying.

Although we don’t grow the herbs and spices we produce – we’re not farmers – we hope you feel that a Herbie’s product carries the provenance you want, because of the trust you have in us. Some spices, like coriander, cumin, pepper and mustard, are commodities in the world market, while others, like grains of paradise and file powder are niche products that take some finding. Then, always, vanilla and saffron stand apart; many traders have product to sell, but with enormous variations in the quality offered. Over the years we have become familiar with many sneaky little tricks of the trade, to disguise poor quality or fake products. Our job is to seek out the best we can, wherever in the world it comes from, and to make it available for you. Our integrity is your provenance.

Spice Discovery Tour

January next year will see us and a band of intrepid adventurers visiting India for two weeks on our Spice Discovery Tour to India and Sri Lanka. No other country in the world that produces such a wide and varied range of spices as India, and this is why it is our destination. Do you think nutmegs and peppercorns come from a packet, the way milk comes from a carton? Then you’d best enquire about coming with us, to find out more about these wonderful spices. India and Sri Lanka also have some of the best hotels in the world, so we make sure that after a hot and dusty day, we return to luxurious surroundings and fantastic food. Even with ten months to go, we have quite a few starters, so remaining spaces are limited. If you want to know more about the Spice Discovery Tour, contact our travel agent, Samantha Hills. Email her on or phone her on (02) 9438 3033.

Meeting elephants at the Amber Fort, Jaipur

How uninteresting it would be wouldnt it if there was no punctuation in any sentences we would write the words but there would be no commas fullstops and no indication of where to pause where to stop or when to ask a question or make an exclamation. When we think of how questions, accents and exclamations make our conversation interesting, we can draw a parallel to spices in food – they are the exclamation marks in the vocabulary of food. How boring to have steak when you could be having steak! Why just have a chocolate brownie when you could have a chocolate-star-anise-chilli brownie?

If you want to punctuate your cooking with some spicy exclamations, here are a few suggestions:

  • Roasted, peeled and chopped beetroot – whole cumin seeds
  • Steamed cauliflower – toasted sesame seeds, South Indian seafood masala
  • Pan-fried chicken fillet – Ras el Hanout, Native BBQ, Greek or Cajun spice
  • Steak – Pepper Steak, Tasty Meat Sprinkle, Cajun, Smokey BBQ
  • Lamb – Lamb Roast & BBQ, Greek, rosemary, Chermoula
  • Fish – Aussie Fish, South Indian, Persian, lemon myrtle, Lemon & Herb pepper
  • Cheese on toast – smoked paprika, Smokey BBQ spice, Tunisian spice
  • Eggplant slices – rosemary, garlic and paprika, Greek Seasoning
  • Steamed spinach – nutmeg, lemon & herb pepper
  • Risotto – akudjura, saffron, porcini mushroom
  • Baked pumpkin – ginger, nutmeg, ground cumin, Chermoula
  • Oven-roasted tomatoes – sumac, basil or sumac & pepper
  • Mashed potatoes – Balmain/Rozelle spice, thyme, za’atar
  • Steamed buttered carrots – ajowan, dill seeds, Tigers Spice
  • Prawn, lobster or crab salad – fennel seeds or anise myrtle
  • Chocolate – chilli, cinnamon, star anise
  • Ice Cream – lemon myrtle, lavender, cinnamon, finely shredded Mexican chilli
  • Fruit Salad – Forest Berry herb, whole cinnamon or cassia
  • Shortbread – Mixed Spice, Fragrant Sweet Spices, lavender, cinnamon, rose petals

So you see there’s no need to have unpunctuated food! Remember that you don’t have to be heavy-handed – for example, the chilli with chocolate should be so subtle that you notice just rich warmth, not chilli bite. Several of our blends are featured in the list above. That’s because our blends contain just herbs and spices, with no commercial manufacturers’ aids such as free-flow agents, starches, fillers and flavour enhancers. In fact, if you want to make them yourself, you’ll find many of the blend recipes in our books, Spice Notes and Spicery.


Customers frequently come to the shop and ask for masala, and it’s difficult for us to help them without further clarification. The word masala just means mixture – usually a spice mixture. So you can have a fish masala, (like our delicious South Indian Seafood Masala) which is a blend of spices to cook with fish, or a chaat masala to add to your potatoes. Garam masala is obviously the most common masala, and is as common in an Indian or Sri Lankan kitchen as the ubiquitous parsley would be in an English kitchen. Always check the spelling – if your recipe calls for marsala, that is a Sicilian fortified wine similar to sherry, and you won’t find it an a spice shop!

Visit to Egypt

During the New Year break, we visited our rose petal supplier in Egypt. His organic herb farm produces several medicinal herbs as well as lemongrass, thyme, anise, mint, thyme and chamomile. A memorable scene was four or five little girls picking chamomile flowers (it was the weekend, and we trust they are at school on other days!) We took some photos of them, but unfortunately no camera could have captured the soft murmur of giggling as they buried their heads into the flowers to escape our gaze. During our stay in Egypt, we were surprised to find no sign of dukkah in the markets and restaurants. When we asked locals about it, they all said no, you don’t buy it, but everyone makes their own at home.

Happy Spicing

Herbie and Liz

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