Spices from Bhutan
About a year ago, we met a group of representatives from the small kingdom of Bhutan and agreed to assist them with the marketing of their spice crops. It is a landlocked country, bordered on the northern side by Mongolia and on the other three sides by India. To help you place this tiny kingdom on your mental map, picture Nepal to the west, Myanmar (Burma) south-east, Bangladesh due south and China beyond the Himalayas to the north and north-east. The farmers of Bhutan, being Buddhist, do not believe in destroying any forms of life and therefore use no pesticides at all. This means that the products, while not certified organic, are entirely chemical-free.
So September saw us tramping around plantations of brown cardamom on steep and steamy mountain slopes, taking photographs of the harvest. Szechuan pepper (prickly ash) trees grow wild, and are harvested only when a convenient crop presents itself. We slipped and slid down a steep grassy slope to get some photographs, and made the mistake of tasting a fresh seed-pod. (It took an anesthetizing Strepsil to ease the burn!) Star anise trees also grow wild, however they bear a 10-pointed star which has no flavour and is mildly toxic. We discussed caraway prices on a farm within view of snow-covered peaks, and met with government officials to explore the best ways that we can help the farmers make the most of low volume, high value crops. We hope that the wheels, now in slow motion, will eventually bring Bhutan spices to our store.