"NOT ALL SPICES ARE BORN EQUAL"
– the phrase kept rattling round in our heads as we goaded each other into taking the leap into setting up a spice company.
There's been a shift with other commodities. People pick fresh-roasted coffee beans over instant coffee, or single-origin cacao over mass-market chocolate. Meanwhile, most the spice cabinets we rummaged round were cluttered with supermarket-own jars from 'country of multiple origin' ... but could we actually taste the difference?
We began by calling-in samples from round the world, and then printing out cards with the judging criteria for each spice which crossed our path: aroma, vibrancy, colour, smell, taste, texture. Finally, we cooked-up some whopping batches of plain lentils and rice, and started tasting ... and tasting ... and tasting.
Different za'atar blends, from drier 'mountain' blends (top left) to fresh varieties (bottom right)
The difference in each category was remarkable. Za'atar ranged from dried 'mountain' blends to fresh blends which had a fluffy texture. Some had pale sesame seeds, others had toasted seeds and were speckled with chunks of sumac berries.
Turmerics ranged from gently bitter to acidic-tasting, and it was surprising how th the aromas didn't always match the taste. We looked for a bright pepper flavour and a gentle lemon, eucalyptus notes – not so much that it overpowered, but enough for a balance.
It took months of tracking-down spices and conducting tastings. Highlights were when we came across our Indian cumin – we still struggle to crack open the bag without gulping in its heady aromas. Also, the time that we found our true Sri Lankan cinnamon which has an enormous depth, making it indistinguishable from the 'cinnamon' sprinkled over high street lattes.
Each time we get a whiff of our spices, it reminds us that it was worth the effort ... and we hope you agree.