Frequently Asked Questions
Who are Steenbergs?
Steenbergs is a small, family-owned spices business started by Axel and Sophie Steenberg in Ripon, North Yorkshire.
It all began in 2003 when we set out to create a range of spices and seasonings that were packed full of flavour, using natural ingredients that Axel sources direct from farmers, blending to our own recipes and all done with our deeply held environmental and ethical values. Since then, we have grown our range and now are 10 people, but we are still based in beautiful, rural North Yorkshire, blend and pack in small batches by hand, and we have kept to our green and socially positive values. Our products are all plant-based, most are organic certified, many are Fairtrade and kosher certified.
Who are the Steenbergs?
We’re Axel and Sophie Steenberg. The name’s not German, and we’re not Dutch or South African, but Danish originally. Axel’s family came from the small Danish Island of Bornholm, but his great-great grandfather emigrated to Hartlepool in 1855, then moved to Newcastle in 1860. His family hasn’t moved far, and he was brought up just outside of town in the Tyne valley. Yes, he and Jamie support Newcastle United and have season tickets in the Leazes End. Sophie was brought up in Gloucestershire. They met at Edinburgh Uni. After a short time in North London, they moved to Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, got married and started a family, and at the same time started Steenbergs. Their children, Jamie and Poppy, are often found working in Steenbergs – Jamie helps in packing and Poppy does dispatch and order processing, but Jamie is currently at Portsmouth Uni, does a lot of football scouting in his spare time, and Poppy is a home care worker in Easingwold, working from 6am – 10pm, and sometimes works in one of York’s vaccine centres on her days’ off.
Where are Steenbergs based?
Steenbergs has two factories in a village called Melmerby. Melmerby lies just outside of Ripon in North Yorkshire.
What makes you different?
Steenbergs tries to operate in an open, friendly and honest way, and we hope we make all our decisions to meet our core ethical ideals.
By adhering to these ideals, it means we are smaller, grow less quickly than our competition and sometimes seem more expensive than others, but these are the prices of being good people. Our products are also hand-crafted, often made to order, and are what we say they are - purely and simply they are the best ingredients we can find that are organic and fairly made, without anything taken out or added in.
In terms of our brands, Steenbergs is focused on fantastic quality products direct from organic farmers in the developing world, where everything we do is done in an ethical way. Our packaging is simple and practical - no frills and gimmicks - and the product is fresh and what you expect, so no fillers or artificial flavours.
Where are your products made?
All Steenbergs’ raw materials and most of our packaging are imported, but we blend all our mixes at our two factories in Melmerby, North Yorkshire. We also do all our own packing here in North Yorkshire. Even the fabric bags that we pack mulling wine and whisky toddy into are sewn in the UK.
How do we find how your customers have found buying from Steenbergs?
Steenbergs has a number of different review mechanisms for you to both look at what other people think about Steenbergs and for you to add your own experience and thoughts.
Aren’t organic and Fairtrade just myths?
No, organic and Fairtrade certified products are what they say they are - good for the environment, free from chemicals and respectful of people. Yes, there are inconsistencies and bad operators, but we are confident enough in what we do and how the systems work to be sure that Steenbergs products are sustainable, free from nasties and fair in our supply chains.
In fact, we relish the inconsistencies and conflicts because it shows how a mature system addresses all the potential problems inherent in a set of rules. Rules are only as good as the values and beliefs that underpin them, and it is in trying to maintain these principles that inconsistencies and illogical requirements can arise. This makes organic and Fairtrade art-forms as much as a regulatory framework. Contradictions create vitality in systems, just as they do in people; it is consistency and uniformity that are dreary and dead, sucking out the joy in life.
So don’t mess up a good idea simply because it is imperfect. Life really is weird and random, not logical, so all these inconsistencies do is just reflect the world itself.
Organic really is food you can trust - producers must meet standards that are set in UK (grandfathered in from European law,) and all organic farms and producers are audited at least once a year against these requirements. Furthermore, not only are pesticides and dodgy chemicals banned under organic, but so are hydrogenated fats, MSG, additives like aspartame and tartrazine as well.
Fairtrade products pay a living wage to farmers and workers on certified farms and plantations in the global South. But it is not just about the cash, so in addition Fairtrade provides farmers and workers a say on how the standards work and the extra money generated through Fairtrade is spent. It is this latter co-operative and democratic spirit within Fairtrade that genuinely treats workers with respect and fairness that is the unique difference of Fairtrade versus other, particularly corporate, “fair trading” regimes. Usually, these alternative fair trade systems seek to influence, even control, how the premiums are spent - this is plainly and simply not fair!
Is organic better for nature?
Organic focuses on sustainable natural ecosystems, so organic farms are havens for wildlife. This includes wildflowers, farmland birds, insects such as bees that have been in serious decline for some years because of neonicotinoid based pesticides. Research suggests that plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms compared to standard farms.
While Steenbergs is a vegan and vegetarian business, it is still good to know that animals reared organically are encouraged to develop health and vitality, through minimising stress, giving animals space, access to free range, a healthy diet and allowing them to express their natural behaviour to the greatest extent possible. All aspects of animal welfare, including rearing, feeding, shelter, transportation and slaughter are covered by organic standards.
But isn’t organic simply lower yield farming?
Firstly, it is not necessarily lower yield agriculture. Secondly, organic is also about choice in how our food is produced. But for those hundreds of millions of people whose only priority is how to get enough food, organic does benefit these smaller scale farmers - particularly in the global South. Organic techniques can improve soil quality, reduce exposure to pesticides and sometimes yields greater amounts than traditional methods. For cash-poor, labour-rich countries, organic offers a real alternative to industrial farming methods.
Isn’t Fairtrade just another way for businesses to line their pockets?
No. As described above, Steenbergs has Fairtrade products and supply chains to create an auditable supply chain that guarantees a fair wage and a fair price for commodities to its suppliers. Farmers and workers within its supply chains have a real say in how the system works and how to spend the extra money they generate. Furthermore, Steenbergs does not negotiate prices with its Fairtrade suppliers, because we accept their offer at face value as being reasonable.
In terms of Steenbergs’ prices, we make less profit on Fairtrade than normal organic lines, because of the premiums we pay to the supplier and the Fairtrade Foundation. For example, Steenbergs charges 3.9% more for Fairtrade than non-Fairtrade black peppercorns. 2.7% goes as the premium to the cooperative in the global South and 1.7% goes to the Fairtrade Foundation. This means that it costs Steenbergs 0.5% per Fairtrade item sold rather than making any additional profit. That is how we approach Fairtrade, but if other producers or retailers do it differently then that is not right and we do not support them.
Do you pay your people enough?
We pay all our staff - including directors - the same hourly rate. We believe that everyone’s labour should be paid equally because it has equal value, which is a very old-fashioned concept. This is set at a premium to the Living Wage as set by the UK Government. For anyone that works on a piece work rate, they are paid on the basis of the rules set out by the UK Government for calculating those rates. We are striving to move our wage rates towards those proposed by the Living Wage Foundation, but it is really tough to move when there is constant downwards pressure on costs from customers!
What makes your spices and teas different?
Our products are good honest food. They are what they say on the pack, with no hidden or mystery ingredients. They are as pure and clean as possible. This gives Steenbergs' spices and teas a cleaner and deeper flavour that is more pungent and richer than you might expect elsewhere. On the downside, it means they taste completely different to high-street branded products and may vary from batch-to-batch, but then that is what real food is like; you're welcome to buy from big brands if you want. But we seek to provide an alternative way of shopping - less averaged down, more cared for and with service.
Are your products good for health?
Steenbergs' products are natural and plant-based, so they support a healthy lifestyle and promote well-being. Many of the herbs and spices that Steenbergs sells are used in traditional medicines, however few have scientifically proven health benefits. Turmeric is the most promising, but cinnamon and pepper are also possibilities. We don't make any claims ourselves, but there is plenty of information on the internet that varies in quality from pure conjecture to the helpful.
Where are your products made?
All Steenbergs’ raw materials are imported but we blend all our mixes at our factories in North Yorkshire. We also do all our own packing here in North Yorkshire. We don’t outsource, we’re not a gimmicky brand that gets other people to make, store, distribute, etc, their products.
Do your products come from China?
Some of Steenbergs’ products do indeed come from China, simply because that is where they come from - for example, China teas like bamboo, lapsang souchong and pu-erh originate from China. Furthermore, the spice and tea tins and some of the factored products on the Steenbergs website come from China. This does not mean we approve of the Chinese political system; in fact, we seek to minimise what we buy from places with poor human rights records. However, at times needs must - a quick look and our phones, desktop computers, monitors, printers, building’s security system are all “Made in China”.
Isn’t Chinese organic a bit flaky?
The integrity of our organic products is fundamental to our values, so we would never let anything that did not meet the strictest legal requirements of organic to be packed by us – that’s not what we’re about.
Overall, there are a lot of statements made about organic online which are not based on the facts of the system, and imply a lack of honesty on the part of UK processors like ourselves, or a regulatory system that is failing.
Organic within the UK and the EU is a legal definition, and tightly regulated, and not a vague concept. Therefore, all organic products that come into the UK and the EU must meet UK/EU organic legislation, including audit and certification against UK/EU legislation by a certification body approved by Defra. Furthermore, all exports must include copies of a certificate of inspection signed off by the UK/EU approved certifier and then stamped by UK Port Health on entry into the UK before they can enter the UK. Then, we are audited and certified against that legislation. Also, on top of all that, the products must meet UK food safety legislation which prohibits or sets limits on pretty much everything, based on science. Indeed, China needs to meet exactly the same organic and food safety regulatory requirements as UK, EU or even Egyptian produced food when it comes into the UK.
That’s before we do our own testing, which includes food safety, pesticide testing etc, and we test everything for pesticides, fumigants, radiation, chlorine in water and heavy metals. See: Recent Heavy Metal tests Results and How Steenbergs Tests For Allergens And Other Nasties.
Nevertheless, China was bad in the past but has cleaned up its act and is currently regarded in the industry as good. Indeed, we have not had any issues with our organic supply from China during any of our testing. In contrast, it is India, for example, whose certifiers are currently on watch (2021-22) by the UK authorities and are suspended across the EU for using illegal fumigants (ethylene oxide on organic spices), but this is not something that has been picked up on the internet.
Are there other countries that you don't buy from?
Yes, but these do change from time to time. We don't currently buy, for example, from Iran, Israel or Russia. However, we are a food business, not a political organisation, so we don't tie ourselves to making purchasing decisions on purely political grounds - in the UK or overseas - and our products come from people not from political movements.
Are your products vegan-friendly?
All Steenbergs’ products are vegan-friendly. Some have, also, been registered with The Vegan Society. All our products are suitable for vegetarians. As a vegan and vegetarian business, we are opposed to harm to any form of life with a nervous system, i.e. those that can sense pain.
Are your products organic and Fairtrade?
Most of our products are organic and a very large range is also Fairtrade. Some are neither organic nor Fairtrade, but we make very clear where this is the case - these are usually either very specialist ingredients or non-farmed products. In some cases, it is because pollution is high in particular regions, for example it has become well nigh impossible to get “clean” lapsang souchong from China let alone organic, while Sichuan pepper has become unavailable as non-organic as well as organic because the level of chemicals in Chinese soils is resulting in unacceptably high levels of pesticides in their harvested spices. If you've got a query, then just contact us about the specific product.
What about GMO?
None of Steenbergs’ products are genetically modified. And, notwithstanding its potential benefits, Steenbergs is opposed to genetic engineering.
Are your products kosher?
Most of our products are naturally kosher, but some are not. Many ingredients and blends have been certified as kosher by KLBD - London Beth Din. For more details, please email us: email@example.com.
Are your products halal?
All Steenbergs' products are, we believe, suitable for those who require a halal diet. For more details, please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What about allergies?
Allergens are a really tricky area. We try to minimise the risk of contamination of our products by allergens.
Steenbergs does not have the following allergens in any of the manufacturing areas: crustaceans, egg, fish, lupin, milk, peanuts, sulphur dioxide, tree nuts. Furthermore, breadcrumbs, celery, mustard and sesame are not present in the tea packing factory.
However, we do have breadcrumbs, celery, mustard and sesame within our range of herbs and spices products.
We remove the potential of cross-contamination by storing products separately, processing at different times and using specific equipment. Then, we have weekly and monthly testing programmes in the packing areas to check there really are no allergens present, for example using GlutenTox Pro for gluten and Neogen kits for other allergens. Additionally, within the testing schedule we test products for allergens by sending samples to Neogen.
So, while it is not possible to completely eliminate the risks, we feel we've got it reduced to almost zero. So, Steenbergs’ products are mainly allergen free. However, where there are allergens, these are highlighted in bold on every jar where they are present and, on every page on the website, allergens are emboldened in the ingredients list and in ingredients features, so for example Madras curry powder has in the Ingredients Features’ box the word “Allergen” and in the Ingredients listing “organic yellow mustard powder” then at the end of the ingredients panel it says “Allergy advice: For allergens, including cereals containing gluten, see ingredients in bold”, or for a single allergen like brown mustard seeds it has the word “Allergen” in Ingredients Features and in the ingredients listing it says: “Ingredients: organic brown mustard seeds. Allergy advice: For allergens, including cereals containing gluten, see ingredients in bold.” Also, you can refine your searches to include “allergens”, which is perhaps a counterintuitive was of searching.
You could also look at the blog where we talk about testing: How Steenbergs Tests For Allergens And Other Nasties, which although old is still the same systems. The integrity of these systems form part of our annual audits for food safety by SALSA and STS Audit.
Are you products gluten free?
Yes, other than the stuffings that do contain breadcrumbs.
How can we be sure, you might well ask! We only pack stuffings on a few limited occasions every year, so it is easy to restrict the potential risks. We remove the potential of cross-contamination by storing products separately, processing at different times and using specific equipment.
Also, we test the factory environment for gluten and products on a random basis using GlutenTox Pro swabs, testing to 10ppm gliadin, which is half the level for gluten free at the Coeliac Society, plus most spices are even more dispersed within a meal. This gives us the confidence that there is no gluten in Steenbergs’ products.
So, we manage the business to reduce the risk (we make no claims to be risk free) for those with coeliac disease, but not for anything beyond that.
Do your products contain sulphur dioxide?
No, none of Steenbergs’ products contains sulphur dioxide.
Where can I find nutritional information about your products?
Spices, herbs, seasonings and teas do not need to carry nutritional information. We do provide a snapshot of the high-level nutritional data on our website, if we have the data. We have an ongoing program of laboratory analyses to obtain nutritional data on all our ingredients, so in the near future we will have data on all our products and be able to calculate the nutritional information for all Steenbergs’ blends. Therefore, if you require nutritional information, just email us and we will probably be able to give you an answer.
Is your cinnamon real cinnamon or cassia?
This is perhaps the controversial area of potential substitution in spices. However, Steenbergs always clearly describes and labels true cinnamon as “Cinnamon” and other cinnamons as “Cassia”. So, if you order “Cinnamon” that is what you will get, but if you order “Cassia” you will get cassia.