Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

Steenbergs Has Improved Our Range Of Household Cleaning Products

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Did you know that one of my first jobs was in the Pets & Cleaning Department in Fenwick’s in Newcastle?  And ever since, I have had a strange and haunting obsession for Household Cleaning products.  Well, I am not really that fascinated in them, but we have been keen to get our Household Cleaning products right, i.e. good for the environment and vegetarian and alternative.

Our biggest problem has been that Ecover has the largest and most easily accessible range, but their products are everywhere from Tesco through to small health stores, plus they do add some less than brilliant things into their products and are not vegan anymore.  We’re down to a few pots of Ecover Stain Remover and then we’re done with them as a brand.  Finally and this is a big one, the performance has to be decent as I have found some of the green Household Cleaning products pretty rubbish so you may as well not bother with them – your clothes go grey, your floor never gets clean and they sometimes even curdle in the bottle!

Steenbergs has now got a good range of alternative brands that we feel gives you – our customer – a decent choice of green and ethical alternatives.  You may not like all of them or might find some do not perform as well as you would dream, but you must remember that our choice of Household Cleaning products will never be as aggressive in their action as the traditional high street brands like Domestos or Flash or Cif as these are packed full of industrial chemicals that we just don’t want.  But we use these greener products at home and some of them – for example the Alma Win range – got me positively excited as the floor cleaner actually worked as I worked my mop around on our tiled floor.

The range is now based around cleaning kit from Alma Win , Earth Friendly and Ecoleaf (Suma’s brand of cleaning products).  In addition, we’ve got natural incense based fresh smells from Colibri (incense sticks, shoe odour neutralisers and wool protectors), soap nut washing balls and dryer balls from Ecozone , natural fibre nailbrushes, vegetable washing brushes and washing up brushes and scourers made from luffas and coconut shells that do a pretty good job, plus recycled scourers and clothes pegs from Ecoforce – the clothes pegs are brilliant and come from recycled plastics while Traidcraft’s Fair Trade rubber gloves really got me jumping up and down for joy – loved them but then I am a bit sad about these things.  Then there’s Veggi Wash to get all those nasty chemicals and waxes off your fruit and veg that you didn’t manage to grow in your allotment or garden.

For me, it was Alma Win that got me truly excited and finally happy that our range had become pretty much sorted.  A few samples just came randomly in the post, so I tried them at home and found that they were better than most of the other brands we had come across and their range slotted in nicely, allowing us to drop Ecover dishwasher tablets that we had been finding a sticking point in our range. 

Alma Win is a range of German products – in fact some of the things we’re selling only come with German labels so apologies there – and they’re biodegradeable and suitable for vegans and vegetarians unlike Ecover, and they’re kind to the skin and should over time help to reduce the UK’s high rates of allergies like hayfever, asthma and eczema.  They’re also certified as organic by EcoGarantie in Belgium which none of the other ranges are yet, being based on organically grown plant ingredients and not made in a massive chemical plant in Ellesmere Port or somewhere like that.  So their products don’t have any of the following nasty gunk in them that you will find in many of the high street brands – optical brighteners, parabens, petrochemicals, phosphates, chlorine, bulking agents, silicone, borium, colour additives, ethoxylated raw materials and genetically modified enzymes.

Please tell us what we are missing in this range and we will see what we can do.

New Indonesian Pepper Just Arrived at Steenbergs

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I read a book last year called “The Scents of Eden” by Charles Corn – it’s a history of the spice trade.  It was great as the perspective was different from the histories that I had read in the past which always wrote them from the angle of European spice traders – including British, Dutch and Venice.  It’s written for an American audience and talks about the first American exploits into Indonesia and the history of Salem (other than it’s infamous one about Salem’s witch trials), plus the founding of Yale University with the proceeds of Elihu Yale’s generous gifts of East Indian exotic and books; none of which I knew much about except the odd snippets here and there.

As much of the spice trade had been carved up between Britain and the Netherlands, there were slim pickings for relatively new global traders like America.  As a result of this together with happenstance, most of the original spices for the American market came from Sumatra, with the result that the new and growing US developed a love for the intensely hot black and white peppercorns shipped in from the East Indies – now Indonesia.   It was in 1790 that Captain Jonathan Carnes sailed back his ship the Cadet after 2 years “lost at sea” and had found Sumatra.  So here we are experimenting with Indonesian flavours rather than the Indian style pepper that we usually deal with.

Steenbergs Lampung Black Pepper comes from a small region called Kota Bumi in Lampung Utara on the southern end of Sumatra in Indonesia. Here spice farmers still use the old farming practice of growing pepper vines on shade-growing trees. Glossy leaved pepper vines grow up the trunks of tropical shade trees providing protection from heat and harsh sunlight. On the forest floor, nitrogen-fixing legumes are planted in rings around the pepper vines, providing a constant source of nutrients and protecting valuable biodiversity such as beneficial insects that act as natural protection against diseases that affect these pepper vines.  While not certified organic, these spice farmers are having a damn good stab at earthy, natural farming.

The black pepper berries themselves are incredibly pungent when grown like this, developing intense heat like chilli pepper fruits.  The quality of this Lampung black pepper compared to the kit you get from high street stores is amazing – like the difference between home grown tomatoes and the junk you get from the supermarket. Steenbergs Lampung Black Pepper comes from only 1% of the total available pepper harvest in a shade-grown pepper field, with higher quality Steenbergs pepper berries specially selected and harvested at the peak of ripeness.

Steenbergs Lampung black pepper has a bold, pungent flavour – even stronger than Malabar black peppercorns like Steenbergs luxury black pepper berries.  Lampung black pepper starts warming with a classic aromatic, appetising flavour before I got a sudden numbing heat on the tongue that built in intensity around the mouth; the heat lingers a bit but leaves an appetising, mouth-watering taste for a good 5 minutes.  Steenbergs Lampung black pepper is versatile like all good pepper and great with red meat, poultry, grilled vegetables, marinades and dressings, soft cheese and even on strawberries!

Steenbergs Muntok White Pepper – a close relative of Lampung black pepper – is a normal vine pepper but one that has been grown exclusively for making white pepper.  This white pepper is grown in the hills behind the village of Muntok on the Indonesian island of Bangka.  The pepper growers wait until the pepper berries have matured a bit longer than those in Lampung so that they are mainly red and so give a fuller flavour and then start the harvesting.  The pepper farmers use traditional bamboo tripods to climb up the trees and then hand-pick pepper fruit spikes of red ripe pepper berries.  These fruit spikes – that are reminiscent of bunches of grapes – are packed into rice sacks and soaked in slow running streams that flow down from the mountains above.  Seven days later the outermost skin of the pepper has disintegrated and the peppercorns are piled together for a traditional trampling called Nari Mereca or the Pepper Dance which is a bit like the classic stamping on grapes to make wine – the technical name for this process is a rather bland decortication. The dancing separates the peppercorns from the fruit spike and after a final washing the berries are left to dry in the sun where they naturally will bleach to a creamy white. 

Muntok white pepper smells faintly foisty but nowhere near as badly as some white pepper which smells of dirty, sweaty football socks – yuck – and doesn’t have that warming aroma that you would expect from black peppercorns.  The white peppercorns are crunchy to bite on and quickly build to a numbing heat that makes your eyes water – I started coughing but god was it a great feeling – and the heat numbed the mouth and top of the throat.  Muntok white pepper is perfect with pork and veal, poultry, white fish and shellfish, rice and pasta, steamed vegetables, blue cheese and great in white and cheese sauces.

PS: I wouldn’t advise anyone to chew on the Muntok white pepper on its own as it really was numbing and hot, but the Lumpung black pepper would be fine – I only chew on these things because it’s what I do.

New Penja Pepper from the Cameroon in Western Africa

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I’ve got some new peppers and as usual I am bit over-giddy about it.  These ones are classic Piper nigrum – the traditional pepper plant for normal black, white and green pepper.   Usually, we get our black pepper from India and Sri Lanka, but these are from Africa – from the Penja Valley in the Cameroon.  The Cameroon is a former French colony and is squeezed between Nigeria to the North-West, The Central African Republic and Chad to the East and the Congos to the South.   They have a wonderfully colourful football team – the Cameroon Lions – who are my non-England team to follow in the South African World Cup this year (see

The Penja Valley is a great place for horticulture, a remote valley with only 30,000 people living there.  The terroir is a fertile volcanic soil and the climate is ideal for tropical plants, like pepper vines – loads of humidity and rainfall and masses of hot sun.  It’s a steamy, sweaty place.  Like a niche estate wine, only 18 tonnes are grown on this 100 hectares plantation and no chemicals are used in the growing, processing or post-harvest processes, so while not organic they are free from nasties.

The rich volcanic soil creates flavours and aromas that are soft and refined with a delicate musky, mysterious perfume and lots of hot, African heat that lingers bitingly at the back of the throat. 

We have bought some Penja Green and Penja White this time. 

Penja White And Green Peppercorns

Penja White And Green Peppercorns

The Penja Green is picked while the berries are not yet fully mature and the oxidisation process is stopped by blanching the green berries in boiling hot water.  They are bright lime green in colour with a light, faint peppery aroma and the taste starts with a clean, slightly sweet flavour but this builds up quickly to a bright, bitingly hot and vivacious heat that lingers at the back of the throat and on the tongue. 

The Penja White is matured longer than the black, dried as above, and then the skin is removed in water to reveal the bitingly hot core of the berry, which becomes quite hard and crunchy.  The berries are smaller than the green due to the processing, giving a creamy white ridge shape reminiscent of big coriander seeds.  The aroma is strong, fusty and peppery and the taste is of a truly hot pepper that makes you sweat, quickly getting to an intense, searing white hot heat that lingers around the whole mouth, numbing the tongue.  It’s a really great white pepper and I like it better than many of the Indian ones I have tried, although there is perhaps less depth of character than a classic Wayanad white pepper.

Try Penja green pepper and Penja white pepper for some variety to you cooking – more mystery and a bit less refined than Indian peppers but full of great joyful heat.

Please find below the links to buy these peppers – let us know what you think of the pepper:

Enjoying Tasting Oolong Tea

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Today it’s a sunny day with a warming, clear fresh light and a blue sky.  This is great weather to look at tasting oolong teas from China and Taiwan (sometimes called Formosa by tea drinkers).  The clear light allows you to see the subtle colour differences between types of teas being cupped, while the fresh light air marries really well with the taste of oolongs.  Oolong tea is sometimes called wu long which is perhaps a better transliteration.

Oolong tea is called a semi-fermented tea, where green tea is basically unfermented (or lightly processed) while black tea is fermented (i.e. fully processed).  Oolong tea sits somewhere between a green tea and a black tea with exactly where they are in that green-to-black tea range having a lot of effect on the end tea.

Oolong tea has the smooth, light and refreshing characteristics of green tea with some of the additional depth of character provided by the firing process to give it hints of black tea – so you will hear people talk of oolong tea being “sweet” or “refreshing” or “flowery” or that it has hints of “spiciness”, “warmth” and a “light flavour of heat coming through”.

The tea leaves are picked from a special type of tea plant with large leaves, which are then withered and allowed to oxidize in carefully controlled air conditioned rooms.  When ready (and this is part of the art of the tea maker), the leaves are steamed at a high heat to stop the oxidation process.

I just love them.  For me, they have more character than green tea and white tea and are like a premier cru wine from a really small, specialist wine estate that’s been given extra love, care and attention.  Or perhaps they are like the mystery of a Rembrandt or Titian painting over the perfectly clean lines of a Raphael.  They are darker than green teas in colour but still often have silvery white tips coming through.

Some Oolong Teas

Some Oolong Teas

I have gone for the following types – an everyday Chinese Oolong Tea and a Taiwan Baihao Oolong (or Bai Hao Oolong) and two flavoured Oolong Teas . So I have chosen a classic style China Osmanthus Oolong Tea that’s been flavoured with delicate Osmanthus blossoms, and a China Milky Oolong Tea that has a silky, milky, sweet taste that’s weird – but beguiling – and has a round mouthfeel.

The Baihao Oolong tea comes from Xinhui in Northern Taiwan, which is humid and wet compared to the rest of the country.  This creates an oolong that’s really smooth and sweet, with almost no astringency, with a lovely flowery aroma of ripe peaches and sweet magnolia-flavoured honey.  Bai Hao Oolong is sometimes known as
Dong Fang Mei Ren or Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea because Queen Elizabeth II loves the special aroma and taste of Bai Hao and so she named it “Oriental Beauty”.

As you can see from the picture below it has a redder, darker and fuller colour than the green teas that I tasted a couple of days ago.  However, this does not translate into a bitter drink and it should be drunk fresh and without milk, sugar or lemon.  And while it costs a bit more than normal teas, it is really a treat for when you’re in a quiet, contemplative mood plus it brews well a second time on the same leaves – in fact I often prefer the second brew to the first as more character comes through.

Delicious Cup of Bai Hao Oolong Tea

Delicious Cup of Bai Hao Oolong Tea

Recipe For Granny Salad Or Cucumber Salad

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Following on from the recipe for Yorkshire Salad, my mum makes a wonderfully refreshing cucumber salad, which has a similar sweet and sour flavour.  It’s lovely in the summer for al fresco dining and great with fish all your around.

Ingredients for Cucumber Salad

Ingredients for Cucumber Salad

What you will need:

1tsp caster sugar
1tsp warm water
3tbsp cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 – 4 spring onions, chopped finely
½ tsp sea salt
2tsp dill herb (fresh)
Half cucumber

Firstly, peel the skin off the cucumber and then slice very finely into thin rounds of fresh cucumber.  Place these on a plate so that you can see the tops of all the slices of cucumber, then sprinkle over some sea salt and leave.

Now make the sweetened vinegar, by first dissolving the sugar in warm water and then adding this to the cider vinegar.  Stir it up thoroughly. 

Chop the dill herb up finely and then the spring onions.

Sprinkle the vinegar over the cucumber slices, then sprinkle the chopped spring onion over this, followed by the dill weed.

Cucumber And Dill Salad

Cucumber And Dill Salad

Serve immediately.

Recipe For Yorkshire Salad

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

We have been discussing the ins and outs of Yorkshire Salad, and some of the different variations, including a very similar recipe called Granny Salad which Sandra (one of our amazing spice packers) was handed down from her Granny in Devon.  Sadie – who does all our labels and web site photos – prefers it without onions but says that it definitely wouldn’t be Yorkshire Pudding without an accompanying Yorkshire Salad made by her mum.

Yorkshire Salad

Yorkshire Salad

You will need:

1tsp caster sugar
1tsp warm water
3tbsp cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 – 4 spring onions, chopped finely
8-10 fresh spearmint leaves, chopped finely
A green leaf lettuce (not an iceberg), shredded

Ingredients for Yorkshire Salad

Ingredients for Yorkshire Salad

Onions and Mint

Onions and Mint for Yorkshire Salad

Chop all the salad ingredients and place in a salad bowl or other bowl; I have given some flex in the ingredients as you should really just go with what you feel – I like it quite minty and without too much onion.  Make the dressing by adding a bit of warm water to dissolve the sugar in, then add the cider vinegar to this.  Adjust until you are happy with the sweetness – basically it’s sweet and sour, so not too sweet and not too sour.  Chuck in the dressing and mix well.

You can serve it not only with Yorkshire pudding, but with other salads, or it goes really well with fish, especially smoked fish.

How do you make yours?

Steenbergs Launches New Design For Spice Tins

Friday, February 5th, 2010

At Steenbergs, we have been doing a lot of work trying to refresh parts of our organic spices and seasonings range.  Now we have relaunched our spice tins into a bright new label and an elegant rolled tin.

Steenbergs new spice tins

Steenbergs new spice tins

Part of what we have been seeking to do is to pull out parts of our long list of spices and seasonings that can either sit as a standalone range, such as our Home Bakery products (which we relaunched in August 2009), or added value blends that differentiate Steenbergs in the spices and seasonings world. 

We have a range of over 200 blends that we make in small batches by hand which is way more than industrial spice blenders and packers can hope to do – they just don’t have the ability to work on small batch runs nor the inclination.

So during 2009 we redesigned the spice tin, which was originally a spice dabbah made for us in Mumbai in India, to a rolled tin that is now being made for us in China.  This new tin was launched in mid 2009 and looks much smarter and more elegant than the old tin that we felt was a bit shiny and the shapes of the actual dabbahs were inconsistent.

In the latter part of 2009 and through to early 2010, we have created a new look label for a few of our most popular blends – Steenbergs Signature Blends.  These labels are brightly coloured, individual for each seasoning and now include a recipe idea.

The labels were printed last week and are now launched on the web site and will be officially launched at the forthcoming Organic & Natural Products Show at Olympia in April 2010. 

They have great shelf presence and we expect to add maybe another 5 – 10 more over the next 2 years.  The blends that are currently available are:

Organic Fairtrade 4 colour pepper
Organic Fairtrade curry powder
(a new blend!)
Organic Fairtrade garam masala
Organic Harissa with Rose Petals
Organic Herbes de Provence
Organic Italian Herbs

Organic Mixed Herbs
Ras al hanut

Tell us what you think, and what other Steenbergs products we should add to this range of Signature Blends – I am thinking China 5 Spice, Dukkah, Jamaican Jerk and Mexican Chile Powder.

Vanilla, Gorgeous Heady Vanilla

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I love vanilla.  I really do.  I blogged about it as a spice back in May 2009 under Vanilla – the temperamental diva.

At Steenbergs, we have had such a good run with our organic Fairtrade vanilla extract that we are nearly down to our last few drops.  So last week, we got delivery of a new batch of organic Fairtrade vanilla beans and after Lee did the initial prep work he said that these Madagascan beans are of the most superior quality, and Lee’s hard to please! 

Gorgeous organic vanilla

Gorgeous organic vanilla

Well, I suppose that’s what you would expect from our new suppliers from the Antsirabe Nord region of Northern Eastern Madagascar; these beans have much more luxuriant richness and depth of the character than our last batch of beans, which hailed from Kerala in India.  Think of it as the difference between a New World wine and a Premier Cru from France; everything’s the same but the terroir in France just creates more character.

I am really excited by our vanilla at the moment.  We’re getting a better quality extraction at present than before.  Also, we have a great range of classic gourmet vanilla products – Steenbergs organic Madagascan gourmet vanilla beans (vanilla pods), organic vanilla powder (that’s gorgeous beans from Mananara that have been ground to a rich black powder, that looks like gunpowder in the old Western films but smells like heaven), organic vanilla extract powder (that’s the extract dried onto a dextrin base to remove the alcohol). 

The gourmet beans are actually from a Fairtrade source and we trade these into Crazy Jack’s and Essential Trading who pack them off as organic and Fairtrade, so we need to get our act together and actually launch them as Fairtrade!  It’s a bit ridiculous as we have had the product approved by Fairtrade and done the design work for them but never actually pushed the go button; soon, I assure you.

Mountain gorilla from Virunga Mountains

Mountain gorilla from Virunga Mountains

I (that’s me Axel Steenberg) have also sourced a wonderful organic vanilla from the Democratic Republic of Congo from the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains in the Virunga National Park and near Lake Edouard, which is one of the two strongholds for the rare mountain gorilla (the other is Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest in Uganda). 

I came across them whilst reading Tim Butcher’s book  (Blood River – A Journey To Africa’s Broken Heart) about following in the footsteps of Stanley down the River Congo, like a latter day Kurtz, dodging the insurgents on the back of a motorbike or travelling down the lazy, languid Congo River on a pirogue; hence finding them was really poignant. 

These Congolese organic vanilla pods have a different character to those from Madagascar and will be in short supply as getting them is really, really hard – these organic vanilla beans have a rawer, earthier flavour, full of chocolatey aromas but also an underlying sweet leathery intensity.

Now, I’ve added mysterious tonka beans to this flavour package.  This is banned in the USA because it contains coumarin, an anticoagulant, but banning it almost makes it more exciting.  And the top world chefs like Gordon Ramsay at Petrus-Gordon Ramsay or Alex Stupak at wd-50 or Ferran Adrià at El Bulli use it, so let’s try it I say.

Tonka beans (memories of Tonka toys and that takes me a long way back) are the seeds of Dipteryx oderata, which originates from Venezuela in the Orinoco river basin.  The main sources of tonka beans are Nigeria and Venezuela. 

Tonka beans

Tonka beans

It looks like a flat, wrinkled deep black bean/nut with a shape that’s reminiscent of an almond and a look that’s a cross between a prune and date.  They have a flavour and aroma that is full of volatiles and immediately remiscent of vanilla but with more esters coming through like pear drops or furniture polish, with hints of magnolia and other warming, sweet spices notes like cinnamon, cloves and allspice.  It is used in French cuisine and sometimes for perfumes, and even flavouring tobacco.

Anyway, Steenbergs tonka beans come from Venezuela and a little goes a long way as they are very specialist and very strong – completely decadent and slightly naughty.  You use them like a nutmeg and grate them, so you could cook with them as a garnish over coffee or into cream or over stewed rhubarb.  I’ll conjur up some recipes in a future blog, so hang fire on asking for a recipe.

Recipe – How To Make New Mexico Red Chile Sauce

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Here is a way to use some of the new chillis that I introduced in a blog last week.  It is a traditional recipe for a New Mexican Red Chile Sauce (Chilli Sauce) that is preferred by northern New Mexicans and New Mexican old-timers, especially those with Hispanic roots.  It’s for chile lovers only and has a coarse earthy flavour.


450g/ 1lb dried New Mexico red chile, remove stems (leave seeds and veins if you want it hot)
2 heads of garlic, peeled
1 large onion, chopped
2tbsp dried Mexican oregano (European oregano will do)
1tsp sea salt
Water as necessary

Place the dried New mexican chilli pods on a baking tray and place in a preheated oven at 180oC / 375oF for a few minutes until they become soft and leathery.

Working in small batches at a time, purée smooth in a food processor with all the spices, adding small amounts of water as needed to make a sauce that’s got the consistency of double cream.

Place each batch of the puréed New Mexican chile in a large bowl until it has all been blended smooth, then stir it all up to get a consistent mix of the flavours.

You can then freeze these into batches and use over the next 6 – 12 months.

Hot Chili From Steenbergs

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

The snow may have gone but it’s cold, dreich and miserable.  But after a manic Christmas, it’s given me time to do some of the boring, but necessary, things of business life – stocktake inputting, stock valuation and pricing review, plus I’ve just done the first cut of our Q4 2009 Fairtrade returns which will keep them happy.  I’ve still got to do stock reconciliations and new price lists – most things are going to stay the same price.

But on the upside, I have been able to do some of tastings and stock reviews that I have been wanting to do since October/November last year, and you will start to see some of these additions and tweaks to our product range over the next couple of months.

One of the key things we will be doing is going back to our roots – Steenbergs as your secret ingredient, the place to find those things that you just cannot find on the high street, a place for the exotic ingredients that dreams are made of.  Somehow we want to get the excitement of finding these mysterious ingredients onto our web site experience and not just in my mind, mad that it already is.

So we will introduce a new concept for us of web exclusive products, which are lines that we will not sell to retailers or Ebay customers of ours.  These are the wacky products that we have spent a lot of time and effort to track down, so we don’t want other people to get the benefit of our hard work.

Birds Eye Chillis Growing

Birds Eye Chillis Growing

As a start, we have begun by widening our range of chilli products.  We used to have quite a good range of these, but our supply chain wasn’t very good, and we also were concentrating on building Steenbergs raw materials activities and trying to build on success with retailers.  Perhaps we went awry and too far away from our roots, i.e. away from being good, old fashioned spice merchants!

So for chilli heads, we now can provide a wider range of chillis:

Ancho chilli: this comes from Mexico and is chile poblano ripened and dried.  A great quality ancho chile is flexible and neither damp nor dried out.  It is a deep red (although they can get really quite dark, blood red) with a wrinkled shiny skin – it’s 11cm long and 7-8cm wide.  Ancho chiles have a sweet, fruity, slightly acid flavour and while generally they are mild, they can shock you and be individually very hot.

Bird’s Eye chilli: these chillis come from Uganda and are sometimes called pili pili or peri peri chilli and I’ve even heard it called mistakenly Devil’s Penis chilli and is probably related to chile pequin.  They are bitingly hot with a Scoville rating of 135,000SHUs and have a flavour that’s reminiscent of dry hay.

Hungarian cherry chilli pepper: these are your classic chilli for making goulash.  They are packed full of flavour yet are quite mild with a bit of heat at 10,000 SHUs, so they’re like a mildy hot paprika.  Hungarian cherry peppers are traditionally smoked and are a deep tobacco brown in colour.

Chilpotle chilli (or more correctly chile chilpocle): this is one of my all time favourite spices.  It is a jalapeño that has been ripened to a deep red on the plant and then smoked dry.  Its name derives from the Nahuatl chil (chile) and pectli (smoke).  They have a tobacco brown colour and are wrinkled with a smoky general flavour and aroma together with a very picante taste.  Great used whole to flavour soups or blended into a mole or a salsa or tomato sauce that’s got a bite, which you can then use as sauce for chicken dishes or even as a spicy base for a Mexican style pizza (now that’s serious fusion cooking).

Facing Heaven Chilli

Facing Heaven Chilli

Facing Heaven chilli (chao tian jiao):

what a romantic name for a chilli and comes from the fact that its pods grow upwards towards the gods in heaven.  These come from Sichuan in China and are the quintessential chilli of Szechuan cookery, and have that heat you would expect from a medium heat chilli, but full of the umami you would get from Sichuan peppercorns – they sort of fizz and fizzle on your tongue like space dust.  They have a rich red colour and pointed cone shape like a witch’s hat.

Habanero chilli: habanero chile is usually used fresh in Mexico (and traditionally from the Yucatán Peninsula), but we’re not set up for fresh products, so a dry version will do us just fine.  It was the hottest chilli until Naga chilli came along but it has an appetising flavour, although some of the depth of flavour is lost in the drying process, with a serious afterburn.  It’s heat rating is in range of 100,000 to 350,000 SHUs, which is damn hot.  One neat way to use habanero is to make a sauce, say a mole or tomato sauce and then infuse the habanero in it for a short while to give the sauce a light piquancy – in Mexico this is “to let the chile take a walk through the sauce.”

New Mexico red chilli: this is the staple chile of the United States and is used earthy red chile sauces and are an integral part of enchiladas, tamales, pozole, meat and egg dishes in southwestern states of the USA.  It starts as the dried long green chilli of New Mexico and has a light, sweet flavour, and then is field-ripened to a scarlet red and then dried to get the New Mexican red chile.  If you lived in new Mexico, you would find a range of chiles with rural names like Anaheim, Big Jim, Espanolas, Rio Grande and Sandia.  The main production areas are in the dry valleys of the Rio Grande River in the southern part of New Mexico and in the cooler north, where the heart of the biggest chilli growing region is from Hatch to Las Cruces in the south; in the north they are grown around Chimayo north of Sante Fe.

Naga Jolokia chilli (sometimes bhut jolokia): this a mega hot chilli and I mean mentally hot.  It was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest chilli ever at 855,000 SHUs, so be warned this is dangerous.  We all togged up in latex gloves, masks etc to pack this one and lived to tell the tale.  It originates from Nagaland in the far reaches of India on the border with Burma; it’s a harsh climate for a harsh chili.  We used to get some of Assam tea from near here on an estate called Banaspaty but supply became difficult with kidnappings of the estate managers!

At Steenbergs, we also have a range of pure chilli powders – cayenne pepper, chilli powder, smoked paprika and paprika – and loads of blended chillis from nearly every continent of the world (I don’t think the Antarctic have invented a traditional blend yet), but especially our Mexican Chile Powder, Harissa and New Mexican Chile Powder. 

To help you with your home cooking of Mexican food, we have brought in oregano direct from Mexico to complement our European oregano.  Mexican oregano is Lippia berlandieri rather than Origanum vulgare, and is closely related to lemon verbena; it has a stronger oregano flavour than good, old European oregano.

Note: I apologise for the almost schizophrenic use of chilli, chile and chili, but this is blatantly to get coverage under as many different types of search as possible.