Some like it hot

The PNG spice trade

Paradise - - Contents -

It’s no won­der Ian Hem­phill has a nose for a good spice. Aus­tralia’s fore­most spice mer­chant grew up on a herb farm and has been re­fin­ing his sense of smell since he was a child. Af­ter 45 years in busi­ness, the spice ex­pert is very fussy about the in­gre­di­ents that he adds to his well-known Her­bie’s Spices range. On a re­cent visit to Pa­pua New Guinea, he was so im­pressed by lo­cal spices that he de­cided to im­me­di­ately stock three of them: hot bird­s­eye chilli pow­der, green chilli pow­der and Sogeri wild hot gin­ger. “If I can get some­thing that’s re­ally good, re­ally out of the box, that’s what I’ll put in my range,” Hem­phill says. “It’s def­i­nitely the flavour and the qual­ity that make these spices so good.”

Au­thor of The Spice and Herb Bi­ble, TV pre­sen­ter and Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald Food Hall of Fame win­ner, Hem­phill is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his par­ents, herb pi­o­neers John and Rose­mary Hem­phill, of Som­er­set Cot­tage, who com­mer­cially in­tro­duced herbs and spices to Aus­tralia in the 1950s.

Af­ter work­ing for 10 years in the cor­po­rate world, Hem­phill set up Her­bie’s Spices with his wife, Liz, in 1997. The fam­ily busi­ness ex­panded, with daugh­ter and chef Kate re­cently join­ing them to work on recipes.

Hem­phill had a shop in Syd­ney for 20 years but now con­cen­trates on run­ning his fac­tory on the NSW Cen­tral Coast and an on­line store, which stocks more than 100 spices from around the world.

He trav­elled to PNG for the first time last Novem­ber as an ad­vi­sory con­sul­tant to Par­adise Spices in Port Moresby. He was im­pressed by the com­pany’s pro­cess­ing tech­niques and he vis­ited the Rigo Dis­trict to talk to chilli farm­ers.

The farm­ing meth­ods are a cross be­tween wild gath­er­ing and or­dered cul­ti­va­tion, he says. In­stead of or­dered rows, the plants self-seed and grow in a hap­haz­ard way. The farm­ers clear ar­eas be­tween the plants and then har­vest the chilli.

The bird­s­eye chilli is very hot, with a beau­ti­ful flavour pro­file. It is a bright orange-red colour with rich caramel notes and scores a 10 out of 10 on the heat-level gauge.

“A light sprin­kle on my break­fast eggs sets me up for the day,” Hem­phill says.

He was also ex­cited to dis­cover green chilli pow­der in PNG, as it’s dif­fi­cult to source. Most of the world’s chill­ies are har­vested when ripe (red). This has a fresh green flavour pro­file with­out the high sugar lev­els of red chilli.

Par­adise Spices slice the fresh green chill­ies and place them in a de­hy­dra­tor to dry them un­der con­trolled con­di­tions.

“Go­ing to see the farm­ers in Sogeri was fab­u­lous,” Hem­phill says. “The farm­ers do every­thing by hand. They’re not us­ing any chem­i­cals be­cause they can’t af­ford them. They could be cer­ti­fied or­ganic but the cost of get­ting cer­ti­fi­ca­tion would be ridicu­lous.”

The Sogeri gin­ger is unique to the area and has a beau­ti­ful aroma. Most gin­gers are sweet but this hot one is ideal for cur­ries and Asian dishes, Hem­phill says.

Ian Hem­phill ... im­pressed by the flavour and qual­ity of PNG spices.

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