Sourcing Of Ingredients

Thinking about organic?

At Steenbergs, we are passionate about the wonderful tastes, heady smells, glorious colours and the thrill and excitement of high quality teas, pepper, spices and herbs. We are, also, looking for products that can be traced back to the farmers and growers.

This provenance and such level of quality only comes through organic products. Organic food is about respect for the consumer and nature - making food the way consumers expect it to be made without harming, damaging or polluting our environment. But what exactly is organic and what's so bad with non-organic foods?

What it means to farmers?

To start with, they must convert their non-organic land - following organic practices for 3 years before they can sell their produce as organic. This is a massive commitment in time and money.

Organic farming starts with the seeds, which must be natural and cannot be genetically engineered. Next comes the soil, organic farming looks to build healthy, living soil that can produce great food. Soil is nourished with manure and compost, rather than with synthetic fertilisers.

Pests and diseases are a major issue for farmers, reducing crop and meat yields. An organic farmer cannot use artificial pesticides or routine antibiotics. Organic farmers protect against disease through maintaining healthy soil, crop rotation, intercropping and using natural controls.

Are organic foods healthier?

With organic foods, you can be sure that artificial processing has been kept to a minimum. Organic foods tend to have higher mineral and vitamin content. No artificial chemicals are used in farming; no post-harvest chemicals are applied to plants and meat.

They contain no hydrogenated fats, artificial additives, flavourings or preservatives.

What about the environment and the farmers?

Organic producers, also, consider the environmental impact of food production and the welfare of their workers:

  • Organic producers start with the idea that they are guardians of the land, respecting the environment, looking to preserve plant and animal species, nurturing the soil and keeping the air and water clean.
  • A key factor in the way we work at Steenbergs is respect for people. We have a strict policy that guarantees producers a fair market value for the goods they produce. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure that their workers are paid a fair wage, as well as given decent levels of sanitation, power and education.  And we ensure that our staff are also paid a fair wage.

Can I be sure that it really is organic?

Organic has a legal meaning - all food or drink sold as organic within Europe must be produced according to European laws on organic production. This means that farmers, processors and importers need to be reviewed every year by a recognised agency and importers must obtain import licences for every non-European product. We are registered by Organic Food Federation. 

We check our suppliers. This means that our growers in India, Sri Lanka etc must also be checked every year and hold EU organic certificates. Then when we order, each shipment must be checked by the exporter's certification body, the UK Port Health Authorities and ourselves.  We carry out our own independent laboratory analysis for pesticides, colours, radiation as well as for microbial safety.

The impact of chemicals

25,000 tonnes of pesticides are applied to crops in the UK every year and they are recommended for use in pepper and spice production. However, of the 75,000 synthetic chemicals on the market only 10% have been rigorously tested with 30% having never been checked. But what is known is not great:

  • Methyl bromide is used in many pesticides and as a fungicide for pepper, as well as for blanket fumigation of wooden pallets. Yet it is linked to the deaths of farm-workers in the developed and developing world, attacking the nervous system, as well as damaging lungs, kidneys and is linked to testicular cancer. It, also, damages the ozone layer.  Methyl bromide was phased out by 2015 for its impact on the ozone layer.
  • Irradiation may be used to sterilise herbs and spices under UK legislation, although it is not widely used. Where it is not used, ethylene oxide is often used. Ethylene oxide is a known genotoxic carcinogen, which has been banned in Australia for use on herbs and spices.
  • In the USA, farmers apply over 14 million tonnes of man-made nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers to their fields, but only 20% is actually absorbed in plant tissue. The rest runs off into our rivers and seas, where it can cause nitrate poisoning in humans, as well as algal blooms that can kill aquatic life and pollute drinking water supplies.

Too good to be true!

Natural food does not behave in the way we are used to - colours tend to be more muted and variable, powders cake up and the shelf life may be reduced:

  • Organic curry powders are light brown and contain no artificial colourings. Non-organic foods often contain permitted food colourings , such as tartrazine (E102), sunset yellow (E110) and Ponceau 4R (E124). Tandoori mixes and sauces contain Ponceau 4R and tartrazine to give it that improved look, but tartrazine is banned in Austria, Finland and Norway.
  • The major supermarkets and independent retailers have had product recalls for cayenne pepper, chilli powder and curry mixes during 2003 to March 2004 and more dramatically in March 2005. It was found that non-organic chillis had been improved with Sudan I, a carcinogenic red dye that is banned in Europe for foods and is normally used to colour shoe and floor polish.
  • The UK was the only country in the EU and one of the few in the developed world to permit the red Azo-dye Red 2G (E128), which is used to hide the poor colour of cheaper meats used of sausages and burgers, as well as alcoholic drinks and jams.  The European Food Safety Authority has stated (July 2007) that it can no longer give a maximum permitted amount because of its potential to cause cancer, so why did the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan and rest of EU ban it ages beforehand.
  • Spice powders and salts tend to cake up with moisture. That easy-flow consistency comes from anti-caking agents, such as aluminosilicate for your salt or silicon dioxide in your tandoori mix.
  • Organic adds another layer of traceability for the authenticity of food, and has purity as one of its core principles.  Protection from food fraud became high priority in the UK for two main reasons: (1) greater awareness of allergens within foods, with nuts found in non-organic cumin and paprika in 2015; (2) the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the UK where horsemeat was detected in pork within the UK food chain, and pork in some halal products.  In 2016, several cases of haddock as cod were discovered in the UK.

And finally...

Conventional foods are not all bad - plenty of exercise and a balanced diet is the best thing for all of us. Just choose the best quality food you can find, consider where it came from, then slow down a little, relax and enjoy it!