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Spicetrekkers.com - On the hunt for the world's best spices and blends

On the hunt for the world's best spices and blends

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It’s impossible to forget the first time we went to Oaxaca because it was just a couple of days before the Guelaguetza. The Guelaguetza is an annual celebration held in the month of July that brings together the seven mountainous regions of the Oaxacan valley in an outpouring of colorful and exuberant demonstrations of dancing, singing, eating and all-round sharing.

Oaxacan culture happily dictates that individuals have a responsibility to contribute to their communities. Exchanges of goods or deeds between individuals or groups should however be repaid, if not immediately then at some time in the future. For example if a carpenter helps a baker build his house, then the carpenter’s daughters could expect that all of the baked goods needed for their eventual weddings would be supplied, free of charge of course.  It’s a truly spectacular event that genuinely represents the spirit and culture of one of the most beautiful indigenous regions of Mexico.

We experienced our own Guelaguetza of sorts upon meeting the wonderful family that owns Divina Tradicion, one of the last artisanal chocolate makers left in Mexico. We filmed an episode of our television documentary series Chasseurs d’épices (Spice Hunters) in Oaxaca and were bowled over by the really authentic and delicious mole negro  we ate in Azucena Zapoteca. When we asked chef Israel where he got the chocolate to make the mole negro he directed us to Divina Tradicion where third generation owners Lorena and Misael graciously allowed us to film a segment of our show.  Their generosity was of course greatly appreciated and that particular segment of the show proved to be one of the highlights of the Oaxaca episode. Continue reading →

New York, New York

Posted on by Ethne

We always hear about the “bigness” that is New York. Of course there are the sky scrapers, the traffic, the noise and the notoriously big, bad attitudes of New Yorkers themselves, which be they true or not are legendary.  The city also has everything we could apparently ever imagine; it’s the most densely populated in the Unites States, it has one of the world’s largest natural harbours and it has long been a center for fashion, trade, finance, diplomacy, entertainment, art and culture.

We rarely hear about the politeness of New Yorkers, the intimacy of their neighbourhoods or the “How you guys doin’ ?” folksiness of some retailers, servers and taxi cab drivers.

Fortunately for us Manhattan is not the only reference for all that is wonderful, and wondrous about this world renowned metropolis also nicknamed Gotham. Long ignored Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn are regaining some of the ground they lost over the past half century or so to the hipsters and brokers, as well as to the rising and sometimes even falling stars who made and maintained Manhattan. Continue reading →

Chios Tears

A few  of our memorable spice trekking destinations continue to make headlines, for reasons totally unconnected to the wonderful spices that we source and subsequently import for our company Epices de cru®.

Last summer Chios joined other newsmakers like: Assam, Aleppo, Kashgar, Sri Lanka and Grenada and as a consequence has surely become yet another very popular search topic on Google.

Forest fires last summer destroyed approximately half the mastic trees which are indigenous to the southern part of the island. Chios’ strategic location in the Aegean Sea is considered one of the main reasons for the superior quality of mastic that has been harvested there for centuries. Mastic trees produce a resin which is extracted by cutting the bark of the larger branches and allowing the sap to drip on to a blanket of calcium carbonate scattered under the trees. “Chios tears”, as the mastic is called, are then washed, sun dried, further processed and used in preparations such as chewing gum, candies, spirits, liquors, desserts, medications and cosmetics.

Compared with other destinations in Greece, Chios is an incredibly serene and laid-back island which is also believed to be the birthplace of Homer and Christopher Columbus.  It was in the idyllic, fortified village Mesta, one of the better preserved medieval towns that dot the island, that we met Mrs. & Mr. Dionysios. The couple had lived in the village for most of their lives and were restaurateurs prior to their retirement.  Their culinary experience and generosity, coupled with their conviction that “all things Greek are great”, allowed us to learn a lot about the local food culture, and to thoroughly enjoy their hospitality whenever we visited Mesta. Continue reading →

Mortar and pestle

Posted on by Ethne

I had an old boyfriend once who was a university student, he eventually graduated, but I think it was a distinction that had been bestowed on him for time served and not much else. Not that he lacked intelligence, he just had a higher regard for himself and his abilities than others did. By the time he became an entrepreneur our relationship had already come to an amicable end.  I remember however, that he was always – “Busy, very, very busy”. It didn’t matter the time of year or the day of the week, this guy was always “VERY busy”.  I never understood what made his life so hectic or why he never found the time to do all that he claimed he wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no slacker myself, but people who say that they’re too busy to slow down, too busy to cook, too busy to eat well, or too busy to play, really puzzle me.  I mean if you think about it, where’s the fun, and when are they planning on having some?

Even before becoming spice hunters, Philippe and I were avid travelers.  Our exploits allowed us to sample a variety of cuisines from all over the world and to develop a lasting respect for people of different cultures who embrace the art of cooking with spices.  It is always heart warming to see those who take the time to prepare and share meals.  It’s never just about the food; it’s truly also about the legacy.  It’s about passing on the knowledge and encouraging the next generation to follow suit.  It’s also about doing what it takes to eat tasty, nutritious, simple, shared, home-made food.  We all know that some – thank God not all – of our habits – will in time be emulated by our kids. The pleasure, good sense and totally self indulgent practice of eating well are therefore all wonderful pretexts on which to hedge our bets, hoping that the “little ones” will copy some of those as well. Continue reading →

Let’s talk about spices

I never realized what a hard time some people have when it comes to describing taste. They seem however, to have less difficulty with flavours, as more colourful and less precise language is tolerated.  Firstly, taste is determined exclusively by the tongue and we all remember the famous four; sweet, bitter, sour and salty.  Flavor however is a combination of taste, smell, texture and temperature which is where the “flowery”, “lemony”, “woodsy” and the ever popular “grassy” terminology flamboyantly enters conversations triggering lots of head bobbing and eyebrow lifting, depending on the tone and delivery of the speaker.  Our personal memories also play an important role when it comes to describing flavour, as past experiences often thought to be forgotten rear their submerged heads and greatly influence our opinions. How many times have we said or heard “This reminds me of …”

We don’t seem to have too much trouble discerning between sweet, bitter, sour, and salty, which for so long stood alone as taste definers.  Then along came hot and umami as well as other deeply intense taste profiles which kick our taste buds into overdrive when we use chilies, herbs, peppers, and even soya sauce. Once we incorporate these other tastes, for some reason some among us are inclined to rage on about how “spicy” the food is.  A question that often arises when referring to spice blends is “Is it very spicy?”  That’s always a tough one to answer because any spice blend is made up of a variety of spices, each with their own taste, flavour and intensity, which by definition makes the blend – you guessed it – “spicy”.

Morocco’s most legendary contribution to the spice world is probably Ras el Hanout. This blend is also known as “the top of the shop” and can contain as many as thirty or more different spices. It is the blend that every spice merchant uses to showcase his or her mastery of the ancient art of spice blending.  This highly aromatic, most emblematic blend is by far the most famous to have ever crossed the thresholds of kitchens anywhere in the world. Is it hot? No, even though there are more than five different kinds of peppers in its profile. Is it strong? Well, it’s not weak that’s for sure. We were being cautious, if not kind when we left out the hashish, Spanish fly and belladonna that were staples of the blend in the old days. Is it spicy? Most definitely, with almost thirty individual spices, that would be an apt description of this blend. Is it a masterpiece? In the world of spices, it’s a Rembrandt. Continue reading →

A little about us

Ethné and Philippe de Vienne, SpiceTrekkers

Traveling the globe to unearth the world’s best spices from faraway culinary cultures has been our shared passion for the past quarter-century. In 2002 Épices de Cru was born of this passion.

We are dedicated to procuring the world’s best spices and blends. We’re constantly traveling far and wide to meet and learn from producers, locals and chefs and to establish with them sustainable partnerships that are fair and rewarding to all.

Our mission is to cultivate the same culture of appreciation and esteem for spices as is reserved for wine, coffee and fruits. In these culinary traditions, the terroir – the growing conditions and climate – of the plants and the know-how of the producers are given the utmost consideration in grading quality. Our hope is that such attention to detail will highlight the stunning difference between ordinary and superior quality spices.

We believe that the key to culinary success lies within spices and blends. After years of working in the catering industry we realized that quality spices have the ability to transform ordinary food into extraordinary fare. This realization inspired us to apply the knowledge we’ve acquired throughout our global treks to recreate authentic spice blends.

The art of blending spices is simple but requires adherence to certain principles. Use whole, fresh spices whenever possible. Remain true to the culinary traditions of each blend. Use a mortar and pestle to grind spices. Above all, have faith in your nose. Odours are memories that influence your taste. Following these guidelines will make improvisation fun and simple.

Bon Appétit!

Ethné & Philippe

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