A spicy love affair with the king of spices

2019-06-26 06:01
Deena and Justin Roberts grow pepper from their home in Scottsville.PHOTO: supplied

Deena and Justin Roberts grow pepper from their home in Scottsville.PHOTO: supplied

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WHAT started as a personal joke between Pietermaritzburg husband and wife Deena and Justin Roberts has turned into a spicy affair with the king of spices at the heart of their new business venture, Crush’d.

Out of their home in Scottsville, the pair have been producing, processing and packing a range of wood-smoked and infused black pepper since February this year.

In the five months since taking their unique range of spices to the market, they have already proved so popular that they will be going one step further by showcasing the range at KZN’s biggest exhibition, the East Coast Radio House & Garden Show, taking place from June 28 to July 7.

It all started when Justin and Deena travelled to Zanzibar, where Justin was based for work at the time.

The couple love spices and spicy food and the abundance of these in Zanzibar appealed to their taste buds.

Thereafter, each time Justin returned home to South Africa for a holiday with his family, he brought his wife some pepper as a personal joke.

Their unique range of pepper was actually a ‘beautiful mistake’,” says Deena, who said it was originally meant to be a Tex-Mex range of smoked jalapeños.

It was while trialling the smoking process, using black peppercorns as their guinea pigs, that they realised they had inadvertently created something unique that no-one else in South Africa was doing; and so, the idea for Crush’D was born.

Once the Roberts’ had committed to producing a range of pepper, they set about researching where to find the best quality black peppercorns for smoking.

Pepper is not readily cultivated in South Africa so the Roberts’ looked further afield, trying a variety of peppers produced in India, Brazil and Tanzania, eventually settling on the pepper produced in Vietnam — the world’s largest producer of the spice.

“There are so many types of pepper,” explains Deena. “And all have a unique flavour and different levels of heat. For example, the pepper from Tanzania is super-hot and spicy whereas the Vietnamese pepper we use takes very well to the smoking process, holds the flavour and is much more appealing to a wider market because of its earthy qualities and taste.”

During their research, the pair also realised the huge health benefits of black pepper.

“Pepper is not known as the king of spice for nothing,” says Deena, “It is full of antioxidants and rich in vitamins and minerals and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries.”

The smoking process itself is labour intensive and the peppercorns take a couple of days to smoke in a fire that has to be carefully controlled and at a certain temperature for the duration of the smoking process.

All this is managed by Justin, aka the “Pit Master”, in a large smoker in their back garden that he fashioned out of an old bakery proofer which they picked up second hand.

Justin, with no engineering experience but a practical man by nature, had to completely re-case the proofer with a new stainless-steel casing; which he learnt how to do through extensive Google research.

Now, the couple not only produce their original smoked black pepper but have expanded their range to include infused flavours such as a port-infused version, where they have smoked the black pepper in a port wine, as well as lemon-infused, smoked chilli and Turmeric.

— Supplied.

WIN WIN WIN

You can take a trip down the spice route with Deena and Justin at this year’s East Coast Radio House & Garden Show, supported by Durban Tourism, from June 28 to July 7 at the Durban Exhibition Centre. All you have to do is visit the Maritzburg Fever Facebook page, where you could win one of five sets of double tickets. Follow the instructions on the post to enter.

[For more information on the show, and to book tickets, visit www.housegardenshow.co.za]

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