Interview with Ian Hemphill from Herbie’s Spices

Ian Hemphill

Ian Hemphill can’t remember when herbs and spices were not a part of his life. In 1997 Ian and his wife Liz opened a specialty spice shop in the Sydney suburb of Rozelle, which bears the nickname Ian has had since school days…Herbie’s.

Tell us about Herbies?

My parents, John & Rosemary Hemphill pioneered the awareness of herbs and spices in Australia in the 1950’s and beyond, and I continued the spice tradition in the family by pursuing a career in the spice world in Australia and overseas. After years in the corporate world it was a logical step for me (my nickname is Herbie for obvious reasons) and Liz, my wife and longest serving spice apprentice since 1970, to fulfil a dream to bring a new spice experience to Australians.

Herbie’s Spices strategy was to have the largest range of culinary herbs and spices and spice blends of the very best quality. In addition, my mission was to educate cooks and de-mystify the world of spices, so consumers from every walk of life could understand and enjoy them in their daily meals.

What is your most popular selling herb or spice?

Ras el Hanout and Super Ras el Hanout. Two versions of an exotic blend of spices for using in Moroccan dishes from tagines to spiced cous cous. The name Ras el Hanout means ‘Top of the Shop’ and t is always the very best spice blend that any self-respecting spice merchant will make. Rather than being a messy concoction of up to 30 different spices, Ras el Hanout is a seriously balanced, fragrant blend where no one spice dominates. Super Ras el Hanout has robust flavours that compliment lamb, strongly flavoured seafood and game. I have to admit that even though I include whole saffron stigmas in both blends, I did leave out the Spanish fly and the hashish!

- What do you love about herbs and spices?

Herbs and spices are 100% natural, and they are amazingly powerful as only a small amount is needed to transform an ordinary meal into a culinary delight. Herbs and spices help cooks prepare and eat meals made from completely natural ingredients, avoiding processed foods. I also find that the farmers growing herbs and spices are hospitable and friendly to deal with, something you don’t see in every industry.

- What is your favourite Australian native herb or spice? 

I love lemon myrtle as it is so versatile. The lemon flavour is a great substitute for lemon grass in Asian meals and it goes equally well in desserts, cakes and biscuits.

- How do you use Australian native herbs or spices in your home cooking?

Mostly as rubs on meats that are being pan-fried, grilled or barbecued. I also like to blend them with other spices such as coriander seed and paprika as, like most spices, they benefit from being balanced with other complimentary flavours.

- Which herbs and spices are grown in Australia?

Coriander seed and ginger (spices) are grown in large quantities, and of course myriads of fresh herbs that are now readily available. Most spices are grown in tropical countries and although vanilla and pepper are grown in North Queensland, the production volume is very low. Saffron is grown in Tasmania, however due to the high cost of labour in Australia, intensive crops like this tend to be uneconomic, and also take revenue from farmers in poorer nations who need the income more than we do.

- Best piece of cooking advice.

Keep it simple and always add herbs and spices to your cooking!

- What’s the biggest mistake people make when cooking with herbs or spices?

Being frightened to use them. Once you start to use them and see what a difference they make, you realise how easy it is to enjoy them.

- What’s your favourite cooking product?

There are so many wonderful ingredients available these days, it is a challenge to single out just one. Besides our own spice blends which we use in every meal at home, I would be lost without the excellent range of all natural stocks made by Ben Dutton at The Stock Merchant. As for cookware, being a fan of curries, tagines and casseroles, I could not live without my selection of cast-iron lidded pots that work brilliantly in the conventional oven, or in our outdoor brick oven.

- Do you have a favourite cookbook?

Another tough one, as we use many cookbooks, some long out of print. At the moment we are making a lot of recipes from Ragini Dey’s latest book ‘Spice Kitchen’ published by Hardie Grant. Ragini’s recipes are spot on for our tastes, and so far all her recipes work, something that does not happen with all cookbooks.

The Herbie’s range can be purchased from their store in Rozelle, selected retailers nationally, or online from www.herbies.com.au.

Thank you Ian Hemphill from Herbie’s Spices for taking the time to talk to us.  

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