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A spicy idea: Green Saffron’s Indian blends target UK’s home cooks

Launching into Waitrose this month with a selection of convenient mixes, the Irish company is developing products to help introduce Indian flavours to new audiences.

5 September 2019
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Indian food has been mined in retail for everything from chilled, ambient and frozen ready meals to free-from samosas and bhajis, but what about the people who like to cook at home?

Irish spice brand Green Saffron is hoping to fill this space. It’s launched three Indian spice blends into Waitrose, inspired by popular flavour combinations. These include Indian red lentil dahl, Bombay potatoes and Madras.

“A lot of them are based on family meal solutions and on how a family can make it really easy to replicate,” founder Arun Kapil tells Food Spark. “Not everyone is aware of spice or how to cook with spice, so I’m kind of always coming at NPD and new products from an accessibility point of view, but influenced by family.”

The blends aim to transform dishes into an Indian-style street food experience, he adds, noting that they are also gluten-free.

Green Saffron was started back in 2007 as a farmers’ market stall and Kapil spent four years working like crazy as a “mad scientist” to create 550 blends. Some of these are now stocked in stores in Ireland, as well as being used as seasonings for big companies in ready meals.

Kapil says his family taught him that a spice blend should be about a fragrance that you want to dive into – but which is also balanced.

“I see spices as more than just heat. I see them as colour and the most beautiful and glorious natural form of flavour,” he explains. “We are working with spices to bring out nuance and subtlety and twisting and turning flavours to highlight certain things in dishes – it’s not about loads of chilli.”

NPD beyond blends

The Waitrose range, in particular, is good for mixing with vegetables and plant-based meals, which is what people want more of these days, says Kapil.

But while they come with recipes on the pack, he doesn’t want to put boundaries on the blends.

“We encourage people to use our spices in an everyday context,” he comments. “You can mix it with a bit of vegetable oil or something and make a little dry rub for the barbecue or grill, or put it on your chicken or vegetables in tray bakes.”

While Kapil is introducing unfamiliar spices to the market like long pepper, cubeb pepper, aserpateta spice and ratan jot – authentic flavours of India that are relatively unknown in the UK – there are also a range of other products coming.

These include natural, hand-stretched, clay-oven-baked naan breads, pastes that ditch the palm oil and instead use something called cell fat and rapeseed oil, top-down squeezy mango chutneys, curried ketchups and mayonnaises, as well as microwavable rice with Indian seasonings.

“Green Saffron will be the first brand in the Indian space to cross category,” he claims. “We launched already over here in Ireland fresh pots of lentil curry and my dad’s vegetable curry – healthy, vegan, vegetarian offerings. I’ve also developed a frozen vegan/vegetarian range around black rice, basmati, dharma beans and quinoa – always with an Indian bent and an Indian spicing.”

Tracing spices

Ingredients like cocoa and coffee beans have been put under the spotlight in terms of food fraud, but spices have largely slipped under the radar despite recent findings that ground cumin was being adulterated with peanut shells, says Kapil.

It’s something he is keen to tackle. He sources his ingredients direct from farmers in India and has created an NGO to help them nurture the land and increase the yield through natural practices, rather than using pesticides. Green Saffron has also been using blockchain for the past two years.

This year, he teamed up with Professor Chris Elliott from the Institute for Global Safety on a project to help improve the traceability and viability of the spice trade in India too.

Transparency and provenance will carry a heavier influence on the spice market in the future, Kapil predicts, with consumers demanding information on where the product is coming from and how it’s grown.

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