Flavours are compounds, natural or synthetic, which contribute to the pleasing taste and smell of food. They exist in nature - pick up an heirloom tomato, have a smell and a bite. That’s nature working its magic.
The synthetic kind on the other hand is designed to make bland, inexpensive food enticing. Flavouring companies use gas chromatography and other technologies that analyze and produce the very flavours that have been lost on the farm. These get added to processed foods to make them “tastier.” Some of them are even cleverly named “natural flavours.” These too are chemical compounds created in a lab and added to food products.
As sophisticated as these technologies are, they will never replace what nature does. Their intention is also vastly different. One creates flavours to sustain you with nutrition, the other creates flavours to get you hooked and taste just as strong five years down the track as they did when they were first manufactured. So that you eat more of that item. The economics are rather self explanatory from there on in.
Honesty matters when it comes to food. The more we educate ourselves on the systems at play, the more we empower ourselves as consumers.
This summer TTNJ decided to take a stab at shifting our supply line, and working more closely with local BC farmers to grow our ingredients. This was a very interesting exercise as it taught us so much about the planning that has to take place well in advance, when it comes to product development. For example, if you want habaneros in August, you have to start preparing the soil and purchasing seeds the year before. We worked in particular with Seed to Culture out in Lillooet, BC in growing all of our jalapeños, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and carrots. Basically, trying to align our ingredient sourcing and production schedule as much as possible to the season. This was not without its challenges, as we are still quite small and have limited purchasing and processing means, but it was worth every bit of effort. This exercise opened up a whole new lens for us as a food product manufacturer in critically thinking about the intricacies, challenges, advantages and disadvantages that exist in modern agriculture, and where we fit in this picture. Because no matter how big or small, we all still fit in the picture.
Trying not to oversimplify a complex topic, some advantages of modern agriculture include: increased efficiency, standardising crop quality, increased food production and economic benefits. Some disadvantages of modern agriculture include: Soil degradation and erosion, biodiversity loss, water pollution, health risks from the use of chemical pesticides and food safety concerns around GMO crop. We could write a paper on each of these topics, but the point is that advancements in agriculture should not be viewed from a one dimensional perspective. These advancements have usually come at a cost. In particular, in health and our connection to food.
Seed to Culture uses organic and regenerative farming practices in the Lillooet Valley. This means that no chemicals are used and their soil is enriched through the addition of organic matter such as hay mulch and cover crops. The Lillooet Valley is also positioned in an interesting micro-climate warm enough for growing items like peppers. We have deep gratitude for all of Seed to Cultures hard work and dedication. This partnership was definitely a highlight for TTNJ this year. Plus, who doesn’t like getting text updates on bear and deer activity in the tomato and pepper fields? A beautiful reminder that we share this place.
So why did we land on this partnership? Well, for starters, supporting other local businesses as we’re in the same mad hustle just makes sense. It resonates. On several different levels. Putting economics aside, because that is a tricky balancing act when you’re trying to create something long lasting and meaningful. We let our palates take the reigns in this SWOT analysis. Suddenly, our all natural hot sauces went from being tasty, to possessing a whole other realm and depth of flavour nuances that we never even knew existed. Just by switching to locally sourced ingredients that have the luxury of ripening on the vine. We use the word “luxury” intentionally hoping to stir a sense of inquisition.
These deep, rich flavours are exquisite and like most things in nature, they don’t last forever. The very definition of “shelf stable” product is in fact an oxymoron for real flavour aficionados. The flavour that real ingredients impart naturally deteriorate over time, so things like food additives, stabilisers, “natural flavours” and a whole ream of items are added to products to create the illusion that there is no deterioration. This is so containers of pallets can be bought, inexpensively, creating the sensation that there is no deterioration in quality. When in reality, there was no quality to begin with.
It’s important that we take this time to be honest and transparent by mentioning that we don’t source all of our ingredients locally. We can’t. Pineapples don’t grow in Canada. We purchase those through conventional means. What we try to do is source these ingredients when they’re in season and plan our production schedule accordingly.
Earning a buck is important, we need to, it’s the modus operandi for our globe. However, a life where we don’t get to taste the flavour of an heirloom tomato which has been ripened on a vine, in our opinion, is desolate. Trying to capture and mimic this deep pleasure through a gas chromatograph will always fall short. Real flavour is important, and it doesn’t need to be limited to fine dining. It’s about time that we begin to fight to see it back on our grocery shelves. It starts with what we put in that grocery basket.