The Story of Cape Herb & Spice

 A large part of South Africa’s history is defined by its pivotal role during the Spice Route era, when 16th century seafarers began to circumvent the African continent as an alternative to journeying across the increasingly conflicted territories between Asia and Europe. Apart from its strategic position as a halfway house between east and west, the city of Cape Town began to develop a culture all unto its own – a culture perhaps most notable in its culinary scene – infused with exotic scents and bold flavours. Centuries later, that tradition lives on in the local success story of Cape Herb & Spice whose rare and precious ingredients are finding greater resonance with a growing, global audience, and South Africa’s footprint continues to grow abroad.

Aromatic spices and herbs are an intrinsic cornerstone of South Africa’s heritage. From the traditional Malay curries that were brought here from Indonesia by slaves and adapted to Dutch dining sensibilities in the early days of the Colony to iconic snacks like our salty, spiced biltong, our local culinary heritage is nothing without flavourful herbs and spices.

Cape Herb & Spice was founded 28 years ago by Irene Ivy, a young business science graduate who set up shop in the then brand new V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Her humble barrow business tapped into a growing interest in exotic food trends and new flavour profiles, and Irene – a passionate foodie with a strong design aesthetic – was an intrinsic part of this early revolution in South Africa.

Her business quickly evolved with her development of the brand’s groundbreaking transparent disposable grinder. It was a phenomenal success and two decades later, the Cape Herb & Spice grinder remains a cornerstone of this proudly local, ever-evolving business. The Elements grinder range soon followed, where salts, herbs, peppers, spices and even edible flowers were combined in innovative flavour marriages. 

“Back then, exotic ingredients like pink peppercorns and vanilla pods were hard to source and supply, but we were determined to bring the very best we could find to market in a transparent process – and it’s still how we operate”, says Cape Herb & Spices CEO Paul Jibson.

As with most world-class chefs, provenance and the very best quality ingredients have always been the starting point of any Cape Herb & Spice product; be it a rub, a grinder or a flavour shaker. “Our herbs and spices come from the best suppliers in the heart of the herb and spice growing regions. We pride ourselves on the transparency of our supply chain, ensuring traceability from the farm to our factory” says Paul.

While you will know Cape Herb & Spice from your local supermarket shelves, an astonishing 80% of their product is exported – to Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States. Couple this with the fact that they employ well over 600 staff directly and many more indirectly, there’s no doubt that this Cape-born-and-bred business is a proudly South African success story with an international appeal.

Paul explains: “The seeds of our business were borne in Cape Town but we like to think of ourselves as a global brand that brings exceptional quality and exciting food possibilities to a hungry and interested consumer – it’s why we feel such an affinity for chefs like Jan who operate on the international stage so masterfully, but who has always celebrated his roots and culinary heritage with such pride”.

Words by Vicki Sleet
images: rijksmuseum, supplied