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Secret spices from afar

Chef Lance Seeto
Sunday, November 11, 2012

With recent news that Air Pacific is soon to return to its original name of Fiji Airways started by the late Australian aviator Harold Gatty, it was a coincidence that I was to visit his son's pioneering spice farm on the day of the announcement. Ronald Gatty, like his father, is a pioneer in Fiji. Not in the aviation industry, but in horticulture, starting Fiji's first spice company more than 20 years ago. Now in his eighties, Ron Gatty is often referred to as the father of the Fijian spice industry, with a dream to bring new aromatic spices from far away tropical countries including Sri Lanka, India and Guatemala to Fiji.

In doing so, he created new export opportunities and more profitable methods of spice farming in the soil-enriched, organic rainforests of Fiji. He also helped to commercially introduce the exotic spices of fresh vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, green peppercorns and cinnamon into Fijian cooking.

But these exotic spices are not commonly used in traditional Fijian cooking as they were not indigenous to this region. This is one of the key reasons why recipes that viewers are seeing for the first time on "Taste of Paradise" are tantalising the Fijian palate. If these ancient spices and herbs from far away lands did not exist for the pioneering iTaukei, and Indian and Chinese immigrants to experiment with in their cooking, you begin to understand why they are not common in today's cooking. Spices not only add deep aromatic flavours to your food, but are very medicinal and provide key health benefits for many of the diseases and sickness we see in Fiji.

The green cardamom pods from this farm reveal tiny black elaichi seeds that are sticky, pungent and sweet. Unlike the dried spice I have used from overseas, the Fijian grown cardamom was full of flavour and very strong. Cardamom is known as the queen of spices, not only for its distinct flavour but it's known health benefits from a digestive system tonic to its use as an essential oil in aroma therapy. People who suffer from digestive problems including gastric disorders are recommended to add cardamom in their diet, as cardamom contains compounds that has the ability to counteract excessive stomach acid. It stimulates the production of bile and reduces the gastric juices. Ground cardamom seeds also help to get rid of stomach cramps, and as I demonstrated on the show, adds incredible flavour to Masala Chai tea.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, fenugreek, peppercorns and cloves all have distinct flavour profiles, and all have specific health benefits. They contain essential oils, natural minerals and vitamins provided by the plant they are grown from. And when these are grown organically or hydroponically without any fertilizers of chemical sprays, they are high in nature's medicines that can help treat many of the symptoms of illness and disease in Fiji. Consult your doctor first before considering any alternative treatment and do your research on the internet. I usually just type in to my search page "Health benefits of…" and you will be rewarded with lots of research from respectable sites of naturopaths and doctors who specialise in natural remedies. Having spent more than three years living, working and eating with Fijians, I know that your diet lacks many of the essential vitamins and minerals that it craves and needs for the body to stay healthy. You only have to look at how other living creatures like insects, pigs and fish eat their food.

Do they go in search of junk foods, tinned food, processed or manufactured food, or add more salt and sugar to their meals? Have you ever heard of an overweight butterfly, a fat pig that has had a heart attack, or a fish with diabetes or cancer? Of course not, because they instinctively know to only eat foods that are good for them.

When it comes to good health and a long life, I sometimes think they are smarter than us too.

Finally a big vinaka vaka levu to the many viewers of "Taste of Paradise" who are posting messages of thanks on our Facebook page and sending Letters to the Editor of this newspaper. It is gratifying to know that the show and this column is changing lives and getting the entire family more excited about healthy eating. If you've missed any of the episodes, our You Tube channel "TasteofParadise Fiji" will soon have all the shows online to download. Season one's final show airs on December 27 with a big surprise location and a special guest celebrity chef from Australia.

* Lance Seeto is the host of Fiji TV's "Taste of Paradise" broadcast in Fiji and across the South Pacific region every Thursday 8pm and Saturday 5.30pm on Fiji One. His Facebook page "Fijian Food Safari" has over 100,000 fans across the world who are following his message of health and happiness

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