Monthly archives "March 2010"

Sweet rice

Rice is nice
As most of the country prepares for an extended period of long weekend and school holiday heaven, we’ve been hard at work. Our range is expanding all the time, and we’re offering a huge range of hidden gems. There are 15 different kinds of rice, including some real bargains that beat most non-organic supermarket rice for price, taste and nutritional value.

15 kinds of rice? Insane, there’s the fluffy white kind that’s perfect every time – what else does one need?

Rice is the second-most grown grain in the world, after maize. After being harvested, the outer husk is removed, leaving what’s known as brown rice. The rice can be further milled, removing the rest of the husk, and the germ, leaving “white rice”. Removing the germ takes away much of the nutritional value, but makes it softer and easier to cook.

In some cases, nutrients are artificially added back to the rice at this point to replace what’s been stripped away. And, just to further muddy the waters, some commercial rices have ingredients such as talc powder added to make them look shiny and polished.

But there’s much more than just “white” or “brown” rice. There are many cultivated varieties, all with subtly different characteristics. Basmati is well-known for its fragrance and flavour (the word “basmati” means “the fragrant one” in Sanskrit). Jasmine rice too has its own distinctive nutty aroma and flavour.

There’s also red rice, and black rice, both containing high mineral content, with the black rice being particularly high in iron. Wild rice is an entirely different, but related, species.

Rice is almost always cooked in plain water in the west, but there are alternatives. In India, In India, cooking it in boiling milk, sweetened with jaggery to form ‘payash’ or ‘kheer’, is a popular alternative.

Sweet things
And talking of jaggery, there are a whole range of sweeteners available too. Jaggery, or unrefined palm sugar, is a popular alternative in Indian cooking.

Of course there’s sugar – white, brown and raw. Xylitol is an alternative, used in much the same way as sugar, and also highly refined, but with a very low GI, so safe for diabetics and generally healthier for those watching their weight or their blood sugar. Stevia is equally safe for diabetics, having almost no effect on blood sugar. Stevia is derived from the green leaves of the stevia plant (atually a genus of 240 or so related plants, distant relatives of the sunflower). It’s much sweeter than sugar, with a quarter teaspoon of stevia roughly equivalent to one tablespoon of sugar. Honey might seem a return to the mainstream after last two, but there’s a general shortage of honey right now. We only have 2 (soon to be 1) of our five regular honey brands available, although we’re glad to have honey in the comb still available from Bloublommetjies biodynamic farm.

Agave is another that’ll be new to many, derived from the succulent agave plant. It’s similar in texture to honey, though slightly sweeter and runnier. While most agave comes from the US and Mexico, ours is sourced locally.

And, just to round things off, we have maple syrup, favourite for pancakes and waffles, as well.

It’s almost breakfast time, and some pancake and maple syrup sounds quite appealing after a late night.

To order, go to

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

Amazonian mozzies

The mosquitos have been out in force recently, at least in my house. According to my recently-arrived guests, they put even Amazon jungle mozzies to shame.

After my guests went wild with a fly swatter, I decided to provide them a more gentle alternative. Amidst our wide range of incense are two formulated especially to deter mosquitos – the Mosqui Lavendar, and the Mosqui Lemongrass. We’ve also added the “Zen” range to the “Classic” and “Ayurveda” ranges, all Fair Trade, packaged in recycled paper and harvested from only natural wild sources.

Feeding Frenzy
While harvesting herbs from the wild is one thing, another kind of “harvest” is turning into a frenzy. The bluefin tuna is on the brink of extinction. Favoured by sushi connoisseurs worldwide, it’s so rare that the remaining specimens are in great demand, fetching ever higher prices. Once more an international forum has devolved into political horsetrading, and the vote to ban bluefin fishing was defeated, led by Canada, Japan and other nations more concerned about short-term gains for their fishing industry.

While business is booming for the tuna industry, there’s greater focus on the trade in whaling and dolphins .The While you were Sleeping Collective is showing the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove at the Labia on March 28th, 29th and 30th. The Cove explores the bloody world of the international dolphin trade.

Herbs and Spices
We now have a fairly extensive range of organic herbs and spices. While many, such as ginger, garlic and tumeric, are well-known here, others are still to be discovered. Ajwain is a strong-tasting herb, and too heavy a hand will lead to a thyme-flavoured meal. As with thyme and caraway, it contains thymol, but in higher quantities. Being an uncommon spice, it’s commonly confused, and known by multiple names, including Indian Caraway, Egyptian anise and Coptic Caraway.

As with many spices, its flavour dissolves much better in fat than in water, and is nutritionally more easily absorbed too. It’s traditionally used for indigestion, as a general digestive aid, as well as an antiseptic.

Human Rights Day
It’s a long weekend this weekend, and Monday is Human Rights Day. While it seems hard to imagine now, it wasn’t that long ago that 69 people were shot dead in Sharpeville, many from behind, for protesting against being denied rights in their own land, and being forced to carry the notorious “dompas”.

We’ve come a long way.

Have a great weekend,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

A Brazilian contrast, and time for tea

Last time I mentioned climate change in a newsletter, I got another of those emails telling me that climate change is all a scam by the global eugenicists to tax us, and to enjoy the cool weather Cape Town was experiencing. In fact, every time I mention climate change, the weather seems to cool. Well, when I started writing this newsletter on Tuesday, after a spell of 10 days that’s been more reminiscent of life on Venus (the planet, not the Greek goddess), I was willing to try anything for some more cool weather. It seems to have worked. As we move towards the equinox and some cooler weather, and with the lobbyists taking a break after their success at Copenhagen (business as usual), I hope to be mentioning it less frequently!

A Brazilian contrast

Brazil, so often featured in the news as football-sized swathes of tropical forest disappearing every second, has many positive stories too. One of the most well-known is Curitiba, often held as a model of green urban planning. 85% of the population make use of the widely-available and convenient public-transport, and there’s a whopping 54 square metres of green space for every inhabitant (up from less than 1 in 1970). 70% of the rubbish is recycled, and shanty town residents, living in areas where waste trucks can’t reach, are paid to bring their rubbish in.

Much for our cities to learn from.

While Curitiba is a public-transport utopia, Sao Paulo is its dystopian mirror. Brazil’s largest city, it’s notorious for having some of the world’s most choked roads. Ringed by highways, with traffic jams spreading out for up to 130 km, the rich have discovered a new way to get around. While the masses spend their day trundling around in first gear, Sao-Paulo has the world’s largest helicopter population.

In 2007, Sao Paulo took a small step forward in cleaning up its act. And one particular blight in particular. Whilst Cape Town is relatively unscathed, it’s one of the first things people notice on visiting Johannesburg. Yes, it’s the billboards plastered along every highway and on top (and sometimes on) every second building.

Sao Paulo was no different, with 50-foot lingerie billboards, and blinking neon ads selling the consumer dream everywhere. With the swish of a pen, all those had to go. Advertisers weren’t too happy – the city even made a few million dollars in fines from tardy advertisers who missed the deadline, but the citizens are overwhelmingly positive with their billboard-free city.

While that’s the easy part, we wish them well in implementing the rest of their Clean City Act, which, besides visual pollution, covers water, sound and air.

Time for Tea
I love drinking tea. Actually, if what you imagine by tea is black, ground up fine to fit in a bag (often bleached or glued), I don’t like drinking tea. I’ve been fortunate enough to taste some really wonderful tea though. Loose, green, high mountain tea, handrolled, slowly releasing its flavour, improving towards the 2nd or 3rd pot.

So I’m very pleased that we finally have some loose-leaved green tea. This high-grown, organic green tea is handpicked in the Uva Highlands of Sri Lanka, home to the world’s finest Ceylons. The leaves are rolled into ‘pellets’ said to resemble 19th Century gunpowder, hence its name. I haven’t tried it yet, and I doubt I’ll get a chance, as we have very limited stock, with hopefully more coming in soon.

But there’s more. China White (made from the very young tips of the leaves) is back in stock after a long break.

For the pedants, that’s all the tea we have, but for the rest of us, there’s lots more. Strictly-speaking, tea can only be made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Otherwise, it’s a tisane. But we all call any old plant tossed into hot water tea. Besides, try ordering a rooibos tisane next time you’re out, and see how far you get.

We also have rooibos espresso, darling of trendy restaurants across Cape Town, except that ours is certified organic, from Skimmelberg Farm near Clanwilliam. Skimmelberg also offer bagged rooibos and bagged green (unoxidised) rooibos.

There’s loose rooibos (and honeybush) from Cedarfruits, and sustainably harvested wild rooibos (as well as ordinary loose leaves) from Heiveld Co-op. Heiveld is certified organic and Fair Trade, and is a co-operative of 54 small-scale farmers. Heiveld Co-op hand harvests the plants every two years, helping to preserve the endangered flora of the Sandveld region, and is a great example of ethical and sustainable production. You can read about it in more detail on the site.

What’s new
There’s lots of new produce on the site this week, mostly in the Featured & New section, but there’s always a few gems, usually in short supply, lurking deep in the site. Remember that quite a few of our lines sell out, so by Tuesday they’re safely reserved for the early birds.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

Facebook and renewable energy

Greenpeace is an organisation that’s not afraid to constructively criticise the cool kids. They’ve criticised Apple computers before for their use of toxic materials in their hardware, ranking them near the bottom of their first Guide to Greener Electronics.

Apple has since responded positively to the criticism, and improved to 5th in the latest rankings, behind leaders Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Philips.

Now it’s Facebook’s turn. Facebook is planning a data centre in the US state of Oregon. And Greenpeace are at them for “choosing coal” over renewable energy. The provider they’ve chosen uses more coal energy than the US average, and Greenpeace would like them to choose renewable energy instead. Facebook, as Apple were, is indignant, and have responded by claiming that their choice of data centre allows them to be highly-energy efficient, and that it’s unfair to claim that they choose coal, as their data centre chooses the provider from which to buy electricity.

You can be sure, however, that Facebook and other large organisations have been paying closer attention than usual to where they get their energy from. And that pressure is being placed on electricity providers to supply more renewably-generated energy.

And for those who haven’t yet left Facebook in disgust, join our Facebook group!

The South African situation
Unfortunately, South Africans can’t choose a provider. We’re stuck with Eskom, and that means coal. Koeberg and nuclear power are next, providing a small portion, and renewable sources barely feature.

In spite of the progressive feed-in-tariffs instituted recently, Eskom is barely paying lip-service to renewable energy, and continues to look at new coal power stations, ensuring a legacy of toxic mercury for those unfortunate enough to live near them.

For those interested, we host our server in Denmark, thanks mainly to the high bandwidth prices here. Denmark happens to have one of the highest proportions of renewably-generated energy from its widespread wind turbines.

Now if only South Africa could get going on solar, after a scorching week like this past week, we’d far outstrip Denmark!

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team