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Toast of the town: Australian small-batch condiments vie for a place in the pantry

·6 min read

Australia is currently experiencing a “condiment revolution” according to Alice Zaslavsky, MasterChef alumnus and author behind Abia-award winning cookbook In Praise of Veg.

Flavoured spreads made from locally-sourced ingredients are on the rise. In April alone, three new products launched in Australia. They are Zaslavsky’s tumami – a tomato and black garlic paste that packs a powerful savoury taste; a collaboration between butter brand Pepe Saya and Byron-based Oomite – who have previously been supplying the hospitality industry with an upmarket take on Vegemite; and Pic’s peanut and chocolate butter, the first sweet spread from the cult New Zealand peanut butter maker.

Related: Lindt v Nutella: what is the best chocolate hazelnut spread in Australia?

Natasha Lucas, manager at Morning Market in Victoria, says “we’re seeing more variety in non-traditional spreads and pastes” which comes down to customer demand. “After a year that involved plenty of home cooking, it seems that people have expanded their pantry repertoire, curiously exploring … alternatives to the norm.”

Pierre “Pepe” Issa, of Australian cultured butter brand Pepe Saya, agrees. “If Covid never came about, we probably would have thought twice about doing a collaboration with anyone on a flavoured butter,” he says. “Because there was just not that demand there.”

A decade ago, Issa put out a honey butter, which did not sell well. Then, last year Pepe Saya’s maple butter became their most successful product. “Now we can’t make enough. It’s crazy.”

“The whole market has done a 360,” he says. Issa believes Australia has experienced an “acceleration in that area of about 20 years. We’ve just caught up to where the food scene is in England overnight.”

He says most of the producers he knows have had a “now or never” moment, when it comes to creating new products, and “that is beyond awesome for the food industry”.

Barry Young, owner of The Essential Ingredient in Albury, says his store has seen an 100% increase in the number of local products they carry in the past year, with “relishes, pickles, chutneys, jams and preserves” making up a large part of this increased demand.

Related: Chocolate industry slammed for failure to crack down on child labour

He thinks this is down to the “trust factor”. Many mass-produced spreads contain ingredients such as palm oil, or links to questionable labour practices. Meanwhile, says Young, there’s a belief that “the smaller batch local producers take more care with their products”.

Zaslavsky believes a desire to cook better food, faster is likely also a driver. The biggest barrier in the kitchen is often the time it takes to cook, but a well-balanced spread or paste can lead to “hyper-speed moments in the kitchen”.

She says tumami is the first in a “range of flavour boosters and shortcuts” she has planned, designed to give home cooks faster ways to add flavour. In the case of tumami, that flavour is particularly helpful for vegetarians, offering the “umami flavour you miss from meat”.

All-natural savoury spread Oomite, which prior to their Pepe Saya collaboration was only available in restaurants, offers a similar proposition. Magdalena Roze, who co-founded the brand alongside Katie Graham, says it offers an umami “flavour bomb to whatever you’re eating”.

Related: The feel-good guide to indie Australian chocolate

Roze says the enduring popularity of Vegemite has ensured spreads have a strong place in Australian culture, with mitey spreads in particular evoking a “familiarity, nostalgia”. She believes people craved this all the more during Covid, as they were “brought back to the simple things”. But, she also thinks Australians’ “palates are evolving,” and they are seeking out more complex flavours.

For Zaslavsky, a small batch spread is about wanting to try something special. “Customisation is coming through as a societal trend. People want to customise their sandwiches and toasts … a spread is a really good and easy way to make someone feel like they’re taking control of their own cooking and eating.”

New spreads on the scene

  • Tumami: Everything Spread ($15) is a concentrated savoury spread which “combines the bright tang of organic Aussie tomatoes with the caramelised funk of black garlic”. “Think of it like a building block,” they say, and use it to enhance existing flavours in your cooking.

  • Pepe Saya x Oomite Butter ($8) is Oomite, a savoury, Vegemite-esque spread “free of colours, numbers, flavours, thickeners, fillers or funky stuff” marbled through Pepe Saya unsalted butter. It is meant to be used on toast, steaks or even stirred through pasta. Oomite was previously only available in restaurants, but this collaboration can be bought from shops.

  • Hunted and Gathered are Melbourne-based organic chocolate makers. They launched a spread range, featuring almond chocolate spread, peanut chocolate spread and hazelnut chocolate spread ($15) at the end of 2020.

  • Pic’s Peanut & Chocolate Butter ($9) have collaborated with New Zealand’s Whittaker’s chocolate (commended for their sourcing by Be Slavery Free). This spread is the first time founder and owner of Pic’s Peanut Butter, Pic Picot, has added anything beside salt to his peanut butter.

  • Chotto Motto chilli crisp ($18.50). Technically a chilli oil, this Super Crunch Edition Crispy Chilli Oil, made by Melbourne-based Japanese dumpling restaurant Chotto Motto, functions almost like a spread, and is made with “extra crunchy garlic and onion to give it that Super Crunch!” It is ideal for dolloping on to rice, egg, or anything that could use a hot, savoury punch.

  • Fabbrica This pasta shop opened in Sydney last year, and makes products in-house mainly from NSW-sourced produce. Their spreads and condiments include a salted chilli paste, seasonal jams and hot sauces. Their website is slightly chaotic, but Sydney residents can order their food online via Uber Eats.

  • Cornersmith, who are pioneers in the Australian preserving scene, have finished processing their summer fruits and vegetables for customers to eat through the cooler months – including sweet and smokey onion jam, peach and lime jam, chilli jam, red tomato relish and lime marmalade, all $14 each.

  • The Garlic Company’s black garlic and vanilla tapenade ($15). Zaslavsky is calling black garlic, which is sweet, earthy and savoury all at once, “the hottest ingredient right now”.

  • Hotluck’s “funky Asian pantry” products by chef Gaspar Tse were borne of Covid-19. He now makes his own condiments such Mushroom & Black Garlic XO sauce ($15) as well as kimchi hot sauce.

  • Condimental is an online retailer that specialises in boutique local and imported condiments and preserves, including many of those mentioned above. They also offer sample boxes.

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