Taste the Difference

Once you have your baker’s hat on, colossal questions come to mind before commencing your first steps in the the art of baking. What brand of flour to use? Baking soda or baking powder? Chocolate chips or chocolate nibs?

Here, although we cannot answer all the baking predicaments you may have, we can clarify a couple of things. For starters; what are the differences between flavourings and extracts? And, how are these different from oils and essences?

Flavouring vs. Extracts

At the core, this choice boils down to (not literally) ‘artificial’ versus ‘natural’.

Flavourings, or “imitation extracts”, although are cheaper and have a longer shelf life, are produced with artificial food-safe additives to be used in products such as bubblegum or candies.

Natural extracts, on the other hand, are produced solely from natural ingredients. Extracts are made by literally extracting the flavor of the source ingredient into a liquid base, usually alcohol. Pure vanilla extract, for example, is made by processing many ounces of vanilla beans (after a process of blanching, sweating, drying and curing them) through the intricate extracting machine assuring that the product is composed of at least 35% alcohol.

Oils (or essences) are a little different, as they are actually the base of the pure extracts – containing no water, alcohol or any artificial ingredients. This is why, in the case of our orange extract, for example, we receive pure, natural orange oil from the region of Tanga then take it one step further to make orange extract. (Oils are used primarily for soaps, candle, natural remedies, etc).

Currently the Epicurious Hedgehog line offers orange, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee and vanilla extracts as well as gourmet vanilla pods (for ICE CREAM!) and cacao solids (powder and nibs). As our stock varies due to normal seasonalities!

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In Kiswahilli ‘jamali’ translates to; good, kind, gracious.

Accurate.Very accurate.

One young man, who is part of the NEI team (and, as you may have probably guessed, is named Jamali) is the happiest being we have seen float through the Tanzanian dirt roads of our factory. He is the do-it-all man. This, however, is not what beautifully sets him apart from the rest of the team – what sets him apart is that, as corny (literally our office is surrounded by a field of maize) as is sounds, his smile may actually, literally shine brighter than the sun. He does not have a specific job; sometimes he helps to cut vanilla with the productions team; he cleans, gardens, washes clothes, polishes every inch of the office inside and out, and he flawlessly organizes everything he can. Without a word of English, we nearly all hug him every morning when he enters the office – and it genuinely does make our days.

He is one of only very few employees who has been working with NEI since it initiated in 2011. When asked a series of short questions, so we could get to know him better, these were his responses:

What does he like to do when he is not working?

When he is not working, he always take care of his garden at home.

Why does he like working at NEI?

He loves working with NEI because his family and him are living depending on the salary he gets from NEI.

What is his favourite animal?


Why is that his favourite animal?

Because he can get food from it.

A wonderfully, simple, smiling man. We are so proud to have him as part of our team!



Reusing recycled material in East Africa is not an uncommon idea – as one would realize upon a first cold sip of a Kilimanjaro, Safari or Serengeti local brews, that the beer bottles are returned to the industry for refill. At NEI, in parallel with it’s mission of sustainability, the entire social enterprise does it’s best to remain as environmentally friendly as possible – in many different ways.

One partner with who NEI is currently working with is AfriCraft, which aims to support and promote handcrafts in Tanzania by using recycled good while also acting to safeguard culture of the tribes by promoting their traditional works. This innovative process has allowed NEI to use their talent to create gift packaging that is locally made from recycled cardboard.

Check out AfriCraft‘s creativeness here: http://www.madebyafricraft.com


Additionally, NEI innovatively converted local empty wine bottles into filled 750ml bottles of premium extract – which not only facilitates the recovery of waste glass, but also adds flavour (no pun intended) to the creative look of their products. These wine bottles are also cut in a way to fabricate a display case for supermarkets and shops to present vanilla pods  to consummers in the market. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!



A Flavoured Bridge to the Global Market

It must first be said that this is not another account describing the struggles of ongoing problems in a developing country – this is not about what is going wrong with a nation, but a progressing story of what is going right. Amongst the potpourri of facts about the African continent, one principle reality is that agriculture and fisheries together provide livelihoods for roughly two-thirds of people of it’s encompassed 54 countries.

In Tanzania, agriculture accounts for approximately half of the national income and employs approximately 80% of the country’s entire population. The farmers live for their crops; they invest, grow, harvest, care-for, cultivate and know every trick of the trade, all while investing their precious sweat, soul and time. With the rich, fertile soil that is soaking in potential,  the crops of these farmers are easily enabled to prosper. However, one crucial question must be posed; why are these farmers struggling to maintain a sustainable income? Although the answer is far from simple, the one major conundrum that must be resolved, is finding a market within which to traffic these raw products. In November 2011, amidst a combination of passion and systemization, the founders of Natural Extract Industries Ltd. swooped in to address just this.

At first, the question of how to use vanilla was a matter of cultural diversity, because, generally speaking, Tanzanians do not commonly consume vanilla in their traditional culinary practices. To the point, however, in the global market, vanilla is in very high demand as  the second most expensive spice following Saffron.

The long, strong, sustainable bridge that NEI has constructed between this natural ability to cultivate and a global market seeking to invest, is a excellent modernized reality of how to increase the Tanzanian economy by creating sustainable incomes for these smallholder farmers. From crop to bottle, in a rapidly changing world.

They are the Champions

The pale yellow flower of the vanilla orchid only lasts a single day, the vine takes three years to first bloom and each flower must be pollinated individually by hand. When the flower falls off the vine, a vanilla pod grows and this how vanilla becomes a part of the beautiful culinary world. The fact that this crop is very labour-intensive, due to the tooth-pick, hand pollination (from male to female, which are differentiated by one extra petal) must not be overlooked. This is why, our currently 1200 smallholder farmers, from the Tanzanian regions of Kilimanjaro, Tanga, Mbeya, Kilombero and Morogoro, are the backbone of our entire social enterprise!

It was our team’s absolute pleasure to visit four of our Farmer Champions; Elbariki, Ruben, Elizabeth and Aishi in the village of Wari (in the district of Machame, Kilimanjaro). These Farmer Champions, of which there are currently forty farmers, are the leverage point for NEI’s interactions with smallholder farmers, as they are the most experienced in what they harvest. Depending on their crops, they specialize in the growth of raw products, which NEI then uses to produce natural flavours of vanilla, orange, cinnamon, coffee and cacao. It is also their responsability to manage, train and coordinate approximately thirty to sixty other farmers in their village. It was obvious, immediately upon our arrival in this specific village, that these men and women were the geniuses of their plots, as the vanilla looked healthy, and as luscious as could be. It was also spectacular to see the intercropping on their lands – some of the vanilla vines, which grow on Jatropha trees for support, grew directly beside banana trees – next to coffee plants, sugar cane, Fazoli beans and nyanya chungu (which is Swahili for “bitter tomato” and means eggplant), amongst a variety of other plants, trees and ravishing flowers.

“It must be said that these farmers are as vibrantly full of life as the plants they are caring for – such  a beautiful sight to see!”