Last week, I shared some of the story of a little company doing a lot of good with its wares. But the whole Holy Lama tale could not be told without warm and wise words from company Director, Gouri Kubair…
Gouri, you’re best known as the friendly face of Holy Lama, but I gather it wasn’t always thus?
Indeed – I wasn’t always involved with Holy Lama’s operations, although I’m the eldest daughter of founders Vijay and Vijaya Deo. I first trained as a Chartered Accountant in India and then worked as an auditor in Britain for over a decade. In 2013, I took the plunge and left Deloitte.
So something spectacular must have been on the horizon?
Well, Holy Lama Naturals certainly was! My decision allowed me to concentrate on building the European arm of the company and launch our Spice Drops to the UK market. As ‘Masala Drops’, the range was already big in India, and it was time to take things forward.
In late 2010, I set up the business here – beginning with our body care range. By 2013, the brand was established enough to provide me with a full-time career!
You speak of Spice Drops; and indeed these are what drew me to you. Enlighten the uninitiated – what’s the product all about?
Our Spice Drops are concentrated extracts of natural spices in liquid form; offering a simple, accessible, and altogether more consistent way to season dishes and drinks with pure, vibrant flavours. We’re so proud of the unique product, and proud of the way people tell us they’ve inspired an incredible variety of dishes! We couldn’t offer a better testament to their versatility.
But surely something so powerful is pretty pricey?
Actually, no. Spice Drops are incredibly intense, so in the end make perfect economic sense. You only need a tiny amount to season a big batch of food or drink, and the flavour doesn’t deteriorate over time. With powdered spices, you find they can become dry and dusty fast – and they don’t dissolve completely into a sauce or dish like Spice Drops do.
I’ve used quite a few, and they are pretty potent…
Exactly! Another advantage is the consistency; fresh spices can and will vary from batch to batch. With Spice Drops, you’re guaranteed a standard every time. And it doesn’t matter if you forget to add an ingredient at a certain stage – our extracts don’t need ‘cooking out’ like some spices. A little tip – you can even add a couple of drops to an atomiser and use them to scent a room!
The perfect appetite stimulant or post-feast perfume, eh? What else do you do with them?
I like the tongue-tingling quality of our Mint Spice Drops in my tea, or when I’m in the mood for something harder, one of my Dad’s cocktails! Tulsi is also great taken as an infusion in warm water – holy basil is a well-known cure-all in India and it sees off a sore throat every time.
I love the fragrance of our Lemongrass product; it takes me back to my childhood. With the fresh stuff, I always end up with those woody bits stuck in my teeth – not an issue with the Spice Drops. It’s a good one for tummy troubles, too.
In an Indian kitchen, garam masala is an essential and indispensible ingredient; but it’s also a faff to blend and very delicate (hence always adding in the final stages of cooking). Ours stays pungent and true – I love it with meaty dishes. When I fancy something sweet, it’s all about the Saffron Milk Masala – dropped into sweet milk with a few crushed dry fruits.
You sound pretty kitchen-savvy – who do you admire in the Indian food world and elsewhere?
The legendary and late Tarla Dalal was a wonderful chef. As a young girl I religiously followed her recipe books. I have great admiration for Cyrus Todiwala, who revolutionised Indian food and its perception in UK. I also hugely respect Atul Kochhar for being the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star – he is an inspiration to many existing and aspiring chefs.
All these chefs are remarkable not only for their talent but also their ongoing commitment and willingness to work with and support specialist businesses like ours. Recent TV series like MasterChef and the Great British Bake Off have really opened my eyes to the fact that creative cooking combines nutrition and artistry – I feel that Spice Drops have a very valid role here.
And Spice Drops also have a role to play in your family’s community in Kerala…?
Yes! Our ingredients are ethically-sourced and our products ethically-produced. We work in and with the local community – especially with disadvantaged women. Our core family business was always concentrated in Kerala; beginning with essential oil- and spice-extraction.
Spice Drops were inspired by a desire to bring ease and creativity to cooking – my mum Vijaya is a brilliant cook and she found great excitement in creating different flavours. We began with a core of single spice extracts, and now the range has expanded to include blends like Pani Puri Masala, a Mulled Wine mixture, and Tikka Masala.
We’re always experimenting – soon we’re launching a new Sambar Masala!
Nice one – I love a big ol’ bowl of sambar. Where next for Holy Lama Naturals and the Spice Drops themselves?
The ultimate goal is to build the brand into a household name; something synonymous with our values of quality, social responsibility and sustainable business operations.My aspiration for the Spice Drops is to see them as ingredients used in the world’s best restaurants, superior flavourings, and the finest chocolates.
Well, as @The_Cocoa_Nut I certainly echo the last point! What have been Holy Lama’s highlights thus far?
Definitely coming in the top 5 in Ocado’s ‘Top Supplier’ competition from over 400 applicants!
I was a complete bag of nerves with a stomach full of butterflies, but my hour-long pitch was well-received (and captured on camera!) Chef judge Tom Kerridge was a sweetheart and he loved the Saffron Spice Drops.
Sir Stuart Rose was also on the panel; full of funny stories about his travels; his memories all associated with certain scents. A whiff of our Yogi soap which reminded him of his trip to Kerala where he had a ‘shirodhara’ Ayurvedic oil massage and felt oily for the rest of the week – I reckon he should’ve used our soap!
For the presentation, we fed the panel Delia Smith’s chilled cucumber soup, topped with rapeseed oil flavoured with Mint and Peppermint Spice Drops, yogurt infused with Vanilla and Saffron Milk Masala Spice Drops, mulled wine, and a selection of chocolate truffles with Ginger, Saffron, Chilli and Rose Spice Drops.
Saffron-spiced chocolate truffles?! Gouri, it’s been a pleasure, but the kitchen’s calling…
- To read last week’s post on Holy Lama Naturals, click here.
- To find out more about Holy Lama and the full range of Spice Drops, click here.
- Follow @SpiceDropsUK on Twitter and ‘Like’ Holy Lama Naturals on Facebook.
- Thanks to Professional Images for pictures of Gouri and the Ocado presentation.