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Red Meats Spiced just right: Burlington’s Malabar offers a world of options

Kaz Novak,The Hamilton Spectator
ByDan Kislenko

VIDEO: Spice is what this Burlington company is all about

Malabar Super Spice Company stock some 3,000 flavour products and regularly create specialty spice blends for their customers.

The first thing that strikes you when you walk in the front door of Malabar Super Spice Company is the smell.

It instantly brings to mind pots of curry bubbling away in a good Indian restaurant. Individual aromas merge into one exotic wall of fragrance, although with a little olfactory exercise a visitor can pick out cumin and turmeric.

"People who work here don't smell it any more we're so used to it," says Doris Valade, founder and CEO of the company. "But I'll go to the bank and the spice residue will make the teller sneeze."

And spice is what Malabar is all about. They stock some 3,000 flavour products and regularly create specialty spice blends for their customers. You can't just walk in and buy a little jar of something exotic to mix into your next feed of hamburgers, however. Malabar is not open to the public and deals only with the food processing industry, selling heavy-duty paper sacks of spices weighing 10 kilos or more.

But if you've enjoyed a sausage or cold cuts from Denninger's, Piller's, Springer's, Highland Packers, Beach Road Meats, Ernie's Meat Market or Country Meat Packers, you've tasted Malabar's spices. The company provides seasoning mixtures to all those Hamilton-area businesses. They also supply spices to dozens of smaller delis in southern Ontario and have clients across Canada, selling all-told some 20 tonnes a year. Know those buns baked with a choice of crust toppings you can get at Subway restaurants? Those are Malabar seasonings.

Malabar Super Spice is located in a mixed neighbourhood of homes and small businesses on a street just below the QEW near King Road in Burlington. In an earlier incarnation, the building was a potato sorting facility with a dirt floor, Valade says.

Her father, a sausage-maker by trade, had come to Canada from his native Germany after the Second World War and set up a deli in Hamilton. Within a few years he realized there was a growing demand for high-quality, up-to-date meat processing machinery and started Modern Butcher Supply & Service Company on Hamilton Mountain. It was the first business of its kind in the country.

Meat processors flocked to Modern's doors for years. Then some customers began asking where they could get specialty spices for their products. Malabar Super Spice was born, opening in 1982.

"The name comes from Malabar province in southern India, which is the source of the world's best black pepper," Valade says. "We decided to include the word Super to demonstrate our commitment to being the best in service and quality."

Valade says her company does business with spice brokers around the world, and has an exclusive contract with a supplier in Germany. They don't do any grinding at Malabar, however, but stick to blending and packaging. They also provide product development and research and technical support for clients.

"Our focus is on quality and food safety," Valade says, adding the business is federally inspected and follows the Hazard Analysis Critical Point Control system, which monitors safety throughout the production process.

She says Malabar is not alone as a spice trader. "There are more than a half dozen other companies in Canada. There is actually strong competition."

There has also been a little branching out within Malabar. In addition to all that black and white pepper, dried garlic and paprika — the bestsellers — the company handles gourmet liquid marinades, powdered glazes and rubs, breadings and batters, and things like an antioxidant called Stabiloton which is made from rosemary and protects against rancidity and discolouration of meat. Since they're dealing with the processing industry, they also stock such things as sausage casings and ham nets.

"One of our new products is Nu-Tek salt out of the U.S.," says Valade, who is active in the sodium working group of the Canadian Meat Council, which reports to Health Canada. "People are trying to reduce sodium in their diets. This is made from potassium chloride and rice flour. Processors are using it now in meats, breads and cheeses and it lets them replace up to 50 per cent of the sodium. We're working on a trademark and brand name for it in Canada, and hope to launch it in (supermarket) retail later this year as a blend of Nu-Tek and sea salt."

There is one Malabar Super Spice product that anyone can buy right now, in the handy little jar everyone's looking for. It's a gourmet steak spice blend that was developed for a small supermarket chain in western Canada. But it's also sold in the retail shops of Springer's Meats in Hamilton and Ernie's Meat Market in Burlington (the Malabar name is on the label along with each store's).

For more information on Malabar Super Spice, go to malabarsuperspice.com.

Doris Valade, founder and owner of Malabar Super Spice Company in Burlington.

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“Malabar provides me with the best quality spices at a very competitive price. Compared to the competition, Malabar saves me 30–40% on every order I place.”

Dan Zielke
B&D Meats,
Weyburn SK




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