Flavors of the Season – Maple

The air is going crisp, the leaves are changing, and Autumn’s spell has fallen over the land … at least if you’re lucky enough to live someplace with four distinct seasons. Either way, seasonal eating is one of the best things to do to make it feel like Fall, no matter what the temperature is outside. Fall favorites include apples, grapes, cranberries, figs, pumpkin, and maple syrup. While I contemplated how to feign a Halloween costume for less than $20 to answer the door for Trick or Treaters this year, my mind kept returning to maple syrup.

Maple syrup is made from the sweet-water sap of certain North American maple trees, mainly the sugar maple, but also the black and red maples. Each time a period of freezing is followed by a period of thawing, sap will flow from any wound in the sapwood, including a taphole, as long as the tree is dormant. The sap contains 1.5 – 3% solids, but does not yet contain the color or flavor of maple syrup. These are imparted as the sap is concentrated by evaporation in open pans. It takes anywhere between 30 to 50 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup, making it a labor intensive crop. It is now produced at scale in Quebec, Vermont, New York and other northern territories and states. Canada is responsible for providing upwards of 80% of the world’s maple syrup.

Archeological evidence shows maple syrup was harvested by the Native Americans of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River regions prior to the arrival of European settlers. Perhaps they knew of its many health benefits in addition to its lovely flavor. Maple syrup contains numerous antioxidants and supplies various vitamins and minerals. It also has a lower score on the glycemic index than refined sugars and honey do, making it a good choice to sweeten any beverage including coffee and tea. And it will never leave a pile of unutilized granules at the bottom of your drink – even if it is iced.

Hailing from New England, my fondest memory of maple syrup was enjoying it drizzled over a scoop of freshly fallen snow. It was a wonderful way to enjoy its rich, smooth taste and kids and adults alike looked forward to this frosty treat each Winter. Since there’s not a flake of snow to be found here yet, I couldn’t help but beginning to imagine maple syrup hugging a stack of buttermilk pancakes or atop a perfectly pressed Belgian waffle.

Maple syrup is also marvelous drizzled over a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt, on a fresh fruit salad, and on cinnamon rolls and in hot cereals of all kinds. Less common but no less delicious, maple syrup makes a beautiful flavor addition to meats like ham, fish like salmon, and roasted root vegetables. And last but not least, the addition of maple syrup to a cocktail like an Old Fashioned or a Hot Toddy will impart the drinks with an air of Autumnal authenticity.

All maple syrup is now sold as “Grade A” under which there are 4 color/intensity tiers. The options range from golden to very dark in color and from delicate to strong flavor. Lighter syrup will taste more delicate while darker syrups will be more robust or strong. We offer “Grade A – Amber Dark Robust Taste” maple syrup. It has the deep brown-sugar like flavor that many purists covet. To learn more about maple syrup’s odd naming conventions, and how they’ve changed, read our blog post about the name changes from a few years back. Maple Syrup has an entire day devoted to its celebration: December 17th, but its not too soon to enjoy its rich caramely delights. Mount Hope Wholesale’s private label syrup is available here by the bulk gallon. If your consumption doesn’t demand that much, try our quarts instead. Happy Fall Everyone!

Black Pepper: It’s All in the Grind

Several years ago I bought my dad a battery-operated pepper grinder for Christmas. More functional than extravagant, the unit was admittedly slick in its delivery, and my black pepper-fanatic father fell instantly under its spell, while I, for forty bucks and postage, was exalted into best gift-giver status for the season.

You can gauge the exact grind for the job, he would brag to my non-black pepper-fanatic mother, so the perfect flavor is imparted.

He was right. To be sure dad knows his black pepper, and the fact that the size of the grind affects flavor did not escape him, and his daughter has learned via experimentation and by default of time or product the nuances of varied pepper grinds. The finer the spice the greater the surface area and the more readily it imparts flavor to my dishes, while coarser grinds deliver hearty pops in flavor and texture.

Are your black pepper grinds meeting your needs? Most chefs know black peppercorns grow on the same vine as green ones, in little clusters like grapes. Green peppercorns are simply little underdeveloped peppercorns, harvested and preserved when they are young seeds, lending a softer, milder “green” flavor. Likewise, white peppercorns are black peppercorns incognito, soaked to remove the outer casing, imparting a more intense, fermented flavor and aroma.

Black peppercorns picked at prime are cleaned and dried over time, allowing their rich flavor profile to develop. Like other peppercorns, black peppercorns can be used culinarily in its whole form, or they can be halved (half-cracked), quartered (quarter-cracked), or ground from coarse to finely ground.

Different sized peppercorns impart different qualities on our food. Spice units are measured in the United States by what is called a US Mesh Size, a standardized unit of measure denoting the number of holes per square inch in a sieve. To pack more holes into one square inch, the holes must obviously be smaller. Therefore grind of the product must be finer for it to slip through. So a bigger number indicates a smaller particle, not a bigger one.

It all depends on what you are going for. Quarter-or even half-cracked black pepper — at six to ten mesh size — will dispatch that bold pop as required by the illustrious Steak au Poivre, while a finer ground black pepper at 30 to 34 mesh will nicely finish a wild mushroom Madeira or Burgundy sauce. A fine black pepper will help season but get lost on a cooking rib roast, and coarse ground pepper can overpower a delicate piccata or even Marsala, so any chef knows it is important to keep the proper inventory on hand and pick the right tool for the job.

What black pepper gauges do your recipes call for? What could a change-up in mesh size mean for the nuances of your dishes? Have you switched up black for green or white, or pink or Szechuan peppercorn (the “faux peppercorns”) of late? When is the last time you perused Mount Hope Wholesale’s inventory of pepper varieties?

  • Whole Black Peppercorns are the fruit of the Piperaceae vine family, piper nigrum. It’s native to a southern state of India called Kerala.
  • Half Cracked Black pepper is perfect for crusting meat or baking in bread or biscuits. Also for a fuller flavor on salads and sauces.
  • Coarse Black is the grind (Mesh #12) which many cooks prefer for that “just ground” presentation, without using a pepper mill.
  • Steel Cut Black pepper is 18 mesh. A bit large for most table top shakers, but more visible during presentation than medium.
  • Medium Black, also called table grind or cafe grind, this variation sits on nearly every dinner table in America. This grind (Mesh #28 for spice merchants) is the one most people know.
  • Fine Black pepper is the chef’s choice for sauces and dishes where pepper’s taste is necessary, but the appearance should be suppressed.
  • Whole White Peppercorns are the inside ripe red berries that have been soaked after harvesting to facilitate the removal of the red skin. Once the skin is removed, the peppercorn is dried.
  • Fine White Pepper is typically a bit finer mesh (in this case #40) than fine black.
  • Whole Green Peppercorns can be crushed to sauces and salad dressings, or cracked on a meat preparation for some visual flair. Use them ground in recipes where you desire a lighter pepper note.
  • Whole Pink Peppercorns (Schinus Terebinthifolius) are botanically not true peppercorns, but are the dried fruit of the Baies Rose Plant. These berries are highly prized by the French for their delicious, peppery flavor and for imparting a light rose color to food.
  • Szechuan Peppercorns have a spicy, woody, and a delightful citrus aroma that gives a tingling sensation to the tip of the tongue.
  • Tellicherry Peppercorns are from the Eastern Coast of South India. The flavor of the Tellicherry is clean and aromatic, and considered the top shelf of peppercorns.
  • Rainbow Peppercorns are combo of red, green, black and white whole corns. Appearances are key here, so garnish with whole corns, or crack for dry rubs or finishing touches where some color is desired.
  • Ground Rainbow pepper is just what you’d think. Try it in soups and marinades of all sorts. Try on salads, meat, vegetable and chicken dishes.
  • Lemon Pepper can be used as a rub or in a marinade to give a great taste to your seafood dish.

Vanilla Pricing Volatility

As you may have noticed, the price of vanilla has been steadily climbing recently, whereby recently I mean the last 5 or so years. Unfortunately, that slope is getting steeper, not leveling out. The majority of the world’s vanilla comes from the island nation of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean east of Africa. Last year’s crop was dramatically below expected levels at only 1200 tons, way short of expectations of 1800-2200 tons. Prices have been steadily climbing for over a year.

To exaggerate an already extremely constricted supply, now we have the massive damage done by Cyclone Enawo last Tuesday, March 7th, to compound the problem. The cyclone made landfall with flooding and winds between 200 & 300km/h. Reports are estimating damage to 80-90% of the crop in two of the largest producing areas.

Exports have been halted until a thorough assessment of the damage has been completed, at which time a more final sense of the price increase should be available. Prices are up already in response to this, and is almost certainly going to continue to increase.

On top of the higher price, we may see what’s called ‘hurricane vanilla’ become available in the market. At this time of year, the vanilla is on the vine ripening. The beans are full size and full weight at this point in their growth cycle. However, the flavor hasn’t developed yet. That happens in the last 3-4 months, and that won’t be happening for the crop in these regions this year. The salvageable under-ripened beans may be sold as a last resort, but the quality will be low. If we’re forced to get into this grade of product as the year progresses, we’ll be sure to label the product as such and be perfectly upfront about what’s going on.

Update on May 04, 2017
Gordon, our in house product guru, tracked down this excellent article from the Baltimore Sun describing the mechanics of pricing this difficult and essential crop. This was written at the end of 2016, before the Cyclone damage this March. Read the article With vanilla shortage, prices soar by Lorraine Mirabella.

Update on September 18, 2018
Quartz has an interesting ‘by the numbers’ piece published yesterday outlining the economics of this essential ingredient. Vanilla is now more valuable (by a large margin) than silver, and only about 1% of the vanilla flavored products on the market use real vanilla to imbue that flavor. The vast majority use cheaper alternatives that get close, but not quite all the way to the authentic and complex flavor of this difficult crop. Read the article Quarz Obsession | Vanilla.

Himalayan Pink Sea Salt

We sell a lot of salt.

It is, after all, one of the top two most commonly used spices in the country. It’s available to add to any dish on nearly every table in nearly every restaurant. Heck, we even have taste buds whose sole duty is to detect salt. It’s no surprise then that there are a wide variety of salts available to cook with and consume.

Across this range though, not all salts are alike. Even though the flavor they impart is mostly similar from one to the next, there are important differences. The factors that separate most salt varieties are subtle background flavors, appearance, and nutrient content. We try to keep you covered by offering a huge selection of salts from all over the world, with a wide range of delicate flavors and a striking diversity of appearances. And now we’re adding yet another!

Himalayan Pink Sea Salt is enjoying a bit of time in the spotlight these days, and we’re excited to be adding a new fine grind variation to our extensive list. This salt is so popular right now, people are making lamps, essential oil burners, and other house hold items from it with the thought that it can help purify the air. The rich color of this salt is the result of the dozens of naturally occurring trace minerals found in the ocean water that covered parts of the middle east near the mighty Himalayan mountains millennia ago.

Typical white table salt has been processed down so heavily that most all the healthy trace minerals have been extracted and removed. This pure white refined table salt unfortunately dominates at the grocery store and across much of the restaurant industry. Himalayan pink sea salt, like many of our other more exotic salts, hasn’t been stripped and leached of its mineral nutrients, making it not only a more visually attractive choice for the shaker on your table, but a more nutritious one.

Previously, we only kept the larger, coarser Himalayan pink sea salt in inventory. This is a great choice as a finishing salt for meats and fish, as it stands out both visually and on the palate. However, so many of our customers wanted to be able to add a little distinction to their restaurant’s tables, that we finally added the fine grind as an option.

Try it out, and let us know what you think.

Cinnamon Sticks

As the summer winds down and we get ready to head into the fall season, demand for cinnamon will begin its seasonal climb. Everyone is familiar with cinnamon, and most people have a fond regard for it. But what exactly is it? It’s an unusual spice in terms of its origin and processing, and as I added some to my coffee this morning, I thought it might nice to share some insight.

Cinnamon, as we think of it, is dried tree bark. Most spices are crushed plant matter of one sort or another: roots, chile pods, leaves, seeds, etc. Cinnamon sticks are unique in that they give you perfectly clear picture of their origin, even if it isn’t immediately obvious.

The bark is harvested from a variety of trees in the genus Cinnamomum (no, really! i looked it up). These plants are evergreen trees and shrubs with aromatic oils in their bark. When you look at a cinnamon stick, you’re seeing that bark and nothing else. The bark is peeled from live or freshly fallen trees prior to their use in local lumber projects across (mostly) Southeast Asia. The bark is peeled in straight sheets, then cut into thin strips. As the sheets dry out, they naturally curl in on themselves forming the familiar tubes we recognize as cinnamon sticks.

Once the sun has thoroughly done its duty, the sticks are processed a bit further. The outer edges of the stick (the part that used to be the exposed part of the plant’s trunk) is scraped off by hand. Then some are sold as is, and others are ground down for cinnamon powder.

The other interesting tidbit about cinnamon is the name. We use the word ‘cinnamon’ erroneously most of the time, if we want to be technical about it. The majority of cinnamon consumed here in the states is actually from a particular plant called cassia. So called ‘true cinnamon’ is from a tree called ceylon. Ceylon is a smaller shrub like tree, while cassia is a much bigger plant.

But we’re not feeling too technical most of the time, and like almost everyone else out there, we call our ‘cassia bark’ cinnamon. We currently have our Six Inch Cinnamon Sticks on sale to welcome the cooler weather.

Hope the change in seasons treats you and your customers well.

Cacao Nibs

Mount Hope Wholesale now carries Organic Raw Cacao Nibs. These are the coarsely crushed (but not ground) seed of the cacao tree. Most famously, cacao* is the basis of chocolate, but it has been consumed by people for thousands of years. The cacao tree is a native of South America, with origins suspected to be in what is today Colombia and Venezuela, and the bean was so highly regarded in ancient times, they were even used as currency.

The fruit of the cacao tree is a pod with a leathery rind containing a few dozen seeds. These seeds are surround by a sweet pulp that is mostly lost in the drying process. The seeds start out with purple color, varying in darkness from pod to pod. The color is also lost in the drying process, and the cacao bean is almost always a dark brown color by the time it is consumed.

Speaking of consumption…

Cacao is generally considered to be a great source of antioxidants, perhaps having positive antiaging and cardiovascular effects. Before becoming chocolate, this stuff is actually really good for you. When you open a bag of our organic cacao nibs, the smell is strong and instantly recognizable, they smell just like chocolate. The sugar and milk mixed with cacao bean solids to make chocolate definitely make up an important part of chocolate’s flavor, but they don’t contribute much to the aroma.

Our cacao nibs are a great addition to to dishes or snacks that need the character of chocolate, but want to avoid the fat and sugar of chocolate chips or the like. They go wonderfully in granolas, or on top of other cereals. Mix them with with dried fruit and yogurt for delicious parfait. Or, perhaps my favorite, swap a tablespoon of your favorite coffee beans for cacao nibs to make your morning cup a little more interesting (they’re much softer than coffee beans though, and don’t need to be ground very fine).

Experiment with them and let us know what you come up with on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

*We call them cacao nibs, but cacao and cocoa are commonly interchangeable. Cocoa is the english word derived from the Spanish cacao, but the Spanish is often in used in English contexts as well.

Welcome to Our New Site

We’ve been hard at work on a new website for you, and it’s finally ready. Our site has been a huge part of our growth and success over the last few years, and we hope the new design can continue and expand upon the work of the old. This isn’t just a fresh coat of paint though, and there are a couple changes I want to point out specifically.
Mount Hope Wholesale is Proud to Introduce an all new website

Usual Choices

The big change is the introduction of ‘Your Usual Choices‘. Placing a big order before could be a pain, but this new feature should make it a breeze. There were two main hurdles slowing down the ordering process before:

  1. We have over 500 products across 16 categories
  2. The only add to cart button was on a product’s detail page

So if you wanted to order a dozen things, you had to navigate to at least a dozen individual product pages, and you may have needed to visit a number of different category pages to get to them.

Mount Hope Wholesale is Proud to Introduce an all new website
Of course, no one business uses all of our different products. The vast majority of the kitchens we supply don’t typically use more than 30 or so individual products. Browsing from category to category through 500+ items to get to the couple dozen you care about is a painful process to repeat week after week.

Now, when you log in, you’ll land on a page that has all the products you buy in one place. Products are sorted by frequency so the things ordered most often will be up top, and you can add to cart without visiting the product’s detail page. For routine orders of the items you usually purchase, you won’t have to leave this page until you’re ready to checkout. It should greatly speed up the process of restocking your kitchen from Mount Hope.

Personal Shopping

Our site has generated so much interest over the last few years that we’re ready to try something entirely new. We’re now proud to offer our products to people at home for their own personal use. Wholesale accounts still enjoy better pricing, but personal shoppers don’t need to meet minimums and don’t have to be running a business to establish an account. Learn more at this page if you’re interested.

Mobile Friendly

The old design was intended for a laptop or desktop, and was difficult to use on a mobile phone. This new site will now work MUCH more nicely if you’re visiting us on a small device. The design will adapt to whatever screen you’re on, and the layout should be easy and intuitive to navigate no matter where you are. What used to require pinching to zoom in and panning all around is now a simple matter of scrolling up and down.

Secure Credit Card Saving

One of our most requested features has been the ability to save a credit card to your account. Well, now you can. Between this and the new Usual Choices view, re-ordering should be faster than ever.

Clearer Focus

We’ve simplified the layout, so you can more easily focus on the job you’re here to do. By eliminating a lot of clutter, and better organizing the stuff you really need, we’ve made the process of browsing for product and adding it to your cart easier and more obvious. We also made the photography a higher priority, so you get an even better idea of what the product looks like, and a clearer sense of its quality.

I hope the new site makes your experience shopping with Mount Hope Wholesale even better.

Name Changes for Maple Syrup

You may have noticed that our maple syrup is no longer labeled Grade B.  Now you’ll see Grade A – Dark Amber Robust Taste on the jug. Don’t worry though, it’s still the same dark and delicious maple syrup we’ve always carried.

The naming of syrup refers primarily to its color and flavor intensity, not its quality. Grade A wasn’t worse or better than Grade B, it was just generally lighter in color and more delicate in flavor. However, this naming could lead to confusion, since Grade A sounds like it ought to be “better” than Grade B (and definitely better than a D+. Thanks Mr. Maxwell, I’ll always remember).

To make it more confusing, Grade A had three subclassifications: Light Amber, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. Then there was Grade B, which was really just one step darker.

In 2014 and 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture, under pressure from the International Maple Syrup Institute, has rolled out changes to the US maple syrup grading system. The US labeling now more closely matches international standards.

With these changes, all maple syrup meant for direct consumption is called Grade A, there are no other letters anymore. Grade A is broken down into 4 different color and flavor classifications:

  • Golden color and delicate taste
  • Amber color and rich taste
  • Dark color and robust taste
  • Very dark and strong taste.

There is a fifth classification for syrup made for being used in candy making and other manufacturing applciations. This is called simply Processing Grade, it has no letter designation, and you won’t find it in stores. The hope is that by standardizing across the industry, the consistency will help consumers know what they are purchasing as well as making American maple syrup easier to export to other countries.

Mount Hope has always carried Grade B in the past, which was fairly dark and had a strong maple flavor. The new name for syrup in that part of the spectrum is Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste.

Boy, after all this Maple Syrup talk, I think I’m ready for some oatmeal with a little drizzle of good ol’ Dark Color Robust Taste. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.

Smoked Chipotle and Cyprus Sea Salt

Introducing Cyprus Flake Sea Salt and Smoked Chipotle Salt

Mount Hope Wholesale is excited to add two new salts to our lineup.

Cyprus Flake Sea Salt is great used as a finishing salt for everything from your meats to the rim of your margaritas! This sea salt comes to us from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean and it has a unique pyramid shape to its flakes. Sprinkle just a pinch of this delicious salt onto your beautifully cooked veggies, meats or fish filets to add a final touch of flavor and texture before serving.

Our other new addition is a naturally flavored salt. Chipotle Salt is a great way to incorporate instant flavor into your salsa, guacamole, or cheese dip with a hint of smoked jalepeno. With a dash of this specialty salt, you can add a smoky South of the Border flavor to your dips and other dishes.

Both are available now and join our wide range of other flavored and sea salts.

Fruit Juice Sweetened Strawberries

Fruit Juice Sweetened Dried Strawberries

Dried strawberries have been a staple at Mount Hope since the early days. They’re one of our most popular dried fruits and they’re a key ingredient on more menus than we can count. Dried strawberries, like some other dried berries, have a bit of added sugar to keep them sweet. That’s not exactly startling news of course, but added sugar, even in small amounts, leaves a little something to be desired.

We try to go with more natural, less processed options whenever we are able. We’re pleased to introduce a new dried strawberry that has no added sugar. Our dried strawberries are now sweetened with fruit juice concentrates (specifically apple and strawberry).

On top of the benefit of not having added sugar, these new strawberries are more moist, and even more delicious than their predecessors as well. They’re a bit darker in color, and the size varies quite a bit.

Try them out today, and let us know what you think. We’re sure you’ll find them as sweet and delightful as we do.