09 May 2022

Meet the team: Axel Steenberg

Find out more about co-founder Axel, his essential spices and who he'd most like to have dinner with...

Meet the team: Axel Steenberg

Job at Steenbergs: Jack of all trades, everything from new products (sourcing or creating new blends) to technical and on to packing jars, so I could be anywhere, doing anything.

1. How long have you worked for Steenbergs? I started working at Steenbergs when Sophie and I founded the business in late 2003, so 19 years ago, but we had started working on the idea a few months earlier.

2. Favourite Steenbergs product and why? I like almost all our products and I won’t tell you the ones I don’t like, because that would be letting out the ones I’m still perfecting. The products I use almost everyday are organic paprika and smoked paprika, organic perfect salt seasoning and mixed herbs. Then, there’s a list of everyday spices like cinnamon, cayenne and turmeric that I would use in everyday dhals, for example. But, I would go for organic Fairtrade black peppercorns as that is at the core of how we source spices, for flavour, quality and being good for the environment and people. We’ve dealt with Greenfield for the black pepper since we started and brought these in as the first Fairtrade spices into the UK way back in 2005. As for a blend, my favourites are the organic mild and Madras curry powder because I use them a lot and seem to endlessly be blending the Madras curry powder.

3. Any top tips for cooking or storing spices Keep your spices as fresh as possible by changing them when they get long in the tooth rather than store them forever. My top cooking tip is: don’t be afraid of tofu. Think of tofu as chicken so, for inspiration, look at recipes for chicken, then to give it deeper flavour, you can boil pieces of tofu in a flavoursome sauce beforehand then drain and use, for example a vegetable stock using an organic vegetable stock cube or a soy sauce bouillon made from water, soy sauce and some star anise – this will give the tofu much more flavour.

4. Which famous person (past or present) would you like to have supper with? I think a dinner party with Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson and Joe Strummer would be fun but I am not sure how it would go. 

Charles Darwin’s theories are some of the fundamental laws of science, so it would be fascinating to hear when and how that light bulb moment hit him, but I am not sure how much he would enjoy vegetarian food as he ran the Glutton Club at Cambridge that ate everything and anything and he continued to eat his way around the globe while on the HMS Beagle. 

Rachel Carson is a heroine of mine and sparked my interest in the environment and getting pesticides out of the food chain – she also writes beautifully – and like Darwin it would be great to hear when she realised that the concept that scientific progress was always good was an incorrect assumption. 

For more edge, Joe Strummer would be much more entertaining – The Clash were one of my favourite bands in my teens, Strummer was vegetarian and, also, founded Future Forests to plant trees for carbon offsetting, which after a bunch of mergers is now Climate Impact Partners, so he’s an unlikely environmental hero. 

For someone living, could the meal be cooked by Madhur Jaffrey – her Indian cook books have been a mainstay of our kitchen for years and she would also be really entertaining as she has acted, cooked and lived a fascinating life.

5. What would be your desert island meal/favourite meal? My tastes are quite simple, so either a vegetable chilli with black beans and homemade chunky chips or a red lentil dhal with Peshwari naan. Unsurprisingly, I do like spicier foods but I like these with either with chips or a good, homemade bread – in fact, a freshly baked sourdough bread with a slightly salted butter would do me fine. To drink, freshly squeezed orange juice. Then, if it’s a hot desert island, a vegan almond Magnum ice cream..