“When I was living in Paris I loved the sachets of chilli-infused oil that would arrive with your takeaway pizza. When I moved back to South Africa a few years ago I couldn’t find a similar oil anywhere,” says Ken.
While chilli- and herb-infused olive oils are commonplace, “the problem is the flavour of the olive oil obscures the taste of the chillies,” he explains. “Depending on which olives have been used, it can really affect the overall chilli character of the oil.”
Perhaps more importantly for chefs and home cooks, if physical chillies are added to an oil, the flavour soon becomes unstable. They also quickly turn the oil rancid and the heat becomes stronger over time.
Working with his brother-in-law, Adi Meintjies – “He’s an exceptional cook!” – Ken sat down to recreate the chilli-infused oil that had caught his imagination abroad. The pair worked through 60 different flavour combinations, dabbling with a variety of oils, chillies and ratios. In November 2017, they finally got the formula right, using bird’s eye chillies grown and dried in the Swartland.
But as important as the choice of chilli, was deciding which oil to use. After evaluating a number of different options, premium canola oil from the Overberg was chosen, as it has a neutral taste and highlights the chilli flavour. In addition, it is cholesterol-free and low in saturated fats. It is also high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is packed with vitamins E and K.
Before production, the chillies are crushed by hand to release the seeds and provide a better surface area for infusion into the canola oil. The small-batch mixture of dried chillies and canola oil is then induction heated to ensure consistency in the infusion process. After cooling, the oil is drained, filtered and settled before being bottled by hand. Finally, the labels go on, their eye-catching design dreamt up by boutique Stellenbosch design agency Fanakolo.
The result? A rosy-hued bottle of chilli-infused oil that adds just the right amount of heat to a dish, while contributing a subtle chilli flavour. Brush it over steaks before they hit the braai grid, add a splash to scrambled eggs for Middle Eastern flair, or stir in a dash to lift tomato-based pastas. Or, as Ken first discovered in his Paris apartment, drizzle it over your favourite wood-fired pizza.
What began as a home experiment for the family kitchen has quickly flourished into a fast-growing business. Local delicatessens snapped up early batches of Banhoek Chilli Oil and enquiries for it have since flooded in from across the country. With the growth in demand, that simple home kitchen has evolved into a stand-alone production unit, conforming to stringent food safety standards and allowing space for future growth.
Today Banhoek Chilli Oil is available in nearly 200 stores nationwide, from Cape Town to Koringberg, Pietermaritzburg to Pilgrim’s Rest. And for chilli oil fans not living near a retail outlet, Banhoek Chilli Oil can be purchased online and delivered anywhere in the country.
“We have just sent our first order to the United Kingdom, for sales and distribution through Amazon,” adds Ken. “We’ve only been operating for about a year and already demand has just exploded; it’s taken off like wildfire.”
With demand growing daily, Banhoek Chilli Oil is proving to be no flash in the pan. From September 2019, Ken will be retiring from his role in the financial sector to focus entirely on his new business.
“I’ve been in the investment world for 30 years and I think I’ve had enough of the numbers game,” he laughs. “This is tangible, it’s real and it’s just so much fun.”
• To find an outlet or to order online, visit
https://banhoekchillioil.co.za. RRP R99.00 per 250ml bottle