Terri Nacke thinks sugar is the new salt.
Of course, as the owner of Terre Botanicals, a local company that makes aromatic sugars, she's somewhat biased. But with sugar getting such a bad rap these days, Nacke's trying to revitalize its popularity, to bring attention to what she calls the "new old way" of cooking with sugar. Less is more, she says, adding that cooks should use sugar as a seasoning, not an ingredient. A dash of a flavored sugar on bitter vegetables, for example, can create a truly aromatic experience.
You may remember Terre Botanicals from Arizona Cocktail week back in 2014 (then known then as La Bella Terre) when we raved about the rose cognac pure botanical sugar. Well, in the passing years, not much has changed in terms of flavor; the company still produces excellent sugars, but also has made some impressive additions to the selection. These days Terre Botanicals offers more than 45 varieties of finishing sugars, seasoned salt blends, and edible essential oils.
We sat down with Nacke in the backyard of her home and work space to talk about the expansion. At the time, she was just six weeks into living in the place, which is located in the historic Phoenix Homestead neighborhood. It's a fitting place for Nacke considering the neighborhood was created in an effort to get people to move to places where they could practice subsistence farming.
“This house was calling me,” she says as we enter, adding that she'd been trying to get into the neighborhood for a while.
While sipping on lemonade garnished with lavender from her garden, we met the rest of the Terre Botanicals team including Jamie Balesteri, operations and office manager, and Jeff Yantis, master craftsman.
Nacke says her products have been successful because of her process — she and her team handcraft each blend in the still room of her house, which is part apothecary and part kitchen. To make the sugars, Nacke and her team infuse organic cane sugar with botanicals (everything from bay and basil to fennel and juniper) and edible essential oils. The flavored sugars should be used similarly to traditional spices, which is to say sparingly, to enhance the natural flavors of foods.
Nacke says when she started using essential oils in her products around 2000, no one really knew what they were. And even though essential oils are far more common now, people still don't understand how aromatics interact with the brain and body.
“You get full from the brain, not the belly,” Nacke explains, so the feeling of being satiated comes, in part, from the aromatic experience of smelling, which can be achieved with aromatics and oils.
During our visit, we sampled several blends of aromatic salts and sugars — even an Ecuadorian cocoa essential oil. It smells as decadent as you'd imagine and is only slightly bitter on the tongue. One of those most interesting blends we tried was a garam masala cocoa sugar. It's a savory blend with sweet chocolate notes, perfect for a chocolate ganache to balance an otherwise sickly sweet cake. It'd make a great addition to a mole blend.
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Nacke's full of potential ideas for her products' uses and even offers inspiration cards on the company website. But she's hesitant to give too many detailed suggestions for intended use. She's interested in what people can, literally, bring to the table. For Nacke, the process of cooking is more joyful when you’ve discovered it yourself.
"You gotta find pleasure where you can,” she says.
You can find Terre Botanicals organic collection locally at AJ's Fine Foods, The Market by Jennifer's, and Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market, as well as at restaurants including Essence Bakery and Cafe, MixUp Bar at T.Cook's Restaurant, Super Chunk Sweets and Treats, Rollover Doughnuts and Coffee House, and FnB Restaurant.
For more information, check the Terre Botanicals website.
Editor's note: This post has been changed from its original version.