Khakibos makes this farm profitable

In the early 1990s crop and stock farmers Flip and Riana Minnaar decided to counter theft and low profitability by producing essential oils from crops like khakibos. This lead to a booming frozen herb operation, Icy Herbs CC, a 2007 finalist in the South African Food Review New Product Competition.
Issue date: 20 february 2009

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In the early 1990s crop and stock farmers Flip and Riana Minnaar decided to counter theft and low profitability by producing essential oils from crops like khakibos. This lead to a booming frozen herb operation, Icy Herbs CC, a 2007 finalist in the South African Food Review New Product Competition.

Flip and Riana MINNAAR’S decision to produce essential oils came in the 1990s, at a time of poor prices for traditional produce such as maize, cattle, sheep and milk.
The couple were also battling theft on their 1 400ha farm Vlakbult in Clocolan in the eastern Free State, so Flip looked for a crop thieves would find useless. He also realised that to increase farming profit, you should take control of the value chain by adding value to your product.

Essential oils lead to frozen herbs
Flip and Riana began searching for the necessary equipment and eventually bought their first distillation units from a business near Louis Trichardt in Limpopo. As a qualified engineer, Flip handled the dismantling, transporting and assembling of this equipment on his farm Vlakbult. Flip sold his 250-strong dairy herd and put the capital into boosting the essential oil facility and the production of a variety of crops, including tagete, better known in South Africa as khakibos.

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The production of crops and essential oil started slowly, with the first exports of Highlands Essential Oils to Europe in 1995. “At one stage we were producing 2t/year of tagete essential oil – that’s 20% of the global market. We then expanded to include a whole series of distillation procedures,” explains Flip. Soon essential oils were being produced from a number of culinary herbs, a decision leading the Minnaars into an entirely new direction. A European company encouraged them to utilise part of their essential oil crop.

After a number of visits to Europe, the Minnaars decided in 2002 to begin a joint venture – Icy Herbs CC – with their neighbours Mundus and Hugo Joubert, who were then producing and packing vegetables. “We came back from Belgium, made some boereplanne and then began freezing herbs,” Flip says. Due to the stiff competition in this market, he was understandably unwilling to go into greater detail. Flip then designed a refrigeration plant to snap-freeze herbs with liquid nitrogen. He also fine-tuned the production of herbs and certain essential oil crops on about 35ha of irrigated land without insecticides or herbicides. Depending on demand, about 2ha to 5ha of herbs would also be produced on the Jouberts’ farm Makoadi.

Frozen herbs vs fresh and dried herbs
Icy Herbs are packaged in polystyrene containers of 250ml, 1kg and 2,5â„“, which protect them from the effect of ambient room temperature far more effectively than plastic bags. In fact, it’s been proven if frozen herbs in polystyrene containers are handled without breaking the cold chain, they’ll last for up to three years. “For the best results, you should handle Icy Herbs products the way you would ice cream,” says Riana.

Many would argue that fresh herbs are the ultimate when cooking, because they add maximum colour and flavour. Flip agrees, but explains that most fresh herbs bought off the shop shelf are hardly fresh, considering their journey from the producer to the kitchen. “A farmer’s herbs will take up to a week to get into your pot and that’s not fresh anymore. The quality has definitely been compromised,” he says.
Once fresh herbs have been bought, their renowned perishability often results in significant amounts being discarded. Furthermore, herbs are also seasonal and can be very difficult to find and expensive at certain times of the year. While dry herbs are available throughout the year and are easy to use, major disadvantages include the loss of essential oils through the drying process, along with flavour and colour.
In short, frozen herbs seem to incorporate the best of both fresh and dry herbs, including freshness, flavour, colour, all-year-round availability and an excellent shelf-life if the cold chain isn’t broken. There’s no waste and convenience is enhanced by reduced preparation time, portion control and ease of storage. In addition, frozen herbs are inexpensive and offer price stability and product consistency. Contact Flip Minnaar on 083 303 8253or visit
Additional sources:     |fw

Freezing herbs correctly

Freezing herbs creates major challenges – the plant matter turns into a blackened soggy mess in the freezer, because as the water on the plant freezes it expands and crystallises, piercing holes in the membranes of the cells and various cellular bodies.
Once the cells thaw, the holes in the membranes cause the cell contents to mix and rapidly digest themselves, giving the herbs a soggy appearance. Enzymes are responsible for the browning and blackening of the herbs.
One of the most effective ways of countering this degeneration during freezing is to snap-freeze herbs at low temperatures. This is known as individual quick freezing (IQF) and ensures water can’t crystallise and cause damage to the plant cells.
“With the IQF process, the plant remains alive and if even it’s used some time later there’s little difference between Icy Herbs and living plants that have been prepared for cooking,” explains Flip.

For freshness, speed is essential when producing frozen herbs. The process of harvesting to freezing takes no longer than two hours. Herbs are harvested early in the morning while it’s still cool and transported to the factory, where within the hour they’re washed, sterilised and passed through a wind tunnel to blow off excess water droplets. They then enter the refrigeration tunnel and are instantly frozen with liquid nitrogen at -196ºC. Only then are the herbs cut and separated from the stems at -25ºC to capture as much fresh flavour as possible (often compromised during the handling of fresh herbs), to produce 100% natural frozen herbs without colourants or preservatives.

The herbs are then packed at -10ºC before being conveyed to a freezer room on an insulated conveyer, to be stored at -35ºC. They are eventually transported at below -20ºC to international markets (since 2002) and local markets (since 2005).
The most popular herbs are basil, coriander, parsley, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, rosemary, rocket, sage, tarragon and thyme, while other varieties are also produced on request.