Watch: Demand is high for hot Irish peppers from Tribal Foods in Co Galway

Valerie O’Connor talks to Tribal Foods owner, Liam Heneghan, on the healthy demand for spicy and vibrant fruits.

Watch: Demand is high for hot Irish peppers from Tribal Foods in Co Galway

Thirty years ago and a bit, I went on holiday with my parents for a few days around the ring of Kerry. Holidays is the wrong word, as I didn’t want to go, but as I was fourteen, I didn’t have much option.

Still, I wonder why they did that to themselves as I, being a teenage girl, had the power to make their lives hell by refusing to speak for the duration.

No I didn’t find Dingle lovely, no, I didn’t enjoy Killarney, or Kenmare — I just wanted to get home where I could stare at pictures of Paul Weller and go back to my summer job as a waitress — I lied about my age, still doing that!

I do remember being vegetarian (another thorn in my mother’s side, who, at least had the cop-on to tell me I could cook my own dinners), and what it meant as a non-meat eating tourist was chips and coleslaw every day.

I was thrilled with that, but of course I hid my happiness from my parents, heaven forbid I might crack a smile!

I love coleslaw and chips, it’s a perfectly balanced meal of deep fried starch and additive-laden mayo, but it is vegetable, and raw veg at that.

Some of the tasty single estate sauces produced by Tribal Foods in Athenry which are proving very popular with Irish customers.
Some of the tasty single estate sauces produced by Tribal Foods in Athenry which are proving very popular with Irish customers.

Food and tourism has come a long way from this teenage fast-food heaven and no better testament to this is the amazing ‘Food on the Edge Food Symposium’ which took place recently in Galway.

The brainchild of Monsieur JP McMahon who inspired me to get into fermenting, this is a truly exciting event.

It’s totally different from your everyday food festival, as it brings the top and edgiest food fellows from all over the globe to come and speak about the future of, well... food.

From the star of the show Massimo Botturo, to Danni Barry, this was heaven’s kitchen. If there is one food event worth going to next year, save your pennies and treat yourself, if only for the food tent alone.

A stroll here is akin to a visit to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory — Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed producers making abalone soup and seaweed brownies, the finest charcuterie from Forage and Cure, the best cheeses from the Little Milk Cheese Company, snail farmers, charcoal producers grilling venison sausages... Aran island goats’ cheese.

These are a select few from a prolific island producing the best of food.

The boot of my car was laden with sourdough and cake — I do love a food bribe, it makes up for the parking fines I always get.

The table that blew me away however was the rainbow spread from Tribal Foods in Athenry.

Liam Heneghan is a third generation grower, working in the family’s five acres under glass on their farm in Galway, yes five acres, that’s two enormous glasshouses of 2.5 acres each.

Liam’s grandmother built her own glasshouse in 1935 and grew flowers, and her son, Liam’s dad, picked up the gauntlet and set up a thriving tomato-growing business.

As tomatoes became saturated by foreign imports, his father turned to growing lettuce and parsley and, at 81 year’s old, he is still gainfully growing in the family business.

“I got into growing chillies because people were asking us for them at our stall in the Galway market, where we sell every Saturday,” says Liam.

“We started growing them and I got really into it, as there are so many different varieties and it’s an interesting subject, plus there were no Irish chillies available.”

With his wife Teresa, the couple also got into growing some cherry-style and heritage varieties of tomatoes and the demand for the spicy and vibrant fruits took off.

“First we grew jalapenos and cayenne chillies and then got into some more unusual varieties that we were growing for some local restaurants.

"People would give us a large order for chillies and then not turn up to collect them, so we were left with excess, perishable stock and that’s when we got the idea to develop the sauces to add value and keep our fruit from going off.”

As winter fast approaches, the option of adding some chillies to dishes is proving a hot idea. The tomatoes are good too!
As winter fast approaches, the option of adding some chillies to dishes is proving a hot idea. The tomatoes are good too!

Tribal sauces are unique in that every ingredient, save the lemons or limes, come from their own farm, so they have, by default, created single estate sauces.

It seems they are on to something, as people now travel from across the country to buy these tasty sauces like Strawberry Chilli, which won a Blas na hÉireann award just two years after the couple started out in the world of sauce-making.

The sauces and dressings are all made without added sugars or the dreaded high fructose corn syrup which is lethal for anyone with auto-immune conditions.

“One woman drove up from Limerick to Galway just to buy six jars of sauce on Saturday,” Liam recalls.

“People who are off sugar and additives go mad for the sauces as they can still have their favourite flavours but in a form that won’t make them feel sick. We use our own fruits and the strawberry chili has a fruit content of 28% which is really high.”

It seems that Irish people love spicy foods as we are generally well-travelled and have a curious palate by comparison to our European cousins.

The Heneghans are happy to have found a way to keep their farm business viable for the next generation, as their daughter Shauna is interested in carrying on in their footsteps.

“In summer I might work 100-120 hours, you do things in your own business that you would never do if you were employed by someone else,” says Liam.

“In winter I can pare back to 60 of 70 hours,” he laughs.

“The artisan food sector is booming in Ireland but it needs better support from supermarkets.”

If you’re wondering why you should have chillies in your diet, here are some of the best reasons: capsaican, the active ingredient in chillies boosts circulation, relieving arthritis and they help to eliminate waste from the bowels.

Chillies can enhance your mood by increasing endorphins and they reduce blood pressure.

Chillies can block the contractions that cause over-active bladder and are also said to boost libido and improve your sex life.

So many benefits from such a tasty thing.

From personal experience, half a spoon of cayenne pepper mixed in a small amount of natural yogurt and eaten every morning cleared up my sinus problems, so get yourself some chillies and some fab sauces.

Tribal foods are at the Galway Market on Saturdays and on facebook @TribalFoods

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