STIR! it UP is the brainchild of Stellenbosch-based Nini Jerman who two years ago embarked on a journey to develop a healthy alternative to those ready-made sauces that were loaded with ingredients which, she says, “read more like a science lab experiment than something I wanted to put into my children’s tummies.”

After much experimenting and testing of results on long-suffering, but patient, friends and family, Jerman finally found success with STIR! it UP, a range of dried sauces which, when reconstituted with water, stock, milk or cream, result in sauces that are not only full of healthy natural ingredients and preservative and chemical free, but which also add an extra zing and complexity to any dish.

We tore Jerman away from her kitchen for 10 minutes to find out more about STIR! it UP and also discovered she is the woman behind the much-admired Winston & Julia chocolate brand.

Can you give us a little bit of background on yourself?
I grew up on a farm on top of the Piekenierskloof mountains, with a stunning view of the Cederberg. I was a real ‘plaasmeisie’ with a deep love of nature, wide open spaces and fresh air. My five (yes, five!) siblings and I went to hostel from grade 1 and, at the age of six, I quickly learned coping skills and independence. I think that, and the very South African attitude of ‘‘n boer maak ‘n plan”, shaped my approach to challenges and life in general. I did a post-grad in Development Studies at Stellenbosch University, worked in marketing in the tourism sector and dipped my toes in the world of my own business when I ended up in weird and mostly not so wonderful places with my geologist husband. I ran a successful glass-making business from a small mining town in the Northern Cape, where our hand-made bowls made it all the way to the Conran Shop in London! Back in the Cape, I started Winston & Julia Chocolate and now STIR! it UP – all-natural sauces.

Tell us about STIR! it UP
STIR! it UP is a range of all-natural cook-in sauces. We make a sauce like you would do in your kitchen – with fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. We slowly simmer the sauce until all the flavours have married and it has the right consistency. To keep the shelf life of the sauce, we don’t add any preservatives, but rather we dry the sauce to remove all the moisture. When you want to make your dish, you simply add the liquid again – be it water, stock, wine or milk and stir it up!

How did the idea come about?
I had an idea to make a fruity, preservative-free children’s range of sauces. In order to do the research and development, I bought a small second-hand dehydrator. One evening I made an excess amount of tomato sauce and, having a new toy, I thought let’s dry it and see what happens. It worked perfectly, the drying and the re-constitution. It was just the spark that I needed to start playing around with other ingredients and flavours.

How did you come up with the name?
After I hit on the idea, I thought a lot about giving it the right name – one that would portray the essence of the product. I went through names like ‘Wholly Natural, ‘Homemade in Minutes’, ‘Make Good Food Fast’ and about a thousand others. I finally called in the assistance of a brand specialist to help me focus on what the brand “boils down to” (his words) and hey presto STIR! it UP was born.

How long did it take for you to get the sauces right?
Most of the sauces I developed through recipes I was already making on a regular basis. The Thai Ginger and Asian Pork Neck stew are staples in my house. The Braai sauce was a challenge. Most Braai sauces are packed with sugar. Besides, trying to avoid sugar in the sauces, I also found out that sugar just does not dry!

How did you come up with the 11 different sauces?
I developed the five sauces in the Global range first – the Thai Ginger, Asian, Smoky Curry, Mediterranean Mushroom and Italian Tomato. These are the sauces that I use all the time in my cooking. However, I became more and more interested in cooking from the African continent – the whole idea of ‘Africa as the undiscovered gourmet continent’. When dried, the sauces travel very well which makes them a fantastic gift for international visitors. The result was six African sauces – Moroccan Tagine, North African Chermoula, South African Braai, West African Maffé, Tunisian Harissa and West African Yassa.

Why is it so important to you that your sauces don’t contain any preservatives, colourants or additives?  
I am not a crusader against anything that might cause all kinds of dreaded diseases. I believe in absolute balance and honesty. What irked me about most of the industrial food manufacturers is the lack of straightforwardness. They combine ingredients that do not occur in natural food – notably the trilogy of sugar, processed fat and salt – in their most quickly digested, highly refined, nutrient-depleted forms. They say that the chemicals involved pose no risk to human health when ingested in small quantities. But what about small quantities? The truth is that we just do not know what these chemicals are doing to us. I think that there is some link between processed food and the dramatic rise in obesity, chronic disease and food allergies. I do not want my sauces to be part of that. I can only do natural and that is the only way of eating that makes sense to me.

Do you have more flavours planned for the future?
I am playing with a soup selection but the potential range I am really excited about is a salad condiment range, but not just salad sauces. I am working on the same concept as the sauces, i.e. to “make good food fast”, but make “gourmet salad fast”.

Where canSTIR! it UPsauces be found?
We are currently only selling the sauces online – at www.stir-it-up.co.za – but discussions with retailers are ongoing so hopefully we will also be in selected stores soon. They cost between R45 and R50 each with a 10 percent discount on all first purchases. The good news is that we have now been given permission to deliver during lockdown so anyone ordering will have their consignment delivered to them by The Courier Guy.

You also head up Winston & Julia chocolate. Tell us a bit about that.
Winston & Julia chocolate is all about really good chocolate in beautiful packaging. It is a lovely gifting range that includes chocolate tumbles, chocolate slabs and the most decadent hot chocolate.

Where did the name come from?
It hails from George Orwell’s dark novel 1984 in which Julia “produced a small slab of chocolate. She broke it in half and gave one of the pieces to Winston. Even before he has taken it, he knew by the smell that it was very unusual chocolate. It was dark and shiny ….” Our chocolate is “dark and shiny”, smooth and milky, rich and satisfying. Hence the name …

Have you always been interested in cooking and creating dishes?
Not in cooking, but creating. I find it quite a chore to cook every day. That was the inspiration behind STIR! it UP – to help women like me to make a gourmet meal without spending hours in the kitchen. And it’s healthy and packed with flavour.

What is your best food memory?
The smell of my mom’s freshly baked bread (she never bought “winkel-brood” – wind, she called it); and her Sunday menu of roast leg of lamb, chicken pie, baked potatoes, waterblommetjies, carrot salad with loads of fresh orange juice followed by fruit salad and home-made ice-cream.

Any chefs out there that you follow and admire?
I admire several people, some of them chefs, that have taken their food businesses to great heights. But I am not into the celebrity chefs thing.

What three things are always in your fridge?
Garlic, bacon and various cheeses.

What would be on the menu for your last meal and who would you share it with?
My Mom’s Sunday menu – but with a modern, lighter twist – shared with my very extended family.

STIR! it UP sauces are available to order during lockdown and will be delivered by The Courier Guy.