‘Go wild in the kitchen and behind the bar’ Locals introduce Australian botanicals to spice up culinary creations

By Taylor McClure Special to Brome County New

Chris Muir and Jennifer Ruggins-Muir, both well known in the Brome Lake community, have been working in collaboration with the Wild Hibiscus Flower Company, established by their friend Lee Etherington in Australia, for nearly 20 years. With their feet grounded in North America, they have travelled across the continent to educate people and businesses about how to incorporate the hibiscus flower, and other botanicals native to Australia, into their culinary creations and alcoholic beverages. They have played a role in making a unique, not so well known product, recognizable across the globe and they hope to continue to spice up people’s everyday eating and drinking habits.
“We are group of Australians that are super close friends. We’re sitting at the table one night and we drank a little too much champagne and we dropped one of these hibiscus flowers in the champagne flute,” explained Chris, who is originally from Australia. “We started selling them to markets. With us being over here, they needed someone here. The North American market is so different”
“We import the flowers and distribute them across North America, but I do all of the recipe development using those products so we are always creating content for our products. We use the products in our own culinary creations,” added Jennifer. Her recipes can be found on the company’s website.
What started off with a bottled hibiscus flower in syrup to be used in champagne, developed into something more and a further exploration of how other Australian botanicals can give that culinary dish and beverage something special. “We have more than just the hibiscus flowers and syrup now. We have butterfly pea flowers and cocktail extracts, lotus roots too. There are lots of cocktail applications with garnishes and the syrups add a touch to champagne. Appetizers with the flowers accompany goat cheese, chive, and black pepper and we make sauces for duck breast, cakes, dishes with cakes and crème brule,” said Ruggins-Muir.
“Jen has an ability with food and food styling; you either have it or you don’t. She can create a story with an ingredient, and an image as well, and that is important. It needs to connect with viewer instantly,” emphasized Chris Muir.
Before Covid-19, Muir travelled seven months of the year to educate people and businesses on how they could use their products, recognizing an opportunity in North America. Both he and his wife did shows and events where people got to witness their creations first hand. “We just thought there was lot of opportunity over here, particularly in the U.S. The only problem with being different is that you have to educate, and be very passionate about the amount of time it takes to educate. When you think of Quebec and the way people love fun and food, we decided if you couldn’t succeed in Quebec, you couldn’t succeed anywhere in North America.”
Rugggins-Muir explained that the best way to educate people about the hibiscus and other specialty items is through retail and food service. “The best way to educate consumers, other than through the press, is through restaurants. If people are served a cocktail with a flower and they’re curious about it, they might go to the store. It goes hand in hand. Food service helps educate people on the products through retail.”
Muir emphasized that their products are not a necessity. “The whole idea is, we are not a necessity. If you are looking for something different and you want to a have a bit of a wow factor and a talking point, that is where we come in. We produce for people looking for something different.”
Their products can be found in local stores, like Panier Champêtre, businesses, and restaurant chains across North America and they are currently focusing on making people more aware of the butterfly pea flowers. “It’s a climbing vine, but the flowers are royal blue and what makes them so unique is that if you put them in cocktails, it’s the only plant in the world that you can get a true blue color from. It’s pretty cool. If you add any acid, like lemon juice, the color changes to purple so it’s really cool for cocktails,” said Ruggins-Muir.
“That flower is very much on trend. We started educating over here about seven years ago and it took us about five years to really get it going,” explained Chris. “The blue gins in the SAQ, use our blue flower that we supply so that they can have a blue gin. We sell to brewers, distillers, and tea companies, but it’s all happening here.”
Describing Etherington, founder of the Wild Hibiscus Company as a ‘mad scientist,’ there are always new unique products entering the market. “It’s a lifestyle, it’s our livelihood, it’s us every day. It’s basically slowly growing and fostering it,” said Chris.
At the end of the day, the Wild Hibiscus Company has one goal. “Out slogan is: Go wild in the kitchen and behind the bar,” he added. “Just get creative and have fun with it that’s the whole idea.”

Share this article