How Can Herbs and Spices Connect Israel and Iran?

Through he 2010 Sial food exhibition taking place right now in Paris makes the world appear to be a place of peace and brotherhood.


Pakistan stall selling Sabras fruit products
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz


Though it doesn’t seem that Israel and the Arab countries will resolve their difference in the near future, the 2010 Sial food exhibition in Paris makes the world appear like a place of peace and brotherhood.

Alongside booths from Israel and countless other nations, calmly stand representatives from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Dubai and Tunisia. The Arab representatives at the Sial exhibition aren't interested in politics or religious considerations, but are mainly trying to sell their products to as many markets as possible.

The Iranian booth displays the pride of the state: Products made with the expensive saffron spice, known for its orange color and unique taste. "Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world because of its special qualities and the hard work required for its production," reads the catalogue of the Novin company, presented in the Iranian pavilion. The Iranians explain that more than 170,000 flowers are required to produce a kilogram of Saffron.

The Iranian representatives were surprised to hear interest in their products coming from Israel, and made sure to display restraint. Although they agreed to talk with us, they did not forget to show hesitation. But after brief softening attempts, one of the Iranian representatives even allowed himself to smile and expressed his hope that peace would return and prevail between Iran and Israel.

"Maybe the situation will return to what it was before several decades. In total, we have much in common and there is no real reason for the [current] situation," he said and he shook our hands at least three times before parting ways.

Judging by its size, one could have mistaken the Tunisian pavilion for the U.S. pavilion or one of another major nation. Dozens of Tunisian companies spread their products across a huge area. The most noteworthy products were dates – large and small, with pits and without pits, with nuts and without nuts – and olive oil and its products.

We received a compliment at one of the date stands from a Tunisian representative.

"Israel's dates are good," he said. "I do a lot of business with Jews. You are all welcome and invited to visit Tunisia." He insisted that his pit-less dates were lighter in color than those sold in Israel.

The sweets of Dubai

A Tunisian stand offering Sabras fruit products made by the company Huilerie caught out eye: the special face skin oil produced of the thorns that undergo a dehydration process. The company was astonished at the fact that the Israelis knew what a cactus and were pleased to divulge more details about the plant, with the hope of future cooperation between the countries.

The Huilerie salesman even offered us samples, photographs and catalogs, and insisted on giving us his business card, just in case we wanted to keep in touch.

Surprisingly, the greatest interest in Israel came from the representatives at the Pakistani stand. "I cant sell directly to Israel, perhaps via other countries, but I will certainly be interested if it were possible," said Ahmed, the technological manager of food company Tooba, and he too gave me a business card.

"Israel is just anther country, just like Pakistan. We do not want to fight with Israel – no one gains from it, mostly the economy," he said.

The Pakistani stand, which was smalle than most of the other Arab nations' stands, displayed ginger and garlic spices, sauces, pickles, as well as local chutney.

Near the Pakistani stand was another interesting stall: From Dubai. The representatives were not concerned with the assassination of a Hamas strongman Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in their country this year, or from the alleged Israeli connection to the case.

The Dubain's are in fact interested in sweets: chocolates and cakes, made of the European and the oriental flavors.

Choco'a, a family business, which was established in 2004 in Dubai, is known as one of the largest chocolate exporters to Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and other countries in the Middle East.

"There are different regulations that do not allow us to sell to Israel," the company's spokesperson explained with a smile. "I personally don’t care about these things, I am originally from Romania."

It could be that behind our neighbors' responsiveness to cooperate stands the aspiration to grow and develop in the world – even at the risk of paying the price of taking to an Israeli.

During a tour of the fare it was apparent that the developing countries are willing to invest an effort, land and obviously money, and are making more of an effort than the developed countries.

Thus, the Moroccan, Tunisian, Turkish, and other Asian and middle Eastern stands, were grandiose, while the Netherland and other countries chose to settle for a smaller space. Even the developing countries' hospitability was more welcoming and patient, as they offered the passersby to come and taste their delicacies.