Shaheen Rajabally, 34, lives in Claremont with her husband Naayil, 39, and their sons Aadil, eight, and Ismail, three. She set up Natura Sugars in January 2015.
grew up in Mauritius, where my family owned a sugar-cane farm. My dad and gran instilled a love of and appreciation for sugar in me – it’s something that’s very much a part of my family’s heritage.
To this day, the taste of raw sugar takes me right back to my childhood, when I’d munch on a freshly-cut sugar-cane stick.
In Mauritius, sugar is made in a way that locks in all the goodness, and the flavour is very distinctive. Pure sugar-cane juice is even healthy enough for diabetics to drink in moderation! When I was growing up, we wouldn’t use a lot of sugar; it was used more as an accent to teas and savoury dishes. The taste you get from sugar cane is quite different to that of refined sugar, so naturally, I stayed away from things like sodas, which I found far too sweet.
From a young age, I loved working with numbers, and was blessed to get a scholarship to study in America, and become an actuarial consultant. My path led me to London, where I got married, and soon after, we moved to South Africa. When Aadil was born, I became a full-time mom, and in 2012, we went back to the UK with our family for a year. That’s when I discovered a range of unrefined sugar we didn’t get in SA, and it tasted just like the raw sugar I loved from Mauritius. When we returned to SA, I was determined to bring something like it into the country.
I decided to start doing my own research, in the hopes of setting up a small business selling unrefined sugar locally, which, I felt, was a great nod to my heritage as well -something I feel passionate about keeping alive. I got in touch with suppliers, food researchers and engineers in Mauritius to source suppliers of the best-quality product. And, in January 2015, after two years of preparation, I launched Natura Sugars.
It’s been a busy, but rewarding year. I’ve met many interesting people through talks and presentations I’ve given to chefs and retailers alike. Sugar has a bad rap, but I’m happy to share the better side of this magic ingredient, and change that perception to embrace my heritage. Staying true to my roots has opened up a new, exciting opportunity.