Rosie Greenaway takes a walk down the ambient aisle to browse the perfect store cupboard staples for a well-stocked pandemic pantry
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about food during lockdown it’s that a well-stocked pantry is key in a pandemic to avoid unnecessary trips to the shops. With much of the nation working, socializing and schooling from their living rooms during this ‘stay at home’ chapter of our lives, the kitchen cupboard gets repeatedly raided throughout the day by those seeking treats to break up the boredom.
Before COVID-19 took hold, the snacking sector was already doing well, with Mintel reporting in 2019 that 66% of adults reached for a snack daily. Since then, lockdowns have had their impact; when restrictions were eased last July, research from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and Bite Back 2030 showed a 40% increase in snacking among young people, calling it the ‘biggest negative consequence’ of the nation’s changed eating habits.
But snacks weren’t the only items filling up store cupboards when the ‘stock piling’ or ‘pantry loading’ craze swept the nation; pasta and canned goods saw inflated sales as people prepped for the pandemic, as was well-documented by the media. Pantry goods cover a broad spectrum, from cartons of long-life dairy-free milk and jars of nut butter, to canned chickpeas and an array of condiments – and they’re all health store staples.
An old favourite
If ever there was a store cupboard item that stood the test of time it’s the humble rice cake. So versatile a product is it, that it can be ‘tailored to personal tastes with a wide array of healthy sweet and savoury toppings’, according to Maria Dawson, director of Clearspring, which launched its first oblong shaped rice cakes some 20 years ago.
Crunch it, crumble it, layer it and load it with your favourite toppings or give it to little ones to chew on when they’re teething. “They offer a light, crispy base upon which any number of sweet or savoury toppings can be added, ranging from peanut butter and sweet spreads to vegetables and even baked beans or curry. They work just as well as an accompaniment to soups and salads.” Clearspring’s flavour exploration has seen the brand relaunch its range of Organic Brown Rice Cakes with a new and improved recipe, introducing Salted and Lightly Salted options to accompany the existing variants.
Now ‘larger and crunchier’, Clearspring says the gluten-free range is proving popular with anyone attempting to cut back on bread. “A couple of rice cakes with a light topping … can be the equivalent calories to a single slice of bread as each cake is less than 28 calories,” says Dawson. “Having a pack or two handy in the store cupboard … offers people a simple and convenient way to enjoy a light organic snack when they’re feeling peckish.
While Dawson struggles to ‘whittle it down to a single favourite topping – because there are so many ways to enjoy rice cakes’, when she fancies something sweet she opts for the brand’s Organic Fruit Spreads, ‘adding a layer of our Crunchy Peanut Butter’.
“If I feel like something more substantial, I love having a thin base of Clearspring’s tangy Umami Paste, and then layering some avocado and sliced cherry tomatoes on top. The delicious Red Cabbage and Sauerkraut in our Bio Kitchen cupboard essentials range are also among my favourite savoury toppings.”
Buy one, give one
Food in the context of a pandemic can’t be discussed without acknowledging the food poverty crisis happening in our communities. The Trussell Trust’s network of over 1,300 food distribution centres saw an 18% increase in demand during 2019-2020. Prior to winter, it forecast that these centres would be giving out six emergency food parcels a minute – a rise of 61% from 2019, when demand was already high.
The charity says the pandemic has ‘reshaped the landscape of destitution and poverty’. “More than 5.7 million people were receiving Universal Credit in October, a 90% increase since March 2020. Our estimate based off work from Heriot-Watt University suggests hundreds of thousands of people will be swept into destitution by the end of this winter. During the pandemic food banks have been on the frontline … and we reported a 47% increase in the number of parcels distributed in the six months to September 2020, compared to the same period last year. In this period 38% of parcels went to children.”
These sobering statistics aren’t lost on the public, many of whom have adopted a ‘buy one, give one’ mentality to help fill retailers’ collection bins with goods boasting long shelf lives. Thanks to an ‘overwhelming response from supporters around the country’, The Trussell Trust has also reached its target of raising £500k, which has been doubled by its ‘match fund’ to result in a £1 million total – taking the charity one step closer to a ‘hunger-free future’. In its own words, ‘it’s time to end the injustice of people needing food banks’ once and for all.
A tight squeeze
Venture into the pantry of any self-confessed foodie and you’ll find a treasure trove of condiments, many of which may only be used occasionally when the success of a favourite dish relies on one particular ingredient. Where would vegan sushi rolls be without a jar of The Ginger Party Bio-organic Sushi Ginger, for example?
Other daily lifesavers that have earned their place on overcrowded kitchen shelves include the excellent all-rounder coconut oil, a culinary whiz that can be used in a multitude of recipes. But what if the convenience level of coconut oil was cranked up a notch? Nutiva has done just that, with its new Squeezable Coconut Manna: a puréed organic coconut butter made from dried coconut flesh, for spreading, baking or squeezing into smoothies. Vegan and non-GMO with zero trans fats, it’s ‘heaven’ in a pouch, according to the brand.
Also taking pride of place on-shelf are yeast flakes, with Marigold’s newest addition – Engevita Iron & Vit D Nutritional Yeast Flakes – certain to become a best seller thanks to its ‘beefier savoury flavour’ and high iron content. Launched during Veganuary, when natural daylight was at a minimum, the nutty, cheesy-tasting flakes, packed with vitamin D, are bound to be a hit with vegan shoppers.
The market is blessed with plenty of sauces which bring bursts of flavour to home-cooked food. New to UK retail, artisan brand Dr Trouble turns a 125-year-old family recipe into two small-batch sauces perfect for consumers who demand ‘something more exciting on the side of their plate’. With no additives or preservatives, the vegan ingredients in African Lemon Chilli and Oak Smoked Chilli include fiery home-grown chillies and wild lemons harvested by village communities in Zimbabwe. A 100-day fermentation process under the African sun gives them an intense, deep flavour, perfect for summer BBQs.
Elsewhere in the category, mayonnaise may be holding onto its title as the UK’s favourite condiment, but ketchup is chasing its heels. Hunter & Gather has both in its range, the former taking the shape of Avocado Oil Mayonnaise (Classic, Garlic and Chipotle & Lime) and the latter coming in three unsweetened new flavours: Spicy Chipotle, Smokey Barbecue and Classic Tomato.
According to online whole food retailer Good Club, there are six essential categories that any well-stocked pantry should cover:
• Beans: from baked beans for breakfast to red kidney for dinner, it never hurts to have a couple of cans of this versatile food staple in the back of the cupboard
• Tomatoes: purée, passata, tinned or sun-dried – tomatoes come in handy for a wide range of dishes ranging from pizza and pasta through to salads and stews
• Rice: “You can always pull together a meal with rice in the cupboard,” says the retailer – from egg-fried rice and stuffed vegetables to rice pudding and burritos, the possibilities are broad
• Flour: essential for cakes, gravy, batter, Yorkshire pudding and everyone’s favourite lockdown activity – bread-making
• Pasta and noodles: Through lasagne sheets to macaroni, orzo to spaghetti, the pasta world is the consumer’s oyster – but shelf-stable noodles aren’t to be overlooked either; from vermicelli to soba, they work for a variety of meals including ramen soups and stir-fries
• Coconut milk: a base for most types of curry, it adds richness to savoury dishes and can be used to ‘whip up a plant-based ice cream alternative’.
From Coconut Merchant Raw Organic Coconut Flour to Minor Figures Oat M*lk, store cupboards house all kinds of ingredients perfect for Pancake Day. We took a peek at what retailers whisked up in their mixing bowls this year, and which toppings they recommended to their regulars.
Staff at 100% Health, St Helier, went ‘wild’ for the ‘squidgy slices of heaven’ made by Superfood Bakery Organic Pancake Mix. “We think you’ll be rather won over by Superfood Bakery’s vegan, gluten-free and all-natural pancake mix too, which makes pancake scoffing easier and healthier,” they told customers. “We also stock a wide variety of non-dairy milk plus Sunita Organic Lemon and Lime juices that will give your pancakes that zingy delicious taste. Happy flipping.”
Elsewhere, for Jan de Vries it was all about melting Raw Halo across a fluffy stack and scattering with raspberries. Nature’s Gold in Rathcoole backed Doves Farm flour, Vego Hazelnut Chocolate Spread and True Natural Goodness Cacao Powder, Cinnamon Powder and Coconut Sugar. At Nature’s Larder, Aberdeen, the line-up included Rowse Organic Honey, Biona Salted Caramel Coconut Bliss, Shady Maple Farms Pure Maple Syrup, Mani Life Peanut Butter, RAW Organic Acacia Flower Honey and Hungry Squirrel Nut Butters. Nature’s Nutrition in Bideford opted for Suma’s Organic Mexican Agave Syrup as a naturally sweet alternative to sugar and Just Wholefoods Organic Matcha Pancake Mix for a hit of green goodness.
Bee Like a Bee- Wellness Pralines
Can health boosting nutrition go hand in hand with pure indulgence? Certainly yes! Bee Like a Bee is the first British brand to introduce the ‘wellness praline’: a delicious premium chocolate with health boosting ingredients which support the immune system and energize the body. Designed by a renowned doctor & therapist who combined bee pollen, royal jelly, propolis, apilarnil & honey with artisan dark chocolate. No gluten or dairy ingredients. Hand made in the largest area of unspoilt nature in Eastern Europe (Sibiu, Carpathian Mountains); Plus, loved by children!
Turmeric & Cinnamon Herbal Tea
NutraTea Turmeric & Cinnamon is 1 of 19 herbal blends in the range that has been formulated to help maintain the health of the liver, upper respiratory tract and heart. This timeless herbal blend contains entirely natural, sustainably sourced ingredients with no added flavourings, oils or excipients enabling each tea bag to be reused throughout the day. Containing 50% Turmeric to help manage inflammatory responses and protect joints and 50% Cinnamon to help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, this unique herbal blend produces an aromatic yet sweet cup of tea.
Qi Organic Matcha powder
Our Premium grade, handcrafted Matcha is produced using traditional methods. Providing over 10 times the nutritional value of regular green tea, our velvety smooth powder is vivid green in colour giving you an assurance of its quality. We are an independent, family-owned artisan tea brand established for over 20 years and our ethical, naturally healthy range is Vegan registered. We trade directly with our growers and enjoy sharing our savings with our customers, you won’t find this quality Matcha, at this price from anyone else! Retailing at just £8.99 for 40g, get your stock now and discover the quality for yourself, contact [email protected] for a free sample and POS
Spice it up – The Ginger People pantry range
Full of flavor, healthy and energizing, ginger adds a warm, fragrant sweetness to countless recipes from around the world. This unifying spice is also celebrated for its diverse healing properties and has become more popular than ever.
The ginger people Pantry range includes 100% organic sushi, minced, spread, syrup, crystalised and pure squeezed juice, giving limitless uses in the kitchen.
Biona Organic Basmati Brown Rice
Robust and nutty in flavour, Biona Organic Basmati Brown Rice is made from only the finest organic grains. Naturally gluten-free and high in fibre, it is the perfect accompaniment to a range of different dishes. Available in a convenient 1kg bag, Biona Brown Rice is ideal to keep in your store cupboard all year round. Now in 100% plastic-free paper bags that can be easily recycled.
Biona Chopped Tomatoes Biona Organic
Biona Organic Chopped Tomatoes are grown on organic sustainable in the Italian countryside. The fresh tomatoes are then peeled, chopped and marinated in a rich tomato sauce before being canned in BPA-Free tins to preserve the nutrients and flavour. Biona Chopped Tomatoes have no added salt or sugar and are citric acid free too! Now available in a convenient 4 pack, add to soups, pasta sauces or vegetarian chilli for an easy way to incorporate 1 of your 5 a day.