Globetrotting may be currently off limits, but Rosie Greenaway takes a pit-stop tour of the Foods of the World sector to see which foreign influences are making their way onto health store shelves
For most of us, it’s been an age since we’ve had the luxury of sitting in a quintessential European square, ordering a plate of whatever the locals are eating. Since COVID clipped our wings, the closest many Brits get to culinary travel is ordering a takeaway curry and binge-watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. But the pandemic and Brexit have done nothing to dampen the British appetite for exploring the world through foreign fare; a survey by bakery expert St Pierre revealed 41% were willing to embrace new foods in 2020.
With consumer feet firmly on the ground for a while longer, stores can use this time as an opportunity to whet people’s appetite for the reopening of travel by tempting them to break away from their gastronomic habits.
Taste of Italy
It’s no secret that lovers of everything Italiano are well catered for in this sector, thanks to free-from alternatives to classic ingredients from Naples and the rolling hills of Tuscany. Take Doves Farm Organic Red Lentil Penne Pasta, for example, and Mr Organic Gluten-free Oat Pasta – or Mezzi Rigatoni, for authenticity. Both enable the gluten intolerant to enjoy a big bowl of comfort food without the digestive discomfort that pasta can cause.
On the sauce side, there isn’t anything RAW Vibrant Living doesn’t know about DIY vegan pesto – all the ingredients for its online recipe can be found in health stores. The progression of vegan cheese has also been remarkable; a handful of Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Mozzarella Vegan Cheese Shreds allows pizza lovers to achieve that familiar melted ooziness, while a block of Violife Prosociano grates just like Parmesan and brings a ‘strong aroma’ to salads. Many also swear by Marigold Engevita Yeast Flakes for that cheesy hit in risottos.
“Pasta is in many ways the perfect food product: easy to produce, easy to store, easy to transport, a long shelf life and versatile as an ingredient”
For customers keen to indulge in a tub of gelato, The Booja Booja Company’s newest organic ice cream flavours are unlikely to stay in the freezer for long. As with everything it makes, Heavens on Earth and Honeycomb Caramel are dairy-free and vegan, making them ‘particularly appealing to the growing number of people embracing plant-based eating’, according to Louise Collins, marketing coordinator. “At a time when consumers are increasingly looking for fabulous fillings and exciting textures, these beautifully crafted treats have been carefully created to enchant the senses. They’re just delicious. Honeycomb Caramel has a smooth caramel ice cream base, ‘bescrunched’ with sweet honeycomb pieces – a simply sublime combination. Heavens on Earth (mint chocolate truffle) is an exquisite take on a traditional favourite that never goes out of style. It’s as if the ‘mint choc chip’ of your childhood has grown up and been whirled into something altogether more exciting, luscious, refreshing and zingy.”
Fuel for the Romans
For Essential Trading, the love affair with artisanal Italian pasta came in the ’90s when its buyers discovered La Terra e il Cielo – an organic pasta producer from the Marche region. Some 20 years ago, Essential ‘took over and secured distribution rights in the UK and Ireland’, explains buying director Jaspa Beese. “We were impressed by their story, their production methods and the fact they were a cooperative, just like ourselves.” Farmers in Marche ‘grew crops without poison’ – they were pioneers in the development of organic agriculture in the 1980s.
The fruits of their labour can be found in the three types of pasta they produce: Durum Wheat Semolina, extracted through a bronze mould to give a rough texture which sauces can easily stick to; Durum Whole Wheat, including husk for extra fibre; and 100% Spelt, produced from the ancient grain Triticum dicoccum, said to have ‘sustained the Roman army’. The pasta is dried at low temperatures for 48 hours to retain nutrients, and the farmers are guaranteed a price for their crops, which accounts for La Terra’s premium price point.
“Pasta is in many ways the perfect food product: easy to produce, easy to store, easy to transport, a long shelf life and versatile as an ingredient. Best sellers in the La Terra range are the White Papardelle Nests, White Linguine and White Macaroni. Although this is not a typical Italian shape, La Terra produced it for us at the request of Wholefoods, as Americans love mac ‘n’ cheese. My personal favourite shapes are strozzapreti (literal translation: ‘strangled priest’). Folklore has it that the local priest … ate so much and put on so much weight he was eventually strangled by his dog collar. Not sure if it’s true, but a great story! When you open the packet you can smell the ancient water mill where the flour was ground and almost feel like you were back in the undulating Marche hills.”
Jack of all trades
When Vegan Life revealed jackfruit as Taste of the Year 2020, it wasn’t just acknowledging the plant-based sector’s astronomical growth but also how it was penetrating the mainstream market. With chains such as Pizza Express already featuring jackfruit on their menus, over 300 chefs and restaurateurs agreed the ingredient was set to soar.
While perfect for replicating the texture of pulled pork, the growing availability of jackfruit in the Western world is a concern. “Something I keep thinking about with the rise in popularity is that jackfruit is really a ‘poor man’s’ fruit.” This is Dr Susan Thirakornrath, founder of One Earth Organics. “The poor are generally the people who eat it and of course with all the commodification of the fruit, it’s going to rise in price. Are these people going to suffer from it not being free anymore and being grown for commercial purposes? I’m a bit worried about the effect that’s going to have, especially in India.”
In the world’s jackfruit-growing regions – from Vietnam to Kenya, Uganda to the Pacific Islands – commercial farms are cropping up at speed and pricing out local communities as demand for this humble crop grows. For this reason, it felt important to Thirakornrath that One Earth Organics sourced the fruit for its Jackfruit Crisps as sustainably as possible, with food waste reduction at the heart of its mission.
“The great thing about jackfruit is that it can be grown in really harsh conditions – it doesn’t need much water. Each tree produces 150 huge fruit each season so it’s a really easy-to-grow crop. In India … it’s not that popular so you get literally thousands of kilograms rotting on the ground. You have a huge problem with food waste as well over there. I found a really good charity in Kerala that collects waste jackfruit and freeze-dries the fruit to stop food waste. They actually pay tribal communities to collect it. Then I buy it from the processing centre. It’s a really good little set-up.”
Treats from Thailand
With young jackfruit having been used for centuries in traditional Indian cuisine, it’s the raw version which has earned its stripes on the Western culinary scene, popular in vegan ready-meals. But for Thirakornrath it’s the unique, aromatic flavour of the sweeter ripened fruit which she wanted to celebrate – having lived in Thailand for six years while doing her PhD, she’s something of a jackfruit connoisseur. “They don’t really have raw jackfruit in Thailand. They eat it as a sweet; they like jackfruit ice cream. The sweet version is so much more tasty. I’ve tried all of them, but I do think this one that I’ve found is possibly the best jackfruit there is.”
I found a really good charity in Kerala that collects waste jackfruit and freeze-dries the fruit to stop food waste
The aromas of Bangkok are also being promoted by Grab Thai Go – maker of authentic Thai sauces and noodle meal kits – which donates ฿1 for every pack sold to The Education for Development Foundation. Suitable for both kitchen novices and accomplished cooks, the products are created by a team in Thailand to conjure up the ‘sounds and smells of a bustling restaurant’ in the Thai capital. “The love of Thai food in the UK is undisputed,” says the brand, positioning the kits as a fix of ‘genuine, complex, real’ flavours which ‘bring all the vibrancy and authenticity of Thai cuisine directly to your home’.
On top of ensuring all the right flavour notes are hit, the brand prioritizes environmental responsibility; the trays are biodegradable and reusable, made from sugar cane which can be home-composted.
Turning up the heat
If you’ve been paying attention to the food scene over the past decade you’ll have noticed that Korean cuisine has been propelled into the spotlight. In the words of The
Michelin Guide, Korean food is ‘loud colour and textures, innumerable side dishes, spicy stews and funky fermented flavours – one of the most vibrant food cultures in the world’.
Yumchi Kimchi – which launched in 2018 with Traditional Napa and Radiant Radish Kimchi – now brings to market Gochugaru Chilli Flakes: an ‘essential Korean ingredient’ and ‘spicy sidekick’ for any meal. The flakes are ‘smoky, sweet and fruity’ with a ‘hot kick’ to delight chilli lovers. “In Korea, it is also the main ingredient in bulgogi (a barbecue-style of cooking), and a variety of delicious dishes including stir-fries, soups and noodles,” says the brand.
The banana’s cousin
Plantain – the more nutritious cousin of the banana – packs a serious punch when it comes to vitamins A, C and B6, not to mention fibre, magnesium and potassium. It’s one of the reasons snack brand Purely created its line of Plantain Chips. The Ecuadorian sun-baked plantain snack is an ‘under-appreciated superfood’, according to co-founder Stefania Pellegrino, who says that while comparable with bananas in terms of calories, plantain is ‘armed’ with an array of ‘powerful antioxidants’.
But are British consumers embracing plantain as an everyday choice? “We’ve witnessed a significant change in … perceptions since we first started back in 2017. There is certainly today a more open-minded appreciation of world cuisine, exotic food and snacking alternatives, especially among younger, fine-snacking audiences. I guess there is still an element of continuous education … but we remain very confident that it’s only a matter of time,” says Pellegrino.
Purely uses green plantain as a source of dietary fibre ‘that helps you feel full, doesn’t raise blood sugar and feeds the good bacteria that keep your gut healthy’. Pellegrino explains that the brand has worked with the same farmers since the beginning, who they travelled to Portoviejo to meet with and ensure sustainable processes were in place. “We have now started to directly support a local centre based five minutes from [the] factory that offers a loving home to orphans. We aim to directly support children that have been less fortunate and help to give them a more hopeful future.”
Pellegrino says the pandemic was a ‘global curve ball’ which temporarily interrupted the brand’s supply chain and delayed production, but within weeks safety measures were implemented and the team returned to work. “The Ecuadorian team did an amazing contingency planning job at very short notice,” she says. Now the brand is planning a new plantain proposition as well as some flavour additions. “We’re very excited for Purely’s future as plantain has so much untapped innovation potential.”
Clearspring Organic Japanese Seasonings
Clearspring’s Organic Japanese Seasonings range enjoyed supercharged sales over 2020, as lockdown saw more people cooking from scratch. While the whole range enjoyed an impressive 24% growth in 2020, individual seasonings, particularly larger SKU sizes flew off shelves to accommodate for more frequent usage.
Clearspring’s Organic Japanese Yaemon Tamari Soya Sauce 500ml grew by 43%. Clearspring’s Organic Brown Rice Vinegar 150ml enjoyed growth of 42%, while the larger Organic Rice Vinegar 250ml surpassed expectations with a 220% uplift YoY. The brand’s Organic Japanese Mikawa Mirin 150ml was up 23% YoY with the larger Organic Rice Mirin 250ml delivering 81% growth.
Italian Organic Gluten Free Oat Pasta Mezzi Rigatoni
Mr Organic builds long-lasting relationships with their farmers and producers to always bring you wholesome, honest food! This delicious Italian Gluten Free Oat Mezzi Rigatoni Pasta is lovingly crafted in small batches in sunny, Canosa di Puglia and dried slowly at low temperatures to preserve its goodness and taste!
Uniquely made using Oat flour, this pasta is a great tasting gluten free alternative to regular pasta. Try adding one of Mr Organic’s authentic Italian pasta sauces for a tasty and easy dinner. Live positive, Eat positive.
Organic Jackfruit Crisps
Jackfruit is delicious as well as nutritious! When it’s ripe it tastes like a cross between a peach and a pineapple.
Our jackfruit is sourced from a social enterprise deep in the forests of Kerala. Thousands of kilograms of jackfruit rot on the forest floor in India as there is so much of it! We have freeze dried it to lock in all the nutrients whilst giving it a crispy texture. Our fruit crisps are high in fibre, only 71 calories a portion and are 1 of your 5 a day! Available from The Health Store, Thyme Store, Artisan Food Club and direct. Also available in bulk packs.
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.
Tree of Life Big Pots of Flavour
Tree of Life’s range of 10 Big Flavour Seasonings is perfect for creating delicious dishes at home. Combining the finest herbs and spices our seasoning blends make mealtimes easy, simply add to vegetables, fish or meat. Inspired by global cooking trends from aromatic Tagine and spicy Cajun blends to hot Piri Piri and Smokey Chipotle, there’s a flavour for all tastes. In reusable glass storage jars, with a handy FSC-certified wooden spoon, they make a great addition to any cook’s kitchen and at just £3.99 RRP they’re great value too!