Okra

Probably one of the most surprising ingredients to originate from North East Africa is okra.  It is extremely popular in Caribbean, Creole, Cajun and Indian cuisine as well as in numerous African countries. Abelmoscheus esculentus belongs to the Malvaceae (Mallow) family that also includes the cacao, baobab and hibiscus to name a few. If you only learn about one new vegetable this week, okra should be it.  Finding it in your local market will most likely be under the name okra but it can also be called the bhindi, lady’s finger, bamia or quimbombo in Spanish.

There are not many other vegetables that could be mistaken for the okra. The appearance is unique and quite bizarre at first glance. They really do look like slightly fuzzy green fingers. Along each row of the pod it contains seeds that release a mucilaginous (sticky, viscous) liquid when chopped and cooked.

To get the best flavour profile, okra is gathered at the green, tender and immature stage. The plant really needs warm to tropical growing conditions and each plant bears dark green pods that measure 5-15cm in length.

 

Fresh Okra

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

The big question is how okra actually tastes. It is definitely not the most flavourful vegetable out there but its not bad. Okra’s flavour profile can be described as subtle and grassy. It has aspects of asparagus to it but nowhere near as strong. Clearly the attraction of okra is its unusually sticky texture.

SCIENCE OF OKRA

For anyone on a diet okra is an attractive option. Its a low a calorie vegetable that contains no saturated fats or cholesterol and is 90% water when raw. Its a rich source of dietary fibre and vitamins. Due to its highly sticky nature it is an excellent ingredient that eases constipation and helps digestion. If these were not enough reasons to use okra, it is also full of vitamin A and flavonoid anti-oxidants. Overall Okra really is an interesting addition to any diet.

Okra

HOW TO PREPARE IT?

Trimming the top stem end using a paring knife will reduce the chances of the okra splitting during cooking and releases its stickiness. Soaking the whole pods in acidulated water for an hour can also help eliminate some of their liquid. This is really up to you as we prefer to let the okra break naturally and create a sticky finish.

WHAT TO DO WITH IT?

Okra is one of the most widely used vegetables across many continents. Chopped or sliced, the vegetable can be stewed or fried under a low heat in oil then added to other ingredients like rice and meat.  The pods can be pickled and preserved much the same way as other vegetables. The leaves of tender okra can be cooked like beet greens or dandelions, alternatively used raw in salads.

In Egypt a thick stew of lamb or beef with okra is very popular as well as in the Cajun gumbo. In the Caribbean, okra is cooked in soups often paired with fish as well in a range of stews like Callaloo from Trinidad and Tobago. Franco com quiabo (chicken with okra) is a favourite in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. The thickening quality of okra creates some amazing dishes when combined with strong or spicy ingredients.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Due to its subtle flavour profile, okra should be paired with strong and even spicy ingredients as it is rarely the predominant flavour in recipes. It combines excellently with chicken, lamb, beef, tomato, shrimps, celery, swiss chard, collard greens, coconut milk, scallops, clams, oysters and chili pepper.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Look for crispy immature pods, avoiding okra that has discolouration, is mushy or cuts. Fortunately it is pretty easy to spot a bad okra.
  • Freshly bought okra has shelf life of 1-2 days.

Jackfruit

THE RECORD BREAKING FRUIT

With its origins in tropical south and southeast Asia the jackfruit has become popular in many countries around the world. Present day it is found in its native regions, East Africa and Latin America. It is truly spectacular and dangerous as it holds the record for being the largest tree born fruit globally (they can reach 80 pounds).

Belonging to the Moraceae it is closely associated with the pacific fruit Breadfruit but is actually a separate species. Both fruits are considered as potential solutions to food security as they are plentiful and rich in fibre. The more famous Durian is often mistaken for a Jackfruit as well.

jackfruit-durian-breadfruit

FLAVOUR PROFILE

Jackfruit is not exactly regarded as a must try fruit to be honest. It has a strong aroma that can be described as something between pineapple and banana as well as a flavour that mixes the same fruits as well as mango and apple when ripe. It is naturally sweet but subtle. The overriding feeling from eating a jackfruit is the starchy and fibrous quality.

Jackfruits come in various forms from hard to soft but also ripe and unripe. This is an important distinction because the flavour profiles are quite different. Compared to the ripe fruit, unripe has a more meat-like flavour that is mild and often finds its way into curries.

USES

In India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and the countries of South East Asia both ripe and unripe jackfruit are used. Ripe jackfruit is used with desserts as well as mixed with ice or added to ice cream.

Unripe jackfruit is made into a jam/chutney or added to curry. It is seen as a savoury ingredient. In Indonesia it is used as with coconut milk as gudeg, in Thailand it is added to a Northern salad called tam kanun and in West Bengal it is used as a vegetable to make various spicy curries. Because of its savoury nature, unripe jackfruit can be combined with spices extremely well.

The seeds can be considered as an ingredient in themselves too as they are often fried or freeze-dried then sold as jackfruit chips. They have a milky sweet taste compared to Brazil nuts.

Jackfruit

IN THE MARKET

Look out for jackfruit pulp that has not been discoloured or fruits that have extremely strong odour akin to a Durian. These are probably way too ripe and going over.

Jackfruit

Carambola

AROMATIC AND SHAPED LIKE A STAR

Commonly known as the starfruit, the carambola is a tropical to semitropical fruit that provides flair to any dish. Known more for its spectacular appearance, it still has an interesting flavour profile to offer. The carambola is a small tree native to south and southeast Asia (most likely Philippines) but is cultivated in the Pacific, Latin America, Caribbean and the Southern US. There are two types; a small sour type and a larger sweet one. It is a slow-growing evergreen that usually is 5-12 metres tall. The fruits are oblong in shape ranging from 6-15cm in length and up to 9cm wide. The carambola has a distinctive thin, waxy skin.

Although it is not now found in the wild, the star fruit is originally native to Sri Lanka and the Moluccas, and has been cultivated in Southeast Asia and Malaysia for almost 1,000 years.

The starfruit, or carambola, is a tropical fruit that got its name from the five pointed star shape when cut across the middle of the fruit.

_MG_0277

FLAVOUR PROFILE

The fruits are juicy inside with a crisp texture and the famous star shaped cross-section. Within the genus Averrhoa there are two species which have edible fruit; the Carambola and the Bilimbi. The big distinction between the two is that the Bilimbi cannot be eaten raw due to its extremely sour flavour profile. Carambolas are sweet to sour depending on the variety with a combination of apple, pear and citrus notes. Its strong aromatic quality is produced by the oxalic acid it contains. It is crunch and firm but without fibre producing an extremely juicy fruit often compared to grapes.

SCIENCE OF CARAMBOLA

The more sour the variety of Carambola the greater the concentration of  oxalic acid. The fruits rarely contain more than 4% sugar in the sweeter varieties. The fruit is rich in antioxidants, potassium and vitamin C.

Star Fruit - Carambola

HOW TO USE IT?

The Carambola can be used to make relishes, preserves and added as a juice to drinks. It is often added to puddings and curries. Due to its unusual and attractive appearance it is used as an edible decoration. In its native land it is frequently paired with seafood or in dishes with other fruits.

FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS

Carambola’s tart sweet flavour profile means it combines very well with other strongly fragrant fruits as well dominant flavour profiles. Its sharp flavour cuts through fish and seafood thus complimenting extremely well.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Star fruit bruise easily, so handle with care. Non-ripe fruit should be turned often, until they are yellow in color and ripe with light brown ribs. Store ripe fruit at room temperature for two to three days or unwashed, and refrigerated, in a plastic bag for up to one to two weeks.

They are great to eat out of hand as these tropical delights do not need to be peeled or seeded before eating. Simply wash the fruit, remove any blemished areas, cut crosswise to get the star shape, and eat.
The sweet variety can be eaten out of hand or sliced and used as a garnish or in salads. They are also used in chutney, curries and tarts. The juice can be used in tropical drinks and smoothies.

Annatto Seed

Annatto or achiote (Bixa Orellana) is an essential ingredient in various cuisines. Throughout Latin and Central America it is often found in markets (especially Mexico) and also in Asia. Many people do not realise that annatto is present in many of the every day foods they consume. More often than not its used to add a distinctive orange/yellow colour to various products including butter, smoked fish and many cheeses (Cheshire, Leicester, Edam and Muenster.)

Its origins are disputed with one theory that it is native to Brazil while others believe it to be from the Caribbean and Central America. This shrub has fruit capsules that are heart-shaped and red prickly spines. Once ripe, it splits open to reveal about fifty seeds encased in red pulp. Really a very bizarre but fascinating fruit. The seeds of annatto are really attractive red triangles about 3-5mm across. These can be bought whole or purchased as a paste or block form.

Annatto

FLAVOUR PROFILE

Defining the flavour profile of annatto can be a little tricky as it is pretty subtle. It is sometimes described as slightly peppery with a nutmeg like aftertaste. We feel it has a chalky crunch to it and an earthy almost nutty quality that is hard to find in other ingredients that pack the same colour punch.

SCIENCE OF ANNATTO

The colour of annatto comes from various carotenoid pigments, mainly bixin and norbixin which are found in the waxy coating of the annatto seeds. The more norbixin in an annatto colour, the more yellow it is; a higher level of bixin gives it a more orange shade. Annatto is also a source of tocotrienols that has a similar structure and function to the antioxidant vitamin E. It is said to have positive effects on cancer treatment.

GETTING IT READY TO USE

You are probably never going to see annatto seeds that have not been already processed ready for sale. Before they get to the market, the ripe fruits are collected then macerated in water and dried separately from the pulp of the pod.

Ano 'to? Annatto

HOW TO USE IT?

Either you can throw them into a cooking liquid straight away or create an infusion with it, then add it to stocks or to colour rice. Another approach is to fry the seeds in oil for a few minutes in a covered pan. In a similar way to popcorn, the seeds can pop and fly across your kitchen. Best to cover them. The flavour and colour of the annatto seeds will release into the oil creating a final result similar to the colour of melted palm oil. (Really great to add a striking colour to your cooking).

If you are looking for two cuisines that really do take annatto use seriously, Mexico and the Philippines are the star countries. A Mexican classic is Cochinita Pibil in which annatto is used to add an unmistakable red hue to the dish. The sauce recede rojo in Yucatán and sazón in Puerto Rico also use it.  Filipinos love using it in many dishes including ukoy, pipian, pancit and kari-kari. Annatto is also used to colour soups, stews, and spice rubs especially those of Spanish origin. In Venezuela hallacas and perico include it too.

FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS

In terms of its flavour, annatto goes well with other ingredients that can benefit from an enhancement. Proteins and carbohydrates like rice, chicken, pork, shrimp and plantain can really get a kick from annatto. Combining  this with its interesting colour annatto has found its way into numerous dishes. Smokey/nutty ingredients like cheese, dried chilis, garlic and peanuts pair especially well with it.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Buy annatto that has a slight aroma and a deep red colour.

It is worth crunching the seeds to release maximum flavour and colour. If you do not have the patience get annatto already in paste form as often the annatto you get in a market might have become slightly hard with time.

Paracress (Jambu)

ELECTRIC AND NUMBING – THE AMAZONIAN JAMBU

Paracress, electric daisy or the jambu is really the latin cousin to Sichuan pepper. Unlike its more famous Asian flavour partner, paracress has had little impact outside its native region on the culinary stage. It has appeared in high end molecular gastronomy but this has been somewhat limited but pioneered some big names in the industry.

It is said to originate from a Brazilian Acmella species but thats not too clear. What is for sure is that the Amazonian state of Para in Brazil is the main centre for this unusual herb and carries its name on international markets. Paracress is a species of flowering herb from the Asteraceae family (Daisy).

Paracress

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

The flower bud of the paracess is what has caught the attention of the gastronomic world. It has a fresh grassy tangy flavour profile followed by a numbing sensation very similar to that of sichuan pepper but far more extreme. 

SCIENCE OF PARACRESS

The whole plant has spilanthol, an analgesic alkaloid that causes the numbing of the mouth and stimulates saliva flow. Really the kick that a flower bud gives is more than enough to enjoy the peculiar qualities of this herb.

Jambu

HOW DO WE USE IT?

Probably the most important dish that uses paracress is the soup called tacaca from Para state. It is mixed with manioc juice, chili peppers and garlic. Shredded leaves of the paracress can also be added to a salad. In Northern Brazil fresh and cooked leaves are used in stews. When cooked they lose their strong flavour and are thus very good leaf greens.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

As with other herbs, it can be used to enhance soups, stews and salads. Added to this quality, its numbing characteristic makes it a very interesting ingredient.

Pomelo

RELATED TO THE GRAPEFRUIT BUT THICKER SKINNED

The pomelo (citrus maxima) is the largest member of the citrus group. Its native to south and southeast Asia. In some english speaking countries its also known as the Shaddock. Confusingly in Latin America pomelo often means grapefruit so the distinction between the actual pomelo and a grapefruit is very blurred.

When ripe its pale green to yellow and can range from 10-30cm in size. It has white to pinkish flesh and a characteristic very thick albedo (rind pith). The inner skin is where most of the nutritional benefits are found.

pomelo

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Its flavour profile really depends on the type and level of ripeness. It can range from sourness to mild sweetness. The rind is smooth to rough in texture with soft flesh very similar to a grapefruit. It has citrus and tangy notes and is quite fragrant. The big difference between the pomelo and grapefruit is that its less bitter. 

SCIENCE OF POMELO

Pomelo is a good source of Vitamin C, high pectin levels and is said to lower cholesterol levels.

Pomelo

HOW DO WE USE IT?

Pomelo is often eaten raw combined with a little sugar to balance its flavour. Its popular as a dessert, added to salads and mixed with yoghurt. A really interesting pairing of pomelo is with tamarind in the spicy Thai salad Yam Som-o. In China the peel is used as a flavour enhancer.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Combining pomelo with other sharp intense flavours really can creatre interesting results. Try it with chili, orange, lime, pomegranate, fish sauce, soy sauce as well as with more mellow ingredients like scallop, prawn, cucumber, lychee and crab.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Pomelo’s that feel heavy for their size is usually a good sign of quality.
  • Avoid ones that have large bleamish areas or rotting
  • If the flavour profile is acidic and tart combine with other sweeter ingredients to balance.

Monstera Fruit

MONSTERA DELICIOSA – POISONOUS BUT DELICIOUS

The monstera fruit can be confusing. Let’s start with the number of names its been given around the world. The fruit salad plant, ceriman, Swiss cheese plant, splitleaf philodendron, monster fruit, monstereo, Mexican breadfruit, windowleaf, balazo, and Penglai banana. There are even more than these incredibly. This variation in nomenclature is down to the large distribution the monstera has. With a native range of Southern Mexico to Panama, the monstera (a climbing vine) has been introduced into many other tropical regions even becoming a pest on many Pacific islands.

The fruit of Monstera belongs to the Araceae (Arum family) and grows up to 25 cm long and 3–4 cm diameter. It has the appearance of a long corn/maize or pine cone with honeycomb like scales hexagon. When the fruit is ready to eat its hexagonal scales start to fall away, revealing a cream coloured flesh underneath. One by one the scales are lost.

Monstera Fruit, [monstera deliciosa]. Feb. 17th 2007

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

The monstera got the ‘deliciosa’ name for a reason. If you ever had custard apple, jackfruit and pineapple then imagine this mix, its pretty close to what monstera tastes like. It has texture akin to that of a pineapple but slightly more tender with a almost jackfruit like sliminess. Its sweet flavour profile relies on the fruit being really ripe. Unripe fruits can irritate the throat because of oxalic acid which can lead to considerable discomfort.

SCIENCE OF THE MONSTERA FRUIT

In recent years the monstera has become a popular ingredient in health supplements. It has a good amount of vitamin C and is a natural energy booster due to the rush of natural sugar and water content.

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

MARKET GUIDE

If you are looking to eat the monstera right away look for fruits that have started to shed their hexagonal scales. This is an indicator that it has begun to ripen.

HOW TO USE IT?

As with many tropical fruits it is better to and easier to eat it alone but the monstera can also be added to ice cream, yoghurt and cereal.

Monstera Deliciosa the Monster

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

The monstera pairs well with cream based ingredients like yoghurt. It also complements fruits which share elements of its flavour profile like the custard apple and pineapple.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • The fruit must only be eaten when fully ripe (i.e. when the scales have started to fall off)
  • Do not force off the scales if they are not easily removed. Eat other ‘capsules’ of the fruit from parts that have been exposed.

Tamarillo

THE TOMATO THAT GROWS ON TREES

The Tamarillo (Solanum betacuem) is a fruit native to the Andes of Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Bolivia that is used frequently by locals. It has become popular as well outside its native range with important cultivation in New Zealand as a prime example. Interestingly the introduction of its more exotic current name came about in 1967 when a council in New Zealand decided to change its name from tree tomato to its current tamarillo. The fruit was known by this more common name because it belongs to the same family as the tomato but for exportation purposes a new name was considered necessary.

The fruits come from a tree that can reach around 5m tall with large leaves and a pungent smell. Generally it starts fruiting around 4 years. What makes the Tamarillo stand out are the distinctive egg shaped fruit that come in a range of colours.

Tree Tomatoes

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

The flavour profile of the Tamarillo pulp is actually quite unique. It blends the flavours of passionfruit, kiwi, tomato and cucumber. It can be described as tangy and complex. The skin is tough, bitter and very sour so really it is best to concentrate on the slightly sweeter more delicious inside. The red fruits are more acidic compared to the yellow and orange types which have a sweeter flavour profile.

Backyard tamarillo

 

It is important to note that when buying Tamarillo you have to be aware of the variety you are getting. In a similar fashion to bell peppers, the colour is not an indicator of ripeness. To tell if the fruit is ready to eat, the best way is to touch the skin and if there is a slight give the Tamarillo should be ready.

Another excellent quality of the fruit is it’s high pectin that can be used in preserves, marmalades and jams. Tamarillos are high in potassium, manganese, copper and vitamins A, C, E and B6.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

The best way to eat the fruit is by scooping the flesh from a halved fruit. In New Zealand where the Tamarillo became commercialised people enjoy spreading the pulp across toast for breakfast.

Fresh tamarillos are frequently blended together with water and sugar to make a juice. This is very popular in various Latin American countries and in Asia. An interesting use to add them to stews (e.g. Boeuf Bourguignon), hollandaise, chutneys and curries. Desserts using this fruit include bavarois and strudel. In India the fruit is used to make sharp, usually pungent dips and chutneys.

In Ecuador, the tamarillo, known as tomate de árbol, is blended with chili peppers to make a hot sauce commonly consumed with local dishes of the Andean region.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Choose fruit that has few blemishes and has a strong colouration.
  • It is recommended to not use the skin of the tamarillo unless it is to be made into a preserve.

Goose Barnacle

PERCEBES – A DELICACY LOVED IN THE IBERIAN PENINSULA 

The goose barnacles come from the order Pedunculata and comprise of various species. Also known as stalked barnacles, gooseneck barnacles or the culinary popular/spanish name ‘perceives’.

This particular barnacle deserves its own flavour profile. It is probably the most highly regarded barnacle on the culinary scene right now. In Portugal and Spain they are really popular especially in the northern coastal regions. The Galicians and Asturians cannot get enough of them and over in Alentejo in the southwestern Portuguese coast. Goose barnacles are found not only in this region but also in Morocco, Canada, Chile and parts of the US coastline.

Basically these barnacles are filter-feeding crustaceans that spend their life attached to hard surfaces of rocks and anything else they can partially submerged in crashing waves half the time. Exceptional flavour but pretty bizarre looking. This goes a long way to explain why they are not globally popular. Getting over the ‘weird’ factor takes time and good marketing. Even to this day there are a millions who would not even go near an oyster. Despite this the popularity of the goose barnacle has risen consistently as global appetite for new flavours increases.

When fully mature they have a thick trunk with tinges of rose on the inner tube. At one end it has the head that attaches to a rock or any surface it can and the other a dinosaur claw liked foot. When high tide arrives it uses tiny pink tendrils to filter the seawater to feed.
 
Goose Barnacles - bright - Balok Jetty
 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Goose barnacles are really tasty. That is the general consensus of anyone who loves seafood. A lot of people think that if its a barnacle they must taste like rubber. This really could not be further from the truth in the case of percebes. Their flavour profile is one of lobster combined, the texture of oyster and the saltiness of the sea. It really is a king of the culinary world for those that cook it. 

SCIENCE OF THE GOOSE BARNACLE 

While not particularly rich in nutrition it is certainly is not bad for you. Clearly in the case of this ingredient the health benefits are outweighed by the culinary importance.

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

MARKET GUIDE

Goose barnacles are using found at the source (i.e. in fish markets) on the coast or in higher end restaurants. If you do find them  do not turn down the opportunity. They grow in very wild regions and are actually dangerous to harvest so the chances of finding them at a market are rare. To collect the percebes, percebeiros often have to descend down climbs and then face strong waves as they try to hack off each goose barnacle. High risk, a delicious flavour and a limited cultivation all adds up to an expensive ingredient. Really they should be eaten as soon as possible but you could hold onto them for a couple of days before cooking them up.

HOW TO USE IT?

Despite its intimidating appearance eating it is straightforward. Pinch the foot and pull the inner tube out of the case with a twisting motion to break it away. The goose barnacle is amazing as a warm snack. A coastal version of tapas we could say. Traditionally, they are boiled for a short time along with some salt and a bay leaf. This is served pipping hard with a napkin. These delicious crustaceans need nothing else to taste incredible. 

The first time I ate barnacles, I was in Chile where they are called picorocos and served on their own or in a seafood stew called curanto. They have a unique flavor, but are in some ways reminiscent of lobster and crab. 

Percebes [Goose Neck Barnacles]

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Obviously like other crustaceans they do combine really well with a multitude of ingredients. The reality is though like oysters you should try them on their own with a little enhancement – some salt.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Do not overcook them. They can go from delicious to a rubbery mess in seconds. Anyone who has cooked scallops or squid knows this. Treat them with care and cook long enough to warm them through. That is all they need.
  • To get the real deal go to the source. The regions mentioned earlier are where you will find fresh goose barnacles. Very high end restaurants do serve excellent percebes too but often at exorbitant prices.

Black Sapote

Black Sapote

AS CLOSE AS A FRUIT GETS TO CHOCOLATE

The Black Sapote (Diospyros nigra) is probably one of the most talked about fruits these days. Despite this it still is a relatively under appreciated tropical fruit, however If you are looking for an alternative to the beloved chocolate that is a bit healthier, the Black Sapote could be the answer (with some imagination).

From the same family as the persimmon, the Black Sapote or Chocolate Pudding fruit is native to eastern Mexico all the way down to Colombia. It has gained some attention in other countries and is now cultivated outside its native range including in the sub-tropical regions of the US, Australia and Hawaii.

It is said to have 4 times as much Vitamin C as an orange and is low in fat so is definitely worth a try if you get the chance. The fruit really needs to be eaten ripe. It is after all a persimmon. Anyone who has eaten anything from this family of fruits knows the gummy astringent flavour profile when unripe. It is simply disgusting. In the case of Black Sapote it is picked green then allowed to soften and ultimately turn the distinctive almost black chocolate pudding colour and texture it is famous for. Care has to be taken because a fruit taken from the tree too early will never ripen and ends up just rotten (and not in a good way.)

Black Sapote

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

To say that Black Sapote has a mild chocolate flavour is pretty accurate but obviously it lacks the richness that processed cacao beans mixed with sugar has. The texture of ripe Black Sapote is best compared to that of papaya and has a chocolate pudding softness when served.

IMG_1259

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

As with most tropical fruits, eating it alone is often the most pleasurable way to go. If you want something more dessert like combining the fruit with milk or yoghurt produces really interesting results. Mashing the pulp with orange juice or brandy then served with cream is a very Mexican recipe.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • If you have the fortune to spot a Black Sapote in your market make sure it has the same give as a ripe avocado at least.
  • A Black Sapote that is rotting outside is also rotting inside. Discard
  • If you open up the fruit and it is white and unripe there is way to recover it. Find one that is soft to touch and it should be ripe and chocolate coloured inside.

Oyster

LUXURY OR STABLE? THE POLEMIC OYSTER

Oysters are considered at the height of gastronomic sophistication. Nothing symbolises luxury more than a platter of oysters and caviar followed by champagne. This does not mean that everyone loves this delicacy. In fact many would say there is nothing more disgusting and pretentious than a load of oysters. They are surprisingly common in many parts of the world and seen as a relatively humble and abundant ingredient. This goes against the hyped up image of exclusivity that many inner city oyster bars try to portray.

The oyster family (ostreidae) comprises a number of distinct bivalve molluscs. They either live in marine or brackish habitats. Generally speaking there are two types of oyster (true or pearl) with the former being edible.

From all the hundreds of oyster varieties they all come from only five species. The Pacific Oysters, Kumamoto Oysters, European Flat Oysters, Atlantic and Olympia Oysters. Each oyster species are defined by a unique looking shell.

An oyster is basically a mollusc with a hard shell that ranges from black to white in colour, with a soft inner gooey centre (the edible part). It is challenging to open an oyster and needs to done with care and persistance.

 

Oysters

 

SCIENCE OF OYSTERS

Nutrition benefits of oysters have long been a strong reason to eat them. They are an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium and Vitamin A + B12.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Each species of oyster has a different flavour profile depending on how much salinity it has, the mineral content and nutrient variations. It relies heavily on the external conditions it grows in. Generally speaking an oyster will taste rather salty, a slight sweetness, minerally and rich. Its texture has a characteristic slimey quality that usually is the factor that disgusts so many people about eating it. The best flavour profiles are often found in younger oysters and obviously eaten as fresh as possible. This crucial as you are eating an ingredient that is essentially still alive.

 

Oyster

USES

Most oyster eating purists will insist that they should be eaten raw with a little salt or lemon to taste as well as a knob of butter. The magic of a delicious oyster is it’s simplicity. Having said that oysters can be cooked in other ways to produce excellent results. Steamed, baked and even fried all create interesting variations of this delicacy.

FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS

Oysters pair really well with herbs, sharp ingredients like vinegar and lemon as well as other protein like pork and chicken. In itself an oyster is creamy and rich so ingredients that cut through this work perfectly.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Buy oysters from a supplier that has a good reputation.
Oysters must be eaten or cooked alive to reduce any health risks and for the best flavour profile.

Lemon

Lemon Fruit

IS THIS THE MOST VERSATILE FRUIT IN THE WORLD?

When we think of this everyday fruit most people consider a lemon to be a lemon. Growing up in most cultures lemons are yellow, round and thats about it. The reality is that many varieties exist of this incredibly common and useful fruit.  The Rutaceae family is extensive. It unites the lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit and pomelo plus a whole lot more.

Native to Asia the original lemon was reportedly a hybrid between bitter orange and citron. It is a small evergreen tree that grows really well in anywhere vaguely warm and sub tropical. India, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil are among the leading producers and accordingly lemons feature consistently in each cuisine of these countries.

Almost everywhere a lemon is considered to be yellow or green in colour. Confusion exists between the lemon and lime in many countries especially in Latin America where often the distinction between the two is not that important. A lemon can become a lime depending on who you talk to.

VARIETIES

Many varieties exist including:

Bush Lemon (Subtropical Australia)

Eureka (Similar to the Lisbon and grown year round)

Sorrento (Native to Italy)

Jambiri (Rootstock in South Asia)

Meyer (Cross between a lemon and an orange – Chinese in origin)

Ponderosa (Hybrid of lemon and citron – US in origin)

 

starr-061105-1366-Citrus_jambhiri-fruit-Makawao-Maui

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

When we think of a lemon the sourness immediately comes to mind. It is what makes most of us absolutely love this fruit. It goes with pretty much everything. Add a lemon and your drink tastes better (especially if it cuts through the sweetness of it). No matter how much you look every lemon has a distinct sourness to it no matter how ripe it gets. It’s fragrance when the rind is disturbed is unmistakeable. It really is a super fruit in terms of its flavour profile and versatility.

SCIENCE OF LEMONS

Most lemons contain between 5-8% citric acid. One of its properties allows it to be used for marinading fish. It neutralises amines and converts them to non-volatile ammonium salts. In meat it hydrolyses tough collagen fibres by lowering the ph and denaturing the proteins. Another quality is that it can be used as a short-term preservative like stopping other fruits going brown or keeping a salad that bit more fresh.

It is in low in calories, rich in dietary fibre, excellent source of ascorbic acid and contains a variety of phytochemicals.

MARKET GUIDE

When you come across a pile of lemons at the market look out for those with vibrant colour (either yellow or green), a firm fragrant texture when scratched and no mould. Lemons that are going bad will be soft and even will start to have bacteria growing on it.
 
Meyer Lemons_2

HOW DO WE USE IT?

The pulp, juice and rind are all edible. Even the pith can be of use when heated and strained to give a fragrance to other ingredients.

Some exciting uses for the lemon are in cocktails, fresh lemonade, the Italian classic liquor Limoncello, drizzled over the top of a freshly prepared pancake or squeezed over an Argentine milanesa.

One of the most unusual and ingenious uses for the lemon is showcased throughout Morocco. Preserved lemons are fantastic additions to the Moroccan classic tajine. Lemons preserved in salt and water for several months. Gooey, rich and melt in the mouth soft. What is there not to like about them?

Preserved Lemons
Preserved Lemons

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

When it comes to combining lemon with other ingredients the options are limitless. We could feature over 100 flavour combinations with ease. It really is that good with most things. Here are 20 to get you started. Butter, garlic, olive oil, sugar, soy sauce, chicken, celery, pasta, onion, basil, orange, cinnamon, paprika chili pepper, lime, tomato, rum, vodka, thyme and carrot.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Choose lemons that feel heavy for their size, with firm skin and an aromatic citrus fragrance when scratched.

Kaffir Lime Leaf

Known as the kaffir lime in western markets it really should be called makrut if you want to be politically correct. The word kaffir has negative connotations in some Asian cultures. However for this profile we stick with the widely recognised name of kaffir lime leaf.

Native to tropical Asia stretching from India to the Philippines, Citrus hystrix (kaffir lime) has become completely associated with South East Asian cuisine. It is said to actually originate in Indonesia but this is disputed as the majority of the citrus family originate from parts of India. Either way it has become widespread in the region. Like other members of the Rutaceae (Citrus family) it is a thorny bush up to 35ft (10m) tall but often much smaller.

It’s characterised by the rough bumpy texture of its double shaped leaves and its small size. They have a distinctive emerald to dark green colour.

Although considered a tropical climate species it can be grown in other more temperate regions as long as it is not exposed to prolonged frosts (much the same way as other citrus species).


THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Kaffir lime leaf has a very aromatic and citrus flavour profile. It has a slight citrus aroma when dry or recently cut but the essential oils become greatly enhanced when simmered with other ingredients.

CHEMISTRY OF KAFFIR LIME

What sets kaffir lime leaf apart is its aroma. S-Citronellal is the compound responsible for this with minor amounts of nerol and limonene. The weird thing with this is that R-Citronellal is found in lemon balm but not in kaffir lime.

In the fruit peel of kaffir lime its main components are limonene and β-pinene.

 

One Kaffir Lime

MARKET GUIDE

When possible get the fresh leaves but in reality that is not going to happen unless you live in a region with a large Asian community or are actually in Asia. Go for leaves whether dry or fresh that has at least some aroma. Dry kaffir lime leaves remain slightly aromatic and this is enhanced once put into a soup or stew. The essential oils will be released.

HOW DO WE USE IT?

The beauty of kaffir lime is that the whole leaf can be used in the cooking process. Normally in western markets you will find bags of dried kaffir lime on sale. The fresh produce in Asian markets will have a greater flavour and aromatic quality but both are perfectly adequate.

There are exceptions to the rule where kaffir lime is cut extremely fine forming a powder. See cooking ideas below for this.

In almost every dish that calls for kaffir leaf lime the idea is to extract all its essential oils and this contributes to the overall flavour profile of the recipe. It should be used like a bay leaf. Left in during the cooking process then removed before serving.

Very young kaffir lime leaves can be added to salads but to get hold of these would almost certainly mean a trip to South East Asia.

 

The qualities of kaffir lime leaf are unique among the other citrus species. The same aromatic qualities do not exist in the same way in fruits like orange, lime and lemon. This is what makes kaffir lime so interesting and worth buying.

 

COOKING IDEAS

Traditional

  • Kaffir lime leaf is an essential ingredient in a number of recipes. Tom Yum soup is one of these. Various Thai and Indonesian curry dishes call upon it too.
  • It appears in shredded form in the Thai fish cakes Tod mun and steamed fish dishes like Haw Moak.
  • A very common paste called Krueng uses kaffir lime as one of its bases. Not only the leaves but also the rind may be used creating an aromatic and astringent flavour.

Creative uses

  • For a citrus kick to a rice dish add a few leaves to jasmine rice.
    Using kaffir lime in a marinade produces a delicious aromatic result. It is best used with chicken, pork or lamb.
  • Kaffir lime added to rum can impart an interesting flavour. This practice occurs in Martinique, Reunion and Madagascar.

Kaffir Lime

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Kaffir lime combines well with a huge range of ingredients. Fundamentals to Thai cuisine are lemongrass and ginger. Blended with kaffir lime creates a stereotypically Thai flavour profile. It goes really well with chicken, lamb and pork as well as a large variety of fish and seafood. Asian cuisine relies on the balance of all the taste groups so any food that complements the sharp sour sweet tang of kaffir lime combines perfectly.


ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Getting hold of fresh leaves in the best way to go. A great tip is to dry the leaves under direct sunlight which adds in the release of more aroma than just simply using fresh ones.
  • The intensity of kaffir lime leaf can vary depending on its source, how dried it is and age. Always taste the stew or soup regularly to see if more leaves need to be added.
  • The qualities of kaffir lime leaf are unique among the other citrus species. The same aromatic qualities do not exist in the same way in fruits like orange, lime and lemon. This is what makes kaffir lime so interesting and worth buying.

Spanish Lime or Genip

Spanish Lime

SPANISH LIME – LYCHEE MEETS LIME

Spanish lime (Melicoccus bijugatus) belongs to the soapberry family sapindaceae and despite the name it is not connected at all to a lime (rutaceae citrus family). It actually got the name as they resemble small unripe limes.

Become of the large number of countries that eat the fruit it has various others names including genip, guinep, genipe, ginepa, quenepa, quenepe, chenet, canepa, mamon, limoncillo, skinip or mamoncillo.

Spanish Lime

FLAVOUR PROFILE

The fruit is about the size of an olive with harder skin that inside have a jelly like consistency. Not only is the pulp edible but also the large seed too. Its tangy creamy pulp ranges from yellow to orange and even pink.

Its flavour profile can go from sweet to sour depending how ripe the fruit is and is best compared to a cross between a lychee and lime. Its rigid tight skin is very reminiscent of the lychee and it can be opened with the teeth, while its appearance and colour are lime like. 

The spanish word for Spanish Lime mamoncillo literally means ‘to suck’ and illustrates exactly how to eat the fruit. The pulp needs to be sucked off the large seed. Quite literally!

SCIENCE OF THE SPANISH LIME

The fruit is full of fibre (lowering cholesterol and preventing constipation), vitamin A that boosts your immune system, vitamin C which is a good antioxidant, calcium that keep bones and teeth strong as well as phosphorus that is important for digestion and regulating hormones. Added to this it is low in fat, calories and cholesterol free. Overall a really healthy fruit!

GETTING IT READY TO USE

The Spanish lime should really be eaten ripe as they can contain toxins if not prepared properly unripe. By removing the outer skin and then sucking the pulp off the seed this maximises the amount of fruit you get to eat. Using anything other than your teeth just gets complicated.

Genip

HOW TO USE IT?

If you don’t fancy eating the spanish lime fresh it can be peeled and then boiled to produce a sauce, jam or jelly. It also can be soaked in rum and sugar to produce the liqueur bili.

The large seed of the fruit is also edible and can be cooked. In South America roast Spanish lime (Quenepa) seeds are used as a substitute for cassava flour when baking.

FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS

In terms of its flavour, annatto goes well with other ingredients that can benefit from an enhancement. Proteins and carbohydrates like rice, chicken, pork, shrimp and plantain can really get a kick from annatto. Combining  this with its interesting colour annatto has found its way into numerous dishes. Smokey/nutty ingredients like cheese, dried chilis, garlic and peanuts pair especially well with it.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • With the sweeter variety the Spanish lime can be eaten when its ripe.
  • The sour varieties often need some salt, sugar or other ingredient like chili to balance out the flavour profile.

 

Cashew Fruit

The Cashew fruit (Anacardium occidentale) is probably one of the most bizarre edible products found in nature. In countries outside its cultivation zone live most of their lives not realising that those cashew nuts they have for christmas actually have a really delicious fruit attached to them. In tropical climates the cashew is grown not only for its nuts but also for the bright orange/red juicy fruit. Native to Brazil over 95% of cashew cultivation is found in the northeast of the country.While most who know a bit about ingredients will assume that Brazil is the leading producer of cashews in fact countries like Nigeria, India, Ivory Coast and Vietnam have consistently produced more.

It’s genus Anacardium refers to the shape of the fruit. If you turn a cashew fruit upside (which is how you see it when on the tree) it looks like an inverted heart (Ana-upwards/Cardium-heart). The name Caju derives from the indigenous tupi name acajú which means ‘nut that produces itself.’ The part we consider to be the ‘fruit’ is actually the stalk of the fruit (which is what we know as a cashew nut). Very confusing! For this profile we will just look at the cashew fruit but go here for the nut.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

As with most fruits its flavour profile depends on just how ripe it is. It has a natural astringency due to a waxy layer that can be removed by steaming. Very akin to that horrible mouthfeel after eating an unripe Persimmon or Kaki which is down to the high tannin content of the fruit. Luckily once the cashew fruit ripens the flavour evolves from sour/astrigent to a juicy sweet/sour flavour profile that can be made into an excellent fruit juice. We would describe it as mango and orange mixed with a hint of persimmon. If you ever visit the north of Brazil you better search out this fruit as there is no comparison to it when fresh and just picked from the tree.

SCIENCE OF THE CASHEW FRUIT

The Cashew apple is rich in nutrients and has 5 times more Vitamin C than an orange. Chemically, the cashew apple contains volatile compounds, resorcinolic acid, anacardic acids, carotenoids (α-carotene, β-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin), vitamin C, phenols and tannin.


BUYING AND USAGE ADVICE

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

You can go to a food market and buy the cashew fruit much the same way as many other tropical fruits. It can be eaten without any preparation although locals prefer to have it juiced.

Cashew Fruit

MARKET GUIDE

Outside of its cultivation area, most cashew fruits will have been frozen and then transported. Ideally if you can get hold of a fresh cashew fruit that has a deep orange to red colouration and that is slightly soft to touch you are more likely to buy a decent fruit. However if you are not lucky and can’t get it fresh, look out for fruit that has not suffered bruising from the freezing process as well as knocks. The cashew fruit is famous for being fragile so it can easily be ruined by poor packaging and transportation. In fact cashew fruits cannot be transported large distances i.e. to markets in the temperate world. They would ruin too quickly. It is very unlikely to see cashew fruit on a menu in Europe anytime soon. 

KEEPING IT FRESH?

Cashew fruits should be used relatively quickly if bought ripe. They can start to deteriorate if let too long at this state. In fact if you leave it long enough it might well start to ferment into an alcoholic fumed mess. 

COOKING IDEAS

Cashew fruits are used around the world in certain dishes but the predominant outcome is juiced and drunk with a bit of sugar fresh at the market. A popular drink in Brazil is cashew fruit juice mixed with mango, green pepper and citrus. There are examples of it being used in desserts in Panama where it is cooked into a paste-like mixture with sugar and water. It is very popular to use cashew fruit as an ingredient in alcohol as it ferments really well. In the northeast of Brazil they make Cajuina while in India, Tanzania and Mozambique the cashew fruit is mashed and doubled distilled to produce a final product of 40-42% alcohol. 

In case you've never seen- this...

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

The fruit goes really well with other ingredients that bring out its sweetness. Whether that is just sugar or other fruits that have  a high sugar content like mangoes. Condensed milk, coconut milk as well as basically anything sweet and creamy would combine nicely with a ripe cashew fruit.


ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Don’t decide to eat the cashew ‘nut’ attached to your cashew fruit. It needs to be roasted to remove any toxins. Before that it is going to taste pretty bad.
  • Try to get a ripe cashew fruit with clear skin that has not been bruised. If not expect a fruit that just is not going to taste as good as it could.
  • If the fruit does not give when pressed it is going to be astringent and will not leave you wanting another thats for sure.

Ginger root

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant in the family Zingiberaceae with a rhizome that consistently appears almost all cuisines globally. Almost always we only get to see the swollen base as the stalks are discarded before its gets to the market. The reason for is simply the rhizome is tender while the stalks are woodier and unpalatable.

The ginger plant if you were wondering can reach a height of 3ft (1m) even if we don’t realize when we see it. Its often used in landscaping in subtropical climates. The edible ginger we all know grows underground with the distinctive yellow to gold flesh. White and red varieties do exist but are not seen as much on sale. The maturity of the ginger determines how thick the outer skin is when harvested.

Ginger originally came from Southern China and then spread to pretty much every other country. It can grow in a wild range of climate conditions and thus has become commonplace in the majority of cuisines. Within the Zingiberaceae family (Ginger) other important edible roots include turmeric, cardamom and galangal.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Ginger has a complex flavour profile. It blends hot, spicy and earthy with slight sourness and even bitterness. Its texture ranges from tender and juicy (young rhizomes) which are very mild in taste to fibrous and firm to touch (very mature) that are more intense. It has an earthy and pungent aroma that is released when sliced.

CHEMISTRY OF GINGER

Ginger’s pungent aroma is caused by a mixture of zingerone, shogaols and gingerols. As ginger is heated or dried the compounds of it are altered. Zingerone is produced when cooked (less pungent). When ginger is dried it produces more shogaols that are in fact twice as pungent as that of zingerone.

When the ginger is heated or dried, gingerols are transformed into different compounds, which can alter both the flavour and pungency. Cooking produces zingerone, which is less pungent, and is characteristic of the ginger flavour found in gingerbread. It’s less pungent than the gingerols, leading to a differing flavour to fresh ginger. Another class of compounds that can be produced by cooking or drying are the shogaols, which are approximately twice as pungent as the gingerols which proceed them. This helps explain why dried ginger has a greater pungency than fresh ginger.


BUYING AND USAGE ADVICE

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

Ginger needs little preparation once bought at the market. The outer skin should be peeled to reveal the flesh and this can either be used in chunks, cut up fine or dried into a powder.

MARKET GUIDE

When looking for ginger to buy always avoid really tough, woody ginger as it is very likely to be lacking flavour and an texture worth eating. Ginger can be found all year round so it is often found at markets even in countries where its use is not so common.

KEEPING IT FRESH?

Ginger does keep relatively well but it should be kept away from moisture. The quality can deteriorate if this happens. If kept in the fridge ginger keeps for around a month but will lose a lot of its pungency before that. Its recommended to keep it in a sealed bag in the refrigerator

COOKING IDEAS

Ginger really is very versatile. It is most famous for its presence in stir fries, soups and curries but it does have other uses. Some of them are mentioned here:

  • Pickled in vinegar or sherry as an appetizer.
  • Steeped in boiling water to make ginger tea.
  • Ginger powder is used as a spice in numerous cuisines including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai.
  • Also used in flavouring gingerbread, cookies, crackers and cakes.
  • Artisanal ginger ale and beer still contain a good amount of ginger.
  • Candied ginger is the root cooked in sugar until soft.
  • Ginger is a key ingredient in the yemenite jew spice mix hawaij.
  • In the arab world it is sometimes used to flavour coffee.

Ginger powder is used as a spice in numerous cuisines including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai.

 
Ginger

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Ginger goes with a lot of other flavours so it would be impossible to mention them all. It combines with most meats (chicken, pork, beef and goat) and almost all seafood and fish. Alliums (onion, garlic and scallions) benefit from the pungent heat of ginger. Other ingredients that pair well are chili pepper, bell pepper, soy sauce, lime, lemon and honey.


ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Fresh ginger can be substituted with dried ginger – ratio 6:1
  • Often ginger can be confused with galangal. Generally speaking the galangal has a paler colouration and pink tinges.
  • Always remove the outer skin of ginger as it does not add to the overall flavour and can actually add bitterness.

Sweet Potato

DIFFERENT FROM THE YAM AND DISTINCT FROM A POTATO, THE SWEET POTATO IS A GLOBALLY POPULAR ROOT VEGETABLE

Sweet potato has become known as the supposedly healthy option to potato. It’s popularity has grown and grown to the point that in most healthy food shops something ‘sweet potato’ will be found. Known as Sweet Potato in most english speaking countries or sometimes called Yam in the US can lead to confusion with the genuine Yam (Genus Dioscorea.) Despite the name its distantly related to the potato. Throughout the spanish world it is called batata.

See our article on the difference between sweet potato and yams.

Ipomoea batatas is actually a herbaceous perennial vine with an edible root and leaves. Its full of starch which makes it an excellent addition to any meal. With a particularly smooth skin the sweet potato can come in a variety of colours. While the UK are more familiar with the orange to yellow type, in the Americas a purple variety is often more common. Inside a sweet potato the flesh is more moist and less sweet in white/yellow varieties compared to darker varieties.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Earthy, creamy and slightly sweet is the way to describe the Sweet Potatoes flavour profile. Its generally a lot tougher than a potato when raw. In fact to cut open a raw sweet potato involves considerable effort. Not to disimilar to having force open a tough pumpkin or cassava root. When cooked it becomes tender, almost melt in the mouth, starchy and sweet. Depending on the variety the amount of creaminess will vary. Some can become so creamy that they resemble a well cooked butternut squash.

SCIENCE OF SWEET POTATO

Amongst all the root vegetables the sweet potato is one of the most nutritious. Its rich in carbohydrates, dietary fibre, beta carotene, Vitamin C and B6. Pink, Yellow and green varieties are particularly high in carotene.

cutting sweet potato

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

MARKET GUIDE

When buying sweet potatoes look for ones that have a smooth skin and small to medium in size. Often if it has cuts and blemishes the underlying flesh will be damaged or rotten.

KEEPING IT FRESH?

Sweet potatoes should be treated the same way as potatoes. Kept away from direct sunlight and in a cool location. Sweet potatoes can keep for a similar shelf life as the potato (a few weeks).

HOW DO WE USE IT?

To prepare sweet potato it needs to have the skin cleaned with a brush and water. Usually it cooked in boiling water or steamed (having been cut into slices). Our preference is to roast sliced sweet potato with some chicken, thyme and lots of olive oil.

COOKING IDEAS

The prevalence of sweet potato around the world is huge. Its extremely popular in the pacific regions, the americas and Africa. It is cultivated throughout these regions as well parts of Europe.

In Africa sweet potato with peanut sauce is very popular particularly in Uganda. Its also a common street food in Egypt. Many cultures enjoy sweet potato as a snack including in China and Japan. It features in tempura (food deep fried in a light batter) as well as on pizzas in the Korean peninsula. In Malaysia and Singapore it is often paired with coconut milk and yam. In the US sweet potato chips have become fashionable as well as using sweet potato with ceviche in Peruvian cuisine.

In the americas sweet potato as a dessert is really popular. In Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, ‘dulce de batata’ in english sweet potato jelly is consumed a lot.

Not only can the root be eaten also the young leaves and shoots.

 

Sweet Potato Fries

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

As a nutritious starch, it goes well with a lot of other ingredients. Sweet creamy nutty flavours like honey, cassava, peanut, chestnut, sago and a variety of squash (pumpkins) go really well with sweet potato. In many cultures it is combined with creamy ingredients like coconut milk, cream shrimp and jackfruit. Sharing similar qualities to the potato it crisps very well so can be used as a dip with a huge range of ingredients as well as being roasted with herbs like rosemary and thyme along with garlic, olive oil and chili pepper.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Buy small to medium sized Sweet Potatoes
  • Don’t confuse it with the true yam or butternut squash
  • Try it as an alternative to potato chips

Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya)

EXTRAVAGANTLY VISUAL – MEDIOCRE FLAVOUR

The Pitahaya (Hylocereus genus) is also known as the Dragon fruit due to its extravagant appearance and vibrant colour. Its a vine-like epiphytic cactus that produces edible fruit. Similar to a prickly pear but more exotic looking. Native to Central America it is found throughout the continent stretching all the way to Northern Argentina and is cultivated extensively in Asia.

Several varieties exist including the white fleshed, red fleshed and ‘Megalanthus’, a yellow skinned dragon fruit with white flesh. The Pitaya (Stenocereus) is distinct with a sour flavour profile.

 

dragon fruit

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Very much like the carambola (star fruit) its appearance is more impressive than its flavour profile. It has been described as sorbet like without the sweetness to quite bland. A blend of weak melon, pear and kiwi just about defines it.

SCIENCE OF DRAGON FRUIT

The Dragon fruit consists of mostly water and carbohydrates. Its rich in calcium, iron and phosphorus. The red skin varieties are a good source of vitamin C as well as containing significant quantities of phytoalbumin antioxidants. 

MARKET GUIDE

Dragon fruit is unmistakable even in Asian markets. Its vibrant odd form attracts everyone at first sight. Even though they are not grown outside hotter climates, the Dragon fruit often appears at markets outside its cultivation range because of its novelty. The reality is that its flavour profile does suffer when transported but its still equally attractive.

dragon fruit field

HOW DO WE USE IT?

The flesh of Dragon fruit is eaten raw including the seeds which have a nutty flavour. It is generally combined with other tropical fruits and used as a dessert. The fruit needs to be cut open to expose the inside using a sharp knife that should pass through relatively easily.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Various ingredients combine well with the dragon fruit. Kiwi, lime, strawberry, guava, nectarine, chili peppper, coconut, cardamom, watermelon, pear, rambutan, lychee and star fruit are some key examples.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Fruit must be unblemished and ideally overripe. Best eaten when sour otherwise the flavour profile becomes blander with shipping.

Gac fruit

IS THIS THE NEXT BIG THING? THE GAC FRUIT

So what is this bizarre looking fruit? Momordica cochinchinensis is a Southeast Asian fruit found in a wide stretch of Asia from Southern China into northern Australia. The Gac fruit is a spiny gourd that is intensely red in colour with an orange interior. It is easy to grow in tropical zones but with a short harvest season of 2-3 months this luxury fruit is reserved for ceremonial or festive occasions in Vietnam like new year and weddings.

In recent years the fruit has been marketed outside of Asia in health food shops as dietary supplements. Traditionally the Gac fruit has been used as both food and medicine like a multitude of other ingredients in Asia.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Dubbed the Fruit from Heaven, it has an average flavour profile but visually it really stands apart. Its orange pulp symbolises life, vitality and longevity. It is said to taste like cantaloupe and carrot mixed together. To some though the flavour can be quite bland and benefits from being combined with other stronger fruit flavours.

SCIENCE OF THE GAC FRUIT

It has a strong connection to the health of your eyes as it is said to improve your vision as well a high phytonutrient content. Probably even more important is the extremely high beta-carotene and lycopene found in the fruit (76 times more lycopene than commercial tomatoes). These important nutrients are antioxidants capable of capturing free radicals and thus protecting the body more.  In addition the seeds contain high levels of Vitamin E.

Gac Fruit, Chiang Mai

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

MARKET GUIDE

When buying Gac in Asian markets look out for fruits that have a strong orange to red colour as this is a good indicator of ripeness.

HOW TO USE IT?

Basically there are seemingly two ways to use a Gac Fruit. One is as a juice and the other is to add it to rice. This second option is very traditional in Vietnam. In a dish called xôi gấc, the aril and seeds of the fruit are cooked in glutinous rice which gives the rich an attractive colour and distinctive taste.

XOI GAC

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

In Asia it is seemingly combined with either other fruits or rice. It goes very well with passionfruit and orange as well as other sweet fruit juices.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • To get to try it fresh you have to look in South East Asian markets
  • Make sure you try it with rice when visiting Vietnam

Abalone

SHELLFISH HEAVEN IN SHORT SUPPLY

Right up there with lobster and oysters for gastronomic importance, abalone meat is highly desired around the world and limited in supply. The flesh of abalones is widely considered to be a desirable food, consumed raw or cooked in a variety of cultures.

Abalones comprise a large number of marine gastropod molluscs in the Haliotidae family. The number of species ranges from 30-130.

They have a thick inner layer of the shell famous for being the mother of pearl, highly iridescent and spectacular used for decorative purposes.

Abalone is farmed in 3 important Asian countries. China, Japan and Korea as well as in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand and the US.

The abalone market has suffered from overfishing due its gastronomic importance. It is considered a delicacy and luxury in many countries especially France, China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The foot of the abalone is what we are really interested in. It lies flat against a surface protected by muscles. When it is pulled away the muscle retracts to protect its foot. A single shell protects the mollusc.

 

Abalone

 

VARIETIES

The mollusc Concholepas concholepas (loco) is often sold in the United States under the name “Chilean abalone”, though it is not an abalone, but a muricid. Its obviously very popular in Chile especially around the port of Valparaiso.

The largest abalone is found in South Africa, Haliotis midae while Ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) are considered a delicacy in the British Channel Islands and coastal regions of France.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

If you like scallop and squid, abalone is for you. Its texture is very similar to them with a crunch like sensation found in conches. It has a certain firmness and chewiness that proofs very attractive either eaten raw or cooked. As Abalone is cooked it has a sweet, creamy and salty flavour also found in clams and lobster.

MARKET GUIDE

Abalone can be eaten fresh/raw or in frozen form. In both forms they should have little to no aroma. Live abalone should respond when touched as this is a sign of freshness.

 

abalone

PREPARING AND COOKING AN ABALONE

Abalone meat must tenderised with a mallet before eating. Using a sharp knife the foot can be removed from the shell by cutting through the connective tissue. The darker portions near the head, gills and viscera should be removed then the abalone needs to be cleaned well with water.

The abalone should be treated the same as a scallop. Cooked for no more than 1-2mins on each side in a very hot pan with some oil then served immediately. Cooking it any longer can leave it tasting more like a shoe than seafood.

USES

Abalone (awabi) is really popular in sushi dishes. It has a rubbery texture in raw form that is often preferred over the cooked texture. Abalone is often used in sushi dishes as the meat toughens when cooked. It can also be served steamed, salted, boiled or simmered in soy sauce. In California Abalone is often added as a pizza topping while in Chile they serve it in a gooey cheese and bread seafood stew called Chupa de Loco.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

When purchasing an abalone ask if it has been already tenderized. If it has doing it more will most likely ruin the meat.

Make sure the abalone comes from a source you trust. There are a lot of imitations.

If you just bought fresh abalone it is recommended to eat it the same day. Alternatively it can frozen to be used within two months.

Jicama Root

JICAMA – THE TUBER MADE FOR SALADS

At first glance you would probably think the Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) pronounced [HEE-kah-mah] is a turnip but in fact they are not related. Unlike the starchy flavour profile of other more well known root vegetables, the jicama is famous for being crunchy and watery when consumed raw more than being overwhelmingly starchy. If you cannot find it under jicama it also has others name that include the Mexican Yam or Turnip.

Although native to Mexico it is cultivated in Central America and parts of California because it grows best in warm dry climates that have a lot of sun. Over time it has become very popular in the Philippines. Often with other root vegetables not just the root is edible. Take for instance the shoots of turnip which are eaten as an addition to a salad. In the case of the jicama only the root or tuber is edible.

Two distinct varieties of Jicama exist. One is the water jicama (rounded with transparent juice) and the other milk (elongated root and milky juice).

Chopped Jicama for Salad

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Crunchy, watery, juicy and slightly starchy. Thats how to describe the flavour profile of jicama. Inside it has white flesh that resembles a potato or apple. Not matter if its eaten raw or cooked it still retains a certain amount of crisp and sweetness. Its flavour profile is best compared with the water chestnut and its texture to the jerusalem artichoke.

SCIENCE OF JICAMA

What sets jicama apart and makes it very attractive to the health conscious is its low calorie content and high vitamin C content. It is refreshing, an antioxidant, said to reduce cholesterol and fights constipation. Interestingly the jicama produces a natural insecticide on the vine of the plant that protects it from harmful pests too.

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

MARKET GUIDE

Look for heavy, dense roots that have a relatively smooth skin.

HOW TO USE IT?

The jicama should be stored in the fridge and will have a shelf life of no more than 2 weeks. Ideally it should be eaten well before that. In Mexico its usually eaten raw, boiled or roasted. If it has any green stem attached still that should be removed as well as the rough outer skin peeled. This should be done just before serving as the flesh darkens when exposed to air. To add a kick to it when eaten raw you just have to add some lemon juice, chili powder and a little salt. It is a good alternative to water chestnuts and thus can be added to stir fries and of course makes a great addition to a salad.

JICAMA AND MANDARIN ORANGE SALAD

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Jicama goes really well with other ingredients that benefit from its texture. Citric flavours like lemon and orange work well along with leaf vegetables. It is an excellent ingredient to add to salads.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Make full use of its interesting texture to add variety to a salad.
  • Always peel the skin away totally. Its not going to add much to the flavour profile other than a bad taste.

Lemongrass

A VERSATILE EXOTIC INGREDIENT TO ADD TO YOUR NEXT SOUP, STEW OR CURRY.

Lemongrass is a citric flavoured herb native to warm, temperate and tropical regions. It is used largely in Thai and South East Asian cooking. Known as citronella or sereh this interesting ingredient grows in dense clumps and is then cut up to form the more familiar spring onion like fresh lemongrass you find in markets. Almost always the one edible one found in markets is Cymbopogon Citratus (known as West Indian Lemongrass) but there are around 55 species worldwide so you might come across the few of these that are always edible.

It is characterized but its swollen base which is far more tender than its woodier stalks. It can grow to a height of 3ft (1m) with a spread of around the same amount.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Its unique fragrance often signals that lemongrass has been added to a dish. It can be described as having a lemon to sweet flavour profile that combines very well with a wide range of other ingredients. Lemongrass can range from absolutely flavourless to vibrant and fragrant. A lot depends on the climate where it is grown.

CHEMISTRY OF LEMONGRASS

Lemongrass contains 65-85% citral (also known as lemonal) and myrcene. Other compounds include citronellol, methyl heptenone, dipentene, geraniol, limonene, geranyl acetate and nerol. It citrus flavour profile comes primarily from its high citral content.

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

FRESH LEMONGRASS

The bottom/root of lemongrass is extremely dry and difficult to use other than when thrown into soup. Even then it is best to cut it off to allow more flavour to be released from the swollen base. Dried out exterior leaves should be discarded in much the same way as peeling away the outer leaves of a leek or onion.

FREEZE DRIED

Often lemongrass won’t be available in your market or area. Freeze dried alternatives can be very useful if this is the case. Just remember to the top third and prioritize the 7-8cm ‘tender’ section from the swollen bulb upwards.

MARKET GUIDE

Fresh lemongrass stalks should feel firm and heavy. Lightness is a sign that it has begun the process of drying out and thus offers a weaker flavour profile. Technically lemongrass is available all year round but that largely depends where you live and the level of demand in your region.

KEEPING IT FRESH?

Lemongrass can keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator if stored in a very well sealed plastic bag. We recommend to use it before though or it can turn into an unappetizing almost flavourless waste of time.

Lemongrass 1

HOW DO WE USE IT?

Lemongrass is usually added whole and then removed once the cooking process is over. This avoids the unpleasant event of biting into a dried up cardboard strip of a thoroughly cooked lemongrass stalk.

If you prefer it can be crushed in a pestle and mortar then used. This is fine, but by doing this a lot of the essential oils will be released and ultimately get lost before the lemongrass actually makes it into the pot.

We recommend the crushed garlic strategy if you want the flavour to penetrate into a soup, stew or curry. Bash it a bit with the handle of a knife and throw it right in.

On the other hand some like to taste it much the same way as ginger can be cut up into small pieces and actually ends up relatively edible and pleasurable if a young ginger root was used. This rule applies to lemongrass too. If it is tender it can be eaten as long as its cut into very small bitesize pieces. All the other dry woody remains should be reserved for imparting a bit of flavour to something else (or into the rubbish bin).

COOKING IDEAS

THE PURIST APPROACH

If you are looking for more traditional ways to use lemongrass look no further than South East Asian cooking – specifically Thai. Added to stews and curries can really add another level of flavour to an otherwise bland dish. In Asian cuisine it is usually used alongside bold ingredients and often numerous in number.

Tom Yum soup relies on a healthy amount of lemongrass added to it. It really is an essential ingredient in this world famous Thai origin dish. The soup is made of fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (another excellent citrus flavour ingredient), galangal (relative of the ginger), lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chili peppers. Tom yum is usually has prawns, fish, chicken or mushrooms added but can also compromise of a whole range of other ingredients depending on the cooks preference.

When sliced very thinly lemongrass can be added to stir fries as well as a garnish in salads.

Lemongrass is added as a fragrance enhancement to Lechon, the delicious fatty and addictive Filipino national dish.

In parts of Africa, India and Mexico it is used to infuse with tea. A great example of this is the Chukku Kappi tea in Kerala, India.

CREATIVE USES

Used as a flavouring for crème brulee can really create something surprising and unexpected. The combination with the traditional caramelized flavour profile, the citrus sweetness gives it a kick.

Add to a bottle of vodka and allowed to infuse for several days. Rather than creating a sharp overly citrus result, the product is smooth, subtle and unique.

 

lemongrass 16.jpg

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Lemongrass goes really with proteins like pork, chicken and beef. It goes really well with seafood and fish in particular prawns. Root vegetables like ginger, galangal and jicama complement lemongrass. Pungent and spicy flavours like fish sauce, chili pepper, mustard and soy sauce combine with lemongrass much the same way these flavours do with other citrus fruits. A special mention should go to coconut milk that tastes incredible with a tender lemongrass left to infuse in it.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Use fresh lemongrass as soon as possible. Its flavour profile will diminish the longer you leave it.
  • Don’t rely on what a recipe tells you. Often a supposedly flavourful lemongrass will not give the desired kick. Keep tasting the dish and add more if you are not happy with the intensity.
  • Never leave a large lemongrass stalk in a dish when serving. It’s the same as leaving a turmeric root, cinnamon stick, bay leaf or cardamom pods. Just don’t do it. Once they have had all their flavour extracted what’s left is just not edible.

Cupuaçu

DELICIOUS, CREAMY AND WITH A TOUCH OF SHERBET!  THEOBROMA GRANDIFLORUM.

Cupuaçu really is a strange fruit. Outside of Brazil its largely unknown.

A cupuaçu tree can reach 20 metres (65ft) but its more likely to range from 5 to 15 metres (16-50ft) in height. As the tree matures, its leaves change from pink-tinted to green leading to the eventual production of fruit. Within its range the fruits become ripe from January to April during the rainy season. The fruit it bears have a very distinctive oblong and brown shape with a fuzzy texture. Reaching 20cm (8in) in length and 1-2kg (2-4lb) it’s size can be compared to a medium sized watermelon. The cupuaçu fruits contain a soft white pulp found within a hard exocarp of 4-7mm. This creamy interior is considered the only edible part.

Pronounced ‘coopwa-soo’, this member of the Cacao family is often considered to be the emblematic fruit of the Amazon and a national fruit of Brazil. It is a tropical rainforest tree found throughout the Amazon basin, cultivated between a huge range from Colombia all the way south to Bolivia and to the Northern states of Brazil.

Cupuaçu

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Trying to describe the taste of cupuaçu is not easy. Its not really like anything else. It can be sweet to sour depending on its ripeness. A complex mix of pear, banana, a sharp hint of pineapple, chocolate notes, passionfruit, melon and a sherbet like kick. Its aroma is an intense mix of chocolate and pineapple with hints of the yeasty smell of the custard apple family. The interior is smooth and creamy and in juice form very pulpy.

SCIENCE OF CUPUAÇU

Cupuaçu has a caffeine like effect giving an synergistic impact when consumed. It contains theacrine in contrast to the xanthines (caffeine, theobromine & theophylline) found in the cacao bean which is also a Theobroma species. It has been speculated that it has possible superfruit qualities due to high amounts of phytochemicals. It is heavy with vitamin b1, b2, b3, fatty and amino acids, at least 9 antioxidants and a high flavonoid content.

Cupuacu

HOW TO USE IT?

Cupuaçu is considered to have a delicious flavour profile. It is very rare to see it used in any other form other than as a raw pulp as heat can alter its consistency and taste considerably. Brazil is the centre of Cupuaçu consumption where it is loved as a fruit juice, as an ice cream flavour or simply scooped out of the hard exocarp and eaten fresh. Other uses include in sweets, jams and desserts.