Cuisitive celebrates and promotes the world’s food ingredients. However, food diversity significantly diminished during the last century and continues to be subject to ongoing threats and challenges.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, as far back as 1999, advised that since the start of the C20th century some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity had been lost as farmers worldwide had left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.
The Slow Food Foundation (SFF) reported in 2014 that of the 30,000* species of edible plants remaining in the world no more no more than 150 were widely cultivated.
* some sources state that the number could be as high as 80,000 or even 250,000.
The SFF advised that 50 crops provided 90% of the world’s calories (around 50 years ago several thousand plants would have done so). Furthermore, it was estimated that 9 crops accounted for 75% of the plant kingdom’s contribution to human dietary energy and that 3 species, rice, maize and wheat provided more than 60% of the world’s food.
Across the world the nation’s diets continue to converge with local foods disappearing; for example, varieties of sorghum, millet, rye, cassava and yam are in decline and are being replaced by wheat, corn, soybean and sunflower.
Some 30,000 varieties of rice were once grown in India; now less than 10 varieties account for more than 75% of production. Commercial factors limit the availability of diversity. While there are more than 1,000 banana varieties in the world one variety – the Cavendish – accounts for 95 per cent of the global banana export market.Similarly four commercial varieties of apples – Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith – currently make up 90 per cent of the world market and of the 2,500 types of pears that were grown in the past, just two account for 96% of the market.
Similarly in animal husbandry a small number of high-performance breeds have spread throughout the world since the C20th often replacing local breeds. These include Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens, Large White, Duroc and Landrace pigs, Saanen goats and Holstein Friesian and Jersey cattle.
In 2016 the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems reported that globally between 2001 and 2007 one breed of livestock had indeed become extinct each month and that 20% of breeds remained at risk of extinction. A series of articles will be posted over forthcoming weeks featuring ‘lost’ ingredients and those that are under threat of disappearing.
Verjuice* or Vert Jus (Green Juice) in French refers not to its colour but to its main ingredient, unripe (sour) fruit.
In medieval times, across much of the Mediterranean and Middle East regions and in England, when sour was perhaps a more widely appreciated taste than now, the term, verjuice, could refer to the unfermented juice of a variety of unripe fruits, from grapes to crab apples, sorrel, gooseberries to plums.
Verjuice was used to give depth to flavours and add a delicate tartness to all kinds of sauces, condiments, mustards, stews and meats.
However, following the introduction into Europe of the tomato (C16th) and lemon (C19th) the popularity of verjuice gradually declined.
In its modern incarnation, verjuice refers only to the bottled juice of unripe grapes, normally picked during the thinning process about halfway toward maturity in late July or August when the grapes are high in acid and low in sugar.
Green grapes are most often used, but sometimes red are added, creating a slightly more full-blooded product.
Like lemon juice, verjuice adds a fresh tartness to a wide range of dishes but it is more gentle and subtle with a slight but definite undercurrent of vegetal sweetness. Indeed verjuice has the tartness of lemon juice and the acidity of vinegar but without the bitterness of either. Consequently it complements rather than masks other flavours. This is because its tartness is derived from tartaric acid (the same acid found in wine) as opposed to the citric acid of lemons or the acetic acid of vinegar.
Today, verjuice remains popular in the Middle East where it is used as a marinade for fish and in both vegetable and meat stews but it has attracted increasing interest elsewhere and is being used in new ways to enhance flavours.
It is used, for example, to deglaze pan juices, as a substitute for citrus juices in desserts and as a dressing for salads. It is also served as an aperitif and mixologists incorporate it into syrups and cocktails.
Verjuice is now commercially available with producers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.
*known as Agresta (Italian), Agraz (Spanish), Ab-Ghooreh (Persian), Husroum (Arabic), Hosrum (Lebanese Arabic)
Tiger’s milk, leche de tigre or leche de pantera, whilst considered by some as an aphrodisiac or hangover remedy, is more notably the essential liquor component to ceviche; the Peruvian dish.
Traditionally, this citrus based marinade consists of lime juice, aji limo (chile), onion, salt & pepper. Other ingredients used include cilantro/coriander, apple, garlic, celery, bell pepper and ginger. The objective is to produce a powerful, tasty and chille liquor to cure the seafood, the main ingredient in a ceviche.
The liquor is served not only with the ceviche dish but also separately in a small glass or indeed transferred from the plate after eating to drink as a post prandial climax.
When we think of tamarind it is usually only applied to the brown sticky pods that are ubiquitous throughout Asia and the Americas. In fact the terms is also used for other species which do not belong to the same family of Tamarind (Fabaceae) which is actually a legume.
The Native Tamarind (Diploglottis australis) is actually a Sapindaceae that is only found in the rainforests of Eastern Australia. It is considered as an Australian native food and is used in gastronomy. It is notoriously difficult to harvest because they grow high up with trees reaching 15metres. Usually they are collected when the fruits fall to the ground. This factor makes this interesting fruit complicated to commercialise.
The aril of the fruit surrounding the seed may be eaten raw or added to jams and chutneys. Because of its very intense and sour flavour profile, it should be paired with more delicate ingredients like poultry, fish and seafood. It also is used as the basis for a tangy cool drink. If you ever get the chance to try this ‘bushfood’ while visiting Eastern Australia take it as you might not come across again.
Bubble tea has taken western markets by storm lately but not a lot of people know what it is and how it is made.
Boba milk tea, boba juice and pearl milk tea are just some of the names given to this Taiwanese creation. Back in the 1980s in Taichung, Taiwan this tea-based drink was invented. To this day they refer to it as pearl milk tea but the term bubble has grown in acceptance outside Taiwan.
The essentials are tea with fruit or milk and chewy tapioca balls. Once all this is shaken together a foam is formed giving its name Bubble tea. There are some variations that exist these days but the traditional one of milk tea and tapioca as well as milk green tea and tapioca remain the most popular. Many Asians are lactose intolerant so it is not always added with alternatives like soy milk and other milk substitutes often used.
In general terms two distinct types can be defined – Fruit Flavoured and Milk Tea. Black tea (usually oolong or Earl Grey) are preferred as well as green tea (Jasmine) or even coffee.
The range of fruits used in bubble tea are only limited by your imagination. Here is a list of many of them: plum, strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango, lemon, watermelon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, melon, lychee, mango, banana, avocado, coconut, kiwifruit and jackfruit.
Other ingredients may be added including taro, chocolate, coffee, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, caramel, lavender and rose. To give some sweetness honey, agave or stevia can also be added along with of course sugar. One of the amazing things about Bubble tea is the different texture sensations. Not only are tapioca pearls added but also coconut jelly, konjac, grass, azuki bean, mung bean paste, sago and aloe.
Bubble tea is served cold in most circumstances with plenty of ice. It is important to note that with sour fruits, milk is normally not added as it can curdle the milk.
PRICE VS FLAVOUR
When you go to the market looking for bell peppers you are usually influenced by two factors. Whether you want a sweeter pepper or save some money. There is a reason why the green peppers are cheaper and not as sweet. They are the immature or unripe versions of the bell pepper which are in the same family as the usually hotter chili peppers. Like the red bell peppers the orange and yellow ones are also more ripe than green.
Green bell peppers are often slightly more bitter than the red, orange or yellow ones as the lack of time to mature does not allow the fruit to become sweeter. Because they are harvested earlier and thus require less growing time, the green ones can be sold for less.
Other than the better flavour, nutritionally a riper bell pepper contains a higher amount of beta carotene. This is especially true for the red bell peppers while yellow ones have a higher vitamin C content than green ones.
For us the green bell peppers still do have a place in the kitchen. The difference between all types is often minimal especially when combined in a stew or salad. They are cheaper and not all possess the bitterness of very unripe bell peppers.
APPARENTLY NOT. IT’S ORIGIN GOES BACK TO ANCIENT TIMES
The word croissant instantly makes us think of France. That is indisputable. The buttery, flaky pastry in a crescent form is quintessentially French. Think again. The reality is that the croissant has a distant ancestor, the Austrian Kipferl which dates back to at least the 13th century.
Around 1838/1839 an Austrian artillery officer founded a Viennese bakery that served many specialities including the kipferl. This inspired many French imitators that eventually developed the crescent shaped (croissant) that has spread around the world. By the late 19th century the croissant was well established as a breakfast staple.
The modern day croissant is made of a layered yeast-leavened dough. Basically the dough is layered with butter then rolled and folded many times into a sheet (called laminating). Similar to a good puff pastry, the result is a flaky layered texture. To make an excellent croissant you need sugar, salt, flour, milk, eggs and butter.
VARIATIONS AROUND THE WORLD
In France and Spain croissants are normally sold without filling and no butter but sometimes almond is added while Nutella or persipan are put inside German croissants.
In the US sweet fillings are sometimes added as well as filled with a multitude of ingredients including feta cheese, ham and spinach.
If you ask for a croissant in Argentina you might be met with a blank face. They are known as medialunas (half moons) and are typically coated with butter which can be sweet or salty. In other Spanish-speaking countries, a croissant is often called a cuerno (horn). Makes sense.
Whether you want to see croissants as French or Austrian is a matter of preference and interpretation. The reality is French culture has made them the world famous breakfast pastry we love.
THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WORLD OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Cuisitive has over 350 fruits and over 250 vegetables in its flavour profile collection . Among these are some truly extraordinary examples of the variety that exists. What might be exotic, bizarre or strange for someone is to another person a common and normal ingredient. We have selected 20 from dozens of amazing fruits and vegetables. Add your suggestions for others at the bottom to add to our next edition.
1. CASHEW FRUIT
It is high in Vitamin C, refreshing, very juicy, but a bit acidic. Oh and did you know thats actually a cashew nut attached to it.
2. ACHIOTE OR ANNATTO
An orange-red condiment and food colouring is this fruits gift to gastronomy. It is used in many cultures but especially in Latin America.
A mysterious and beautiful fruit native to the north of Japan. Have you ever seen anything like it? Unfortunately the flavour does not match its appearance so much.
Also called the snake fruit which seems extremely appropriate. Actually a type of palm fruit that is enjoyed in parts of Latin America especially.
5. BUDDHA’S HAND
Probably the oddest fruit in the collection. Not much good in the kitchen other than using its rind and for making jams or marmalades.
6. BLACK SAPOTE
The chocolate pudding fruit that amazes everyone that tries it. Its flavour profile and texture is even said to be reminiscent of chocolate. Not exactly but about as close as you are going to get from a fruit.
7. THATCH SCREWPINE
It looks like an impenetrable flourescent spaceship but it does actually have some use. Its flesh interior is edible but involves some work to get to it.
8. KIWANO OR HORNED MELON
This fruit can truly be called exotic. At least for its amazing and shocking appearance. Flavour is not quite as interesting but definitely a point of conversation.
Like fish eyes caught in a venus fly trap. Bizarre looking and seemingly without use. In fact ackee is half of Jamaica’s national dish (the other being saltfish). Creamy and egg like in flavour.
10. DRAGON FRUIT
About the most well known exotic fruit and the worst kept secret. Everyone loves it for its fancy look. Yellow, white, pink and green. It really does come in all colours.
A ‘grape’ native to Brazil that grows on trees. Yes that is nearly right. The jabuticaba actually has its fruit stuck to the trunk. One of the most beautiful fruits you can find.
Part of the huge custard apple family, the chirimoya is not only attractive but delicious when ripe. Its flavour profile is something like custard, ice cream, pear and apple mixed together. Try it and you will see.
Honeycomb texture, elongated to the extreme. The monstera is actually edible with a flavour of banana mixed with pineapple.
A root vegetable from the andes that look like giant caterpillar dipped in red dye. Crunchy, starchy and very much like potatoes. Really worth it to buy on your next trip to Peru.
Black or white. Salsify comes in a variety of shades. Exploded on the culinary food scene in recent years. Has a mild flavour similar to Artichoke.
Yes they are the leaves of a cactus and people do actually eat them. Just remove the spines and you have a delicious vegetable to add to your meal.
A sea vegetable that grows on coasts. Intertwined like millions of snakes they are actually abundant when you know what you are looking for. Vegetables that have the taste of the salty sea.
Nutty and sweet (also called the Jerusalem artichoke). Quite ugly in appearance but really good to cook with.
19. YARDLONG BEAN
Self explanatory from the name. These beans are extremely long. Similar to the regular podded beans you are used to but much much longer.
A type of fern that intertwine themselves to form fancy balls. Used as a vegetable and a favourite amongst foragers.
If you have other fruits and vegetables you think we should talk about that are equal to these 20 let us know in the comments and we will do another series.