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.

The Heat of Chili Peppers

THE VARIED WORLD OF THE CAPSICUMS

Chili peppers are a member of nightshade family (solanaceae) in the capsicum genus. There are various types of capsicum that all have their own distinctive qualities and varied heat level. Generally speaking there are two separate types of pepper – sweet and hot.

HOW DOES CHILI DEVELOP ITS PIQUANCE

Capsaicin is a lipophilic chemical that creates a strong burning sensation when in contact with mucous membranes. The chili pepper family are the only plants capable of producing this irritable chemical.

The acid is produced in a ball of tissue that grows under the stem inside each chili pepper. The seeds and veins are attached. The hottest parts are found around the tissue especially in the top inch of each chili pepper so to reduce the strength it is advisable to remove all the inner tissue, seeds and veins.

It’s hot or spicy intensity comes from capsaicin and several related chemicals called capsaicinoids. They bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat. As a result the body responds by raising heart rate, increased sweating and releasing endorphins.

WHAT CHILI PEPPERS AND CHOCOLATE SHARE

It is well known that capsaicin causes an endorphin reaction. Besides the chili pepper the only other ingredient that can do the same is chocolate.

When released in the body by vertebrates, endorphins serve various purposes other than giving a natural high. They are said to be painkillers, assist memory and reduce ageing. Chilis also encourage the appetite producing a craving to eat.

WHAT IS SCOVILLE SCALE?

Capsaicin is an oil-born acid that is quantifiable. The scoville scale is widely regarded as the definitive standard of Chili Peppers comparing. Basically it measures the pungency of chili peppers in SHU (scoville units) by taking an alcohol extract with capsaicin oil which has a mixture of sugar and water added to it. When there is no detectable chili this is the value given to each test. A main criticism of the scale is that it is totally subjective however it is still a good benchmark for how chili peppers compare.

 

Chili peppers are a member of nightshade family (solanaceae) in the capsicum genus. There are various types of capsicum…

Posted by Cuisitive on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

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Is your next meal alive?

With the prevalence of social media and the obsession to explore the weird and wonderful, videos have emerged of food consumption that leaves many revolted and shocked. This led us to discuss what live food ingredients are available and consumed around the world?

As far as seafood is concerned there are a number of ingredients which are popular in Asia. In Korea octopus is cut into pieces, lightly seasoned in sesame oil and served immediately. This dish is known as Sannakji. Similarly, sea urchins are eaten raw; the Japanese prepare a sushi dish 'uni'. Also in Japan, sashimi is prepared using live fish, octopus, shrimp or lobster from which the inedible innards are removed. The technique is known as 'ikizukuri' ('prepared alive'). In China carp is cooked while the fish head is wrapped in a damp cloth to keep it breathing. The dish is known as Ying Yang Yu fish ('dead and alive fish'). The Chinese are also fond of a dish known as 'drunken shrimp' whereby freshwater shrimps are immersed in ethanol before being eaten. A similar dish can be found in Japan whereby live prawns are beheaded before being consumed. This dish is known as Odori Ebi ('dancing fish'). Another version, Qiang Xia, entails using clawed river shrimp which are soaked in a spirit, such as baiju followed by marinating in a sauce which can be sweet, sour or salty. Eels doused in vinegar and sake are eaten when alive in Japan.

KORAIL_Gangjin_Gun_02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the West, oysters, are consumed fresh and until the oyster is removed from its shell it remains alive for a significant time. Similarly 'live' blood clams are a delicacy in New England, USA.

Amphibians and reptiles are also consumed alive in countries such as China, India, Japan and Vietnam. Frogs are served as sashimi, beating snake hearts are considered a delicacy and lizards are known to be eaten too.

Japan - Ikizukuri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insects provide an alternative live food source. In Australia larvae such as the wichetty grub are consumed. Casu Marzu a sheep's cheese speciality in Sardinia embraces the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. In Denmark, the two Michelin starred restaurant, Noma, received much attention when offering chilled ants on its menu.

Finally, some mammals are subject to being eaten alive; San Zhi Er ('three squeaks') is the practice of eating baby rodents in China and fruit bats have been traditionally eaten in Guam.

Cuisitive wishes to state that eating live food is subject to significant health risks and further, raises an important ethical issue given that there is evidence that animals featured in this article can feel pain and stress.


The World of Soy Sauce

You may be familiar with the sachets of soy (or soya) sauce that come as an accompaniment to take-away food. Beyond this concoction of corn syrup, water, salt, caramel colour, vegetable protein, and sodium benzoate there is an enticing variety of soy sauces made by varied methods and offering a range of interesting and subtly different flavours, aromas and textures.

Asia is the origin of soy sauce and we feature here some of the varieties produced in the far East that we would encourage you to seek out.


Lets start with China

Chinese soy sauce can be broadly split into two methods of production: brewed or blended.

Brewing (or fermentation) using wheat, yellow black soybeans, salt, and water without additional additives is used to create four varieties:-

Shēng chōu (“fresh drawn”) or Jiàng qīng is a light fresh, thin, opaque sauce brewed by first culturing steamed wheat and soybeans with Aspergillus oryzae molds followed by fermenting the mixture in brine. It is primarily used for seasoning.

Tóu chōu is a ‘premium’ light soy sauce made from the first pressing of the soybeans as the flavour of the first pressing is considered superior. Primarily used for seasoning light dishes and for dipping due to its delicate flavour.

Shuāng huáng is a light soy sauce with a more complex flavour as a result of double fermentation using the light soy sauce from another batch to take the place of brine for a second brewing. This adds further complexity to the flavour. Used primarily for dipping.

Yìn yóu is a darker soy sauce produced by steamed soybeans with aspergillus mixed with coarse rock salt before undergoing prolonged dry fermentation. The flavour is complex and rich and is used for dipping or in “red” (hong) cooking. Brewed primarily in Taiwan.

Soy sauce

Blended

There are four notable varieties.

Lǎo chōu (“mature drawn”) is a darker and slightly thicker sauce made from light soy sauce as a result of prolonged ageing and may contain added caramel colour and/or molasses to give it its distinctive appearance. Used mainly during cooking, as its slightly sweeter and less salty flavour is enhanced by heating.

Cǎogū lǎochōu known as “mushroom” dark soy. Straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) is mixed into dark soy sauce creating a richer flavour.

Jiàng yóu gāo is a dark soy sauce that has been thickened with starch and sugar and occasionally flavoured with spices and MSG. Used as a dipping sauce in red cooking because of its its sweetness and caramelised flavours.

Xiā zǐ jiàngyóu known as “shrimp” soy sauce. It is a fresh soy sauce which has been simmered with fresh shrimp and finished with sugar, baijiu (a type of distilled liquor, 白酒), and spices. A specialty of Suzhou.

 


Moving on to Japan

Soy sauce (Shōyu) is traditionally divided into five main categories according to their ingredients and method of production. Normally wheat is a primary ingredient, which tends to give Japanese soy sauces a slightly sweeter taste than those associated with China. Also small amounts of alcohol acting as a natural preservative are sometimes added giving an alcoholic sherry-like flavour.
Koikuchi (“thick taste”) is the typical Japanese soy sauce made from roughly equal quantities of soybean and wheat. Used in marinades as well as for dipping and in stir fries. 

Usukuchi (“thin taste”) is both saltier and lighter (arising from the use of amazake, a sweet liquid made from fermented rice). Particularly popular in the Kansai region. Used to season ingredients.
Tamari is darker in appearance and richer in flavour than koikuchi. containing little or no wheat. Also known as miso-damari as this is the liquid that runs off miso as it matures. Made mainly in the Chūbu region. Used as a dipping sauce.

Shiro (“white”) has a light appearance and sweet taste as it is made mostly of wheat and very little soybean. Used in the Kansai region as a dipping sauce for sashimi.
Saishikomi (“twice-brewed”) is much darker and more strongly flavoured as a result of replacing the saltwater brine in the fermentation stage of koikuchi with a previous batch of already brewed soy sauce. Also known as kanro shōyu or ‘sweet soy sauce’.

Newer varieties of Japanese soy sauce include:- Gen'en (‘reduced salt’) which contains 50% less salt than regular soy sauce and Usujio (‘light salt’) containing 20% less salt than regular soy sauce. All Japanese soy sauce varieties are graded according to how they were made:-

Honjōzō (“genuine fermented”) contains 100% genuine fermented product.

Kongō-jōzō (“mixed fermented”) contains genuine fermented shōyu mash mixed with 30–50% chemicals or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein.

Kongō (“mixed”) contains Honjōzō or Kongō-jōzō shōyu mixed with 30–50% chemicals or enzymatic hydrolysate of plant protein.

All varieties and grades may be sold according to three official levels of quality dependant on nitrogen content:-

Hyōjun ((Standard grade (more than 1.2% total nitrogen)), Jōkyū ((Upper grade (more than 1.35%)), Tokkyū ((Special grade (more than 1.5%)).

 

Soy sauce selection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Soy sauce varieties are produced in a number of other Asian countries.

 In Indonesia there are three main varieties of Kecap.

 Kecap manis is a sweetened soy sauce with a thick syrupy consistency and a treacle-like flavour arising from the addition of palm sugar, star anise, galangal and other aromatics. Used as a flavouring.

Kecap manis sedang is a medium sweet soy sauce, less thick in consistency, less sweet and has a saltier taste than kecap manis.

Kecap asin is derived from the Japanese shoyu but is usually more concentrated with a darker colour and stronger flavour.

In addition there is Hakka soy sauce which is made from black beans and is very salty.

In Korea soy sauces or ganjang (“seasoning sauce”) can be divided into two categories: hansik ganjang (Korean-style soy sauce) and gaeryang ganjang (modernized soy sauce).

Hansik ganjang made entirely of fermented soybean (meju) has a distinctive fermented soybean flavour. It is lighter in colour and saltier than other Korean ganjang varieties.

It is categorised by its method of production, as follows:-

Jaerae-hansik-ganjang (“traditional Korean-style soy sauce”) – made with traditional style meju and brine.
Gaeryang-hansik-ganjang (“modern Korean-style soy sauce”) – made with nontraditional meju (which can be made of regular soybean, rice, barley, wheat, or soybean meal, and ripened using traditional method or aspergillus) and brine.

Depending on the period of ageing, hansik ganjang is also divided into three main varieties: clear, middle and dark, as follows:-

Haet-ganjang (“new soy sauce’) – aged for a year. Also called cheongjang (‘clear soy sauce’).

Jung-ganjang (“middle soy sauce”) – aged for three to four years.

Jin-ganjang (“dark soy sauce”) – aged for more than five years. Also called jinjang (‘aged soy sauce’), nongjang (‘thick soy sauce’), or jingamjang (‘aged mature soy sauce’).

Gaeryang-ganjang (“modernised soy sauce”) i.e. sauces not made of meju, is now the most widely used type of soy sauce in modern Korean cuisine. Also known as Jin-ganjang (‘dark soy sauce).

Gaeryang-ganjang is classified into four categories by method of production.

Brewed soy sauce – made by fermenting soybean, soybean meal, or other grains with saline solution.

Acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce – made by hydrolyzing raw materials containing protein with acid.

Enzyme-hydrolyzed soy sauce – made by hydrolyzing raw materials containing protein with enzyme.

Blended soy sauce – made by blending hansik-ganjang (Korean-style soy sauce) or yangjo-ganjang (brewed soy sauce) with acid-hydrolyzed soy sauce or enzyme-hydrolyzed soy sauce.

In the Philippines Toyò sauce is usually a combination of soybeans, wheat, salt, and caramel colour. It is thinner in texture and has a saltier taste than many of its Southeast Asian counterparts.

Varieties of soy sauce can be found also in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite this not inconsiderable range of commercially available sauces artisanal soy sauce producers are developing new products including a fifty year old aged sauce but you will need to be patient as this will not be available until 2039!


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


Apples - a sweet and sour story

A century ago, in just one country, Italy, there were 8,000 known fruit species. Now this has decreased to 2,000 species of which 1,500 are endangered.

At the beginning of the C19th in Italy, if we consider apples alone, there were 100 varieties cultivated. One hundred years later the number had declined to around 50 and today three varieties make up 80% of production.

This significant reduction in the number of apple varieties is prevalent globally. However, enthusiasts are pursuing initiatives to redress this trend.

apple varieties

In the USA, David Benscoter has rediscovered the Nero and Fall Jeneting varieties in Washington and John Bunker in Maine cultivates traditional varieties such as the Westfield Seek-No-Further (a small, yellow apple), the red-streaked Wolf River and the Black Oxford (purple and plum like).

In Wales, an apple found nowhere else in the world was discovered growing on a single tree on the remote Bardsey Island. This apple, now named as the Bardsey apple, is boldly striped in pink over cream with a lemon aroma and is being cultivated by Ian Sturrock along with other rare varieties such as the Pig Aderyn, Pigeon's Beak Apple and Monmouth Beauty.

It may no longer be possible to find and taste the delights of varieties such as the Yellow Siberian Crab, Shoreland Eclipse, Tower of Glamis and Wren's Favourite but, returning to Italy, Isabella Dalla Ragione of the Fondatori di Archaeologia Arborea* in Umbria is cultivating once popular but now rare species such as the Muso di Bue and wonderfully named Cul di Somaro.

* www.archeologiaarborea.org


Against the Grain

As the world’s national diets continue to converge with local foods disappearing Cuisitive will be featuring foods that are under threat and report on initiatives whose objective is to ensure that they are not lost forever.

The three most important food crops in the world are rice, wheat and maize (corn) providing around 60% of the world’s plant derived food energy.

Maize, alone, meets a third of the calorie needs of Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been, over many decades, a major decline in the number of varieties of these crops.

 For example, Mexico, where maize was first domesticated, has lost 80% of its varieties since the 1930s and in the USA 43% of maize is now derived from six inbred hybrids. 

Similarly, six varieties of wheat (Common wheat, Spelt, Durum, Emmer, Khorasan and Einkorn) account for the major part of world production. In contrast, the Germplasm Resources Centre in Norwich UK holds in its gene bank 1787 named varieties and 3685 landraces of bread wheat.

 Rice has undergone a similar process. In West Bengal, for example, there were once 5,000 varieties of rice; now only 150 varieties can be found in growers’ fields.

It is recognised by many international organisations and their sponsors that it is necessary to ensure the continued genetic diversity of these major crops to avoid vulnerability to diseases that could affect worldwide production.

Furthermore, for the individual consumer the diversity of taste on offer has and continues to be diminished.

Fortunately, there are, however, important initiatives that are addressing this issue.

At a national and global level seed banks have been established to store and make seeds available across the world.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway holds the seeds of 825,000 crops plants. Their mission is

‘…to rescue crop diversity in danger of disappearing forever. We pursue conservation and use of the wild cousins of our food crops. And we help develop a new generation of information technologies to make the world’s crop diversity searchable and accessible wherever it is needed.’

There are also a number of other seed banks and research institutes around the world, some of which hold important grain seed collections, for example:-

International Crops Research Centre, Patancheru, India

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Texcoco, Mexico

and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) based in Aleppo, Syria.


ICARDA is the site of a gene bank holding seed accessions from over 110 countries including traditional varieties, improved germplasms, and a unique set of wild crop relatives that include wheat, barley, oats, and other cereals. It includes more than 135,000 varieties of wheat, fava bean, lentil and chickpea crops, as well as the world’s most valuable barley collection. These seeds were collected over decades and most cannot be found growing in the fields anymore. 


The International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Philippines holds 127, 000 rice accessions and wild relatives from all over the world and has released more than 1,000 improved rice varieties in 78 countries since its establishment in 1960.

At the other end of the spectrum individuals around the world are pursuing initiatives to grow and utilise once common but now threatened varieties of grain seeds.

In Sicily, Italy, Filippo Drago has rediscovered ancient wheat varieties such as Tumminia, Russello, Biancolilla, Perciasacchi, Bidì and Maiorca and now produces flour using his own mills.


The Oikawa Farm in Mikasa-shi, Hokkaido, is one of the few farms on the island of Hokkaido, Japan that grows eight-rowed maize and probably the only farm that cultivates Sapporo hachigyo maize, once a staple, as a commercial crop. 

Debal Deb based in the state of Orissa, India grows on an exchange and non- commercial basis 940 varieties of indigenous rice seeds including rare varieties such as Jugal and Sateen, which he has collected from small farmers during the last 17 years.


Disappearing foods

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.


Jerky – From Alpacas to Buffalo to Kangaroo

Jerky is a method of meat preservation in which fresh meat is dried to prevent the growth of bacteria.

The origin of this process dates from the C16th when the Quechua tribe in South America boned and removed the fat from alpaca and llama meat. It was then cut into slices, pounded and rubbed with salt before being sun-dried or smoked.

The Quechua word ch’arki means to burn (meat). After the Spanish conquistadors arrived Ch’arki became Charqui.

In North America native tribes employed a similar process drying the meat of deer, elk and buffalo and after the arrival of the Spanish the term ‘Charqui’ was embraced but became modified to Jerky.

Jerky was originally a staple foodstuff to be eaten when other food was scarce. Since then with the addition of various spices and other flavours jerky has become a desirable tasty snack rather than eaten out of necessity.

Buffalo Jerky

Modern manufactured jerky is normally marinated in a seasoned spice rub or liquid, and dried, dehydrated or smoked with low heat. A wide range of meats are used including alligator, beef, deer, kangaroo, ostrich, wild boar and yak as well as various kinds of fish; salmon, trout and tuna. Many ingredients including brown sugar, soy, garlic, chilli, lime are now used to enhance flavour.

Jerky should not be confused with other dried meat products such as pemmican, kilishi, biltong, bakkwa and pastirma.

Pemmican, another Native American product consists of dried meat that is pounded into small pieces and then mixed with melted fat and ground berries such as cranberries and Saskatoon.

Making pemmican

Kilishi is a Nigerian product involving sun drying cow, sheep or goat meat which is then coated in a peanut based paste with spices and sometimes honey before further drying and roasting.

#Kilishi from northern Nigeria

Biltong originating from South Africa is meat that is traditionally dried using vinegar and coriander to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Biltong

Bakkwa (Rougan) is a traditional Chinese preparation now produced in many Asian countries using beef, pork and mutton marinated with spices, soy, sugar and salt before being dried on racks.

Bakkwa

Pastirma is of Armenian origin and involves salting beef, then removing the blood and salt before covering with a cumin, fenugreek, paprika and garlic paste and air drying.

pastirma


verjuice

Verjuice - A medieval flavour revival

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.

Early summer

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)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLYBpb3_AZo


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySLxXy3MRWk


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg3n8Ti23s4


Tiger's Milk - the spirit of Ceviche

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.

Ceviche

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.

Leche de Tigre (tiger's milk)


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg0Flefrlhc


What is Native Tamarind?

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.

Diploglottis cunninghamii - Native Tamarind

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.

Native tamarinds, Playing With Fire farm, Ballina hinterland


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfN8_vqCMWk

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.

Why are Parmesan rinds great?

Anyone with a love for Italian food will know the importance of great parmesan cheese. Whether added on top of freshly cooked pasta or added to a tomato sauce, this Italian speciality is essential.

What a lot of cooks neglect or rather forget is the discarded rinds contain the same delicious umami taste. In the same way as adding leftover stalks of various vegetables (carrots, celery etc) to a soup can elevate the flavour profile of the final result, parmesan rinds can do the same.

In basic terms umami is known for being a flavour enhancer. Tomatoes, mushrooms, soy sauce and parmesan cheese are all ingredients that do this.

When adding the rinds they can be thrown in whole because they just get softer and do not disintegrate. Once ready to serve they can be plucked out without a problem. It is the flavour inside we want and not the rubbery to hard slightly unpleasant texture.

Parmesan Cheese
Each time you use a slice of parmesan you can collect the rinds to use sometime in the future. They keep for months in the fridge and years in the freezer. If you are lucky enough some cheese shops will sell you the rinds at a much lower price.

The key to use parmesan rinds is to extract as much flavour as possible. This can be done by grilling or applying heat but it will release far less than submerging them in water and heating. Soups and stews are the way to go with the rinds. Not only will the dish incorporate the much loved intensity of parmesan cheese it will also act as an enhancer to the other ingredients you have included.

A lot chefs also like to make a broth from the rinds then add it to risottos. This has the added benefit of already having an element of creaminess, a quality that is essential to a great risotto.

Parmesan Making 062


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. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHVvaXuJpE8

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

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZvf-8n1WD0


Lemon Fruit

Lemon

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.