It feels like you can eat so many unusual ingredients in British restaurants these days – from jerked alpaca at the Archipelago to passionfruit kombucha ice cream at Chin Chin Ice Cream. But did you know that some of these unusual ingredients can actually be grown in the UK? Here are 10 of my favourites:
1. Wasabi – have you ever thought of using fresh wasabi at home? With The Wasabi Company you can order fresh wasabi leaves, flowers and rhizomes from their farms in Dorset and Hampshire. This is quite the undertaking, as each plant takes at least 18 months to reach harvest, and it is a particularly difficult plant to grow. According to The Wasabi Company, they are:
the only fresh wasabi commercially available that is grown in Europe.
Grate fresh wasabi to add a kick to your cooking!
2. Carolina Reaper chillies – if you’re looking for something to (really) spice up your next dish, go to the South Devon Chilli Farm!
Owners Steve, Heather, Martin and Kaz grow over 200 varieties of chilli plants, including the infamous Carolina Reapers. (If you do choose to try these, make sure to wear gloves whilst handling them.) They have a whole wealth of information about growing your own unusual ingredients, including chillies, as well. Recommended by Jamie Oliver and Gillian Anderson (of X-Files fame!), South Devon is the place to go for spice.
3. Tomatillos – a staple in Mexican cooking, tomatillos look like tiny green tomatoes wrapped in a little shell – as you can see above by the title – and are brilliant in a salsa verde. Also known Mexican husk tomatoes, they’re difficult to grow in the UK because they like warm climates, but Bedfordshire-based Edible Ornamentals have done it!
Inspired by their time living in Texas, owners Shawn and Joanna Plumb are now the largest grower of tomatillos in the UK. They also do some great chilli experiences and workshops, should you be looking to get your tastebuds a-tingling.
4. Kohlrabi – have you ever heard of this rather unusual brassica? It looks like a root veg, but it is more like a cabbage or broccoli. And although it is very popular in German cooking, it is rather difficult to find in the UK! Luckily Riverford Organic Farmers has come to the rescue, allowing chefs all over the UK to taste its mustardy sweetness.
For Saucy Dressings recipes using kohlrabi, go here.
5. Tea – So this might not be the most unusual ingredient on this list, but what is unusual is that it is being grown in the UK at all! The Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall is the:
first ever English tea company to have created a range of black tea, green tea and herbal infusions homegrown on British soil
Thanks to Cornwall’s unique micro-climate, they are able to grow tea bushes, and their tea has been hailed as the ‘new Darjeeling’. From their Spitfire tea (created to celebrate the RAF) to their classic English Breakfast, this is a British tea institution!
6. Edible insects – You haven’t tried edible insects yet? Many people are now turning to edible insects, not only because they contain two times the amount of protein as beef, but also because of sustainability reasons. (Crickets, for example, produce 1% of the greenhouse gases that cows produce).
With Cricke Food you can try cricket crackers. The insects themselves are ground into a powder, and taste a bit like hazelnuts. They definitely count as unusual ingredients!
7. Ostrich eggs – The largest edible eggs can now be tasted in the UK! Fresh ostrich eggs from the Lincolnshire Ostrich Farm are available from April to September, along with various speciality meats. All of their ostriches are farmed naturally on wide open pastures, and looked after by specialty vets.
If you’re planning an enormous omelette this might be the way to go – one ostrich egg is the equivalent in volume to approximately two dozen chicken eggs. For more information about how to cook with ostrich eggs, go to the Lincolnshire Ostrich Farm website.
8. Thai basil – Herbs Unlimited is one of the best places in the UK to get fresh herbs – even the ones that are a bit more unusual. Thai basil plays a prominent role in Vietnamese cuisine, and according to Herbs Unlimited, has a:
distinct liquorice flavour that doesn’t exist in sweet basil
Delicious in a Thai curry or eaten raw in salads, Thai basil may be the perfect herb to add to a dish that is lacking that extra bit of punch.
9. Edamame – there’s nothing better than the crunch of edamame in a summer salad. Luckily, you can now get these beans from Namayasai, growers of Japanese fruit, vegetables, and herbs in East Sussex. They are normally produced from August to October.
Namayasai also include nutritional tips as well as information about how they harvest their edamame on their website.
10. Oca – also known as the New Zealand yam, oca is a tuber that is mainly grown in South America. Otter Farm is one place where you can get them, if you’re interested in their lemony and sharp flavour. Run by Mark Diacono, Otter Farm is committed to growing sustainable and often exotic ingredients.
If you’re interested in oca, there is also The Guild of Oca Breeders, which is a group committed to:
‘further the development and adaptation of oca (Oxalis tuberosa) to areas outside its traditional homelands, starting with the UK and northern Europe’.
Who knew that these tubers could cause such a stir?
For food service buyers interested in sourcing from The Wasabi Company, The South Devon Chilli Farm, Herbs Unlimited or Namayasai, you can find them on Tried and Supplied.