There is enormous public division when it comes to ‘genetically modified vs hybrid vs Heirloom vs organic vs the rest of it’ food. After all, what we eat is incredibly important. Ever since humans learned to cultivate, our diet has gone through remarkable changes. Today we eat a far more limited variety of products served in a far wider range of ways.
We may eat less actual types of potato, but we eat them under the umbrella of a vastly larger number of cuisines.
Plus, we eat things all year round that were once only available seasonally, and we now eat things from places we might never even visit.
Food is being jet flown across this planet daily. If you never thought you’d be sitting down to a meal of Boston Lobster in the centre of Dubai or Singapore, less than a day after the poor thing was wandering in the sea near Boston, think again.
There are oysters that have done more air miles than you.
There are green vegetables that were picked yesterday in China that are being served today in London and vegetables that were picked yesterday in England that are gracing the plates of diners in Beijing tonight.
There is a fair amount of argument against all this carbon foot print business, and at times it does seem quite ridiculous, but would we really go back to the old ways of only eating what is grown locally and only when it is in season?
Some would. Some think they would, but then they might want a fresh pineapple, and they don’t grow as well in Sweden as you think.
For all of our sophistication when it comes to a globalized diet, however, there are some items that are still not as familiar. Take tayberries, for example. Tayberries are a hybrid fruit (deliberately cross pollinated) and are a mixture of blackberries and raspberries. They have been grown since 1979, but they are tricky to pick and handle, so they are only sold in areas where they grow.
Tomatoes are another group of edibles that have a zillion varieties, although commercially we only produce a relative handful. Take the Pink Brandywine variety, which is an Amish bred tomato mostly available in Pennsylvania, where it is grown. The vines are vigorous and the tomatoes themselves are VERY tomato-y but there are so many more common types of tomato on the market, you may never get to try this heirloom breed.
There is another interesting type of tomato called the tomatillo, which is described as a classic ingredient for Mexican cooking. They have a husk surrounding them, and a waxy gum residue that helps prevent them from spoiling, but that needs to be washed off before eating.
People who REALLY know Mexican food wouldn’t use anything other than a tomatillo in their cooking.
Most people living in Asia have come across the durian, a huge spiky stinky fruit lovingly called the ‘King of fruit’ amongst fans, and ‘oh my God what is that smell’ by those not so in love.
Durian is made into everything from ice cream to toothpaste these days ( a mistake surely) but those who indulge can be found sitting quietly during the season gorging on the creamy fetid flesh, eyes glazed over, hand wipes at the ready. Durian is higher in fat than most fruit, but it is packed full of fibre and vitamins. It is also, interestingly enough, a relative of the hibiscus plant.
So then, have you tried rozelles?
These are actually the fruit of the hibiscus flower. The flowers you may be familiar with, but this is the part that you can eat, or have made into a drink. Hibiscus fruit or Roselle is an Indian native and is commonly cultivated in Malaysia. China and Thailand are the largest producers of this fruit. The flavour is a bit like raspberries and cherries combined. It can be used as a tea, a jam, or even as sweets. Dipped or soaked in sugar, these very bright little taste bombs are worth tracking down.
There are thousands of kinds locally produced fruit and veg out there for you to enjoy. Whether you fall into the ‘growers market only’ category, or the ‘if it exists, I must find it and eat it’ group of modern day hunter gatherers, you will be able to satisfy yourself on some level.
You might even want to try foraging for your own food out in a field somewhere. Just watch out for the mushrooms, some are more exciting (and deadly) than you might think.