From umeboshi to konjac root: 7 exotic ingredients from the Kerry flavour files

What foodstuffs does the multinational giant thinks are going to be a big deal in the near future?

16 January 2018
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Bottarga
image credit: DonatellaTandelli/iStock/Thinkstock

The Kerry Group has released its 2018 flavour charts, and amidst some typical ingredient inclusions like cauliflower and ginger – and a few unusual items we’ve covered before like moringa, hemp, collagen and aquafaba – there are also some other grains, fruits and herbs we thought deserved a bit more of an introduction. Prepare to spend many minutes just trying to pronounce these international foods, which should provide some interesting inspiration for fresh new dishes.

Bottarga

What is it? Mediterranean caviar – or, less grandly, cured fish roe. Egg-filled sacs are extracted from fish – traditionally grey mullet and tuna – then washed, salted, pressed and aged in slabs.

What can I do with it? Where bottarga hails from in Sardinia and Sicily, it is usually grated like cheese over pasta or served atop bread as crostini. Also called the truffle of the sea, it can be enjoyed in a similar way to its land-based namesake, sprinkled over salads, risottos and anything else that might benefit from a distinct oceanic aroma.

Majambo

What is it? A cousin of cacao that grows in the Amazon, this white bean comes from a plant known commonly as the jaguar tree. It’s got similar health credentials to its more prominent relative – plenty of fibre, protein, mood-boosting theobromine and antioxidants – but is creamier in texture.

What can I do with it? Turn it into chocolate, of course! While classically toasted and eaten as a nut-like snack, there’s been a rise in chefs experimenting with majambo, particularly in Peru, with some turning it into a paste and others using it as a crumble. It could also be the beginning of a whole new cold-press trend, but we admit that’s probably pushing it…

Umeboshi

What is it? Pickled plums, Japanese style. Very sour and very salty, this preserved fruit is made with ume (a kind of apricot that’s like a plum) that have been packed in a vat of salt for a few weeks, then dried, before being returned to the plum vinegar that has formed. Finally, they are taken out again and stored for about a year.

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What can I do with it? According to local lore, umeboshi is incredibly good for the body, imparting all kinds of unconfirmed but widely believed health benefits. Normally it’s eaten with rice – either as the centrepiece to a bowl of the plain white grain or inside seaweed-wrapped balls (onigiri). It can also easily be made into a paste, however, and then added to salad dressings or marinades.

Dashi

What is it? Another Japanese import, dashi is essentially stock made from seaweed – more specifically, dried kelp known as kombu. It is arguably the most common ingredient in Japanese cooking, imparting umami to everything from ramen broth to savoury egg custard. There’s quite a regimented procedure for producing dashi, especially in fine-dining establishments, though in homes it’s often made from powdered granules, in a manner similar to Western stock cubes.

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What can I do with it? Many, many things, from creating sauces to cooking vegetables. But first you have to decide what kind of dashi fits the dish, from the time-honoured mix of kombu and bonito flakes (made from skipjack tuna) to the slightly more novel dried shiitake version. Whatever the combo, it can be used to stew meat and veg, turned into a jelly or added to batter. The key really is the umami, which has become a hugely popular way to cut down salt intake while preserving flavour.

Ashwagandha

What is it? It sounds fairly spiritual, doesn’t it, like some kind of holy chant? It seems only fitting that this adaptogen is used in ancient ayurvedic healing traditions, where it is purported to reduce stress and raise your, ahem, libido. Though it also goes by the slightly worrying (yet infinitely more pronounceable) name poison gooseberry, we prefer to call the herb Indian ginseng.

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What can I do with it? Normally the roots or leaves are made into a powder. A very bitter powder that is not uncommonly described as ‘vile.’ While that hasn’t stopped health-food addicts taking it straight as a supplement, it’s much more pleasant in a banana smoothie, hot chocolate or ghee. We’ve also seen it touted as a substitute for rennet to make vegan-friendly cheese, though that’s not something we’ve tried personally.

Farro

What is it? One of the new flock of ancient grains (see freekeh, fonio, teff, sorghum and, of course, quinoa). Farro is actually the name for three different foodstuffs: spelt is the most well known, but there’s also the medium-sized (emmer) and small (einkorn) varieties. Minerals, antioxidants, fibre and protein abound, and it’s fat- and cholesterol-free.

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What can I do with it? The same thing you do with most grains really: salads, soups and (for the slightly more adventurous) burger patties. Why use it over any other ‘supergrain’? Well, it’s easier to get your hands on, and anything that could feasibly be described as a quinoa competitor is sure to generate buzz.

Konjac root

What is it? We’ve enjoyed some of the ingredient names so far, but konjac takes first prize: it’s also called snake palm, voodoo lily and devil’s tongue (just take a look at the flower and you’ll see why). But it’s the root we’re interested in, which is ground into a flour that’s almost entirely calorie-free and high in fibre.

image credit: Amawasri/iStock/Thinkstock

What can I do with it? Though it has little flavour of its own, flour made from konjac root provides an excellent base on which to graft other ingredients, whether making gelatinous, Asian-style ‘cakes’ or chewy, gluten-free noodles. It’s also becoming more and more common to see it as a seafood alternative, providing a comparative texture that can then have fishy tastes infused.

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