Dining in the dark is about to take on a new meaning as the demand from chefs for black vegetables grows.
Black produce, including South American sweetcorn variety, aged garlic with umami flavour, radishes and Shetland black potatoes are pushing purple vegetables off their pedestal, according to a survey of more than 100 specialist traders by New Covent Garden Market.
The traders supply some of London’s most famous restaurants, including Le Gavroche, The Dorchester, Four Seasons and The Wolseley.
In a nod to tackling food waste, old-fashioned and ‘wonky’ vegetables are also finding more love. So what’s driving this desire for the dark side? Is wonky here to stay?
Many people are unaware of black vegetable varieties, Alastair Owen from the Covent Garden Market Authority tells Food Spark.
“We posted an image on Instagram and the reaction was amazing – people don’t know this stuff is out there, and it’s particularly good for chefs to give to customers and stand out. It’s something that’s quite cool,” he says.
Black-coloured foods are packed with anthocyanins, which are pigments that may help lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Black garlic is also meant to have twice the antioxidants of regular garlic and is described as being sweet and reminiscent of molasses.
There is also a throwback to old-school days, according to the survey. Full-flavoured and quirky looking old-fashioned varieties are growing in popularity such as sprouting and baby cauliflower; candy-striped beetroot; purple and yellow heritage carrots; short-season Fenland celery and Red William pears – all traditionally used in times gone by.
Heritage vegetables not only look different, but tap into the demand for raw food. Owen says seed companies have also gotten better at making more produce and a reliable crop.
Similarly, innovative varieties that harp back to heritage produce, such as Chantenay carrots and piccolo parsnips, are being tipped to win the popularity competition.
The fruits finding favour
- Giant citrus such as the Cedro lemons whose pith, zest and flesh can be fully utilised in cooking, including a variety known as limone di Ponza from the island of Ponza, Italy
- Asian citrus like Miyagawa clementines that have green skin but orange fruit, and the pungently aromatic yuzu
- Tangelo, which tastes like a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit
- Bergamot, a fragrant fruit commonly used in cocktails
Interesting salad ingredients are also getting a boost, and it’s no surprise that iceberg lettuce has found it hard to compete, with sales declining. In its stead are tatsoi, winter purslane and land cress – which are hardier crops.
After last winter and the issues with Spanish salads, people are looking for UK-grown alternatives and these varieties can grow in a cool climate, Owen says. “These are more bitter salads, so rise in popularity matches the rise in popularity for bitterness. We’re also being influenced by Italian bitter salads,” he adds.
The buzz for bitter stems from a consumer desire to look beyond the easy sugar kick for more challenging flavours, Owen adds. “Bitterness often means raw and unprocessed, so the increase in demand for bitter follows the trend for raw and healthy eating. For chefs, bitter produce takes more skill to cook well and it breaks up the eating experience,” he says.
We have predicted the rise of unusually coloured and shaped vegetables in previous writings due to the fact that there has been media linking them to having a greater nutritional and health benefit than their conventional cousins. In addition to this, the rise of Instagram and its particular use in driving trends towards highly coloured foods is driving some desire. If savvy chefs are catching onto the power of viral marketing and designing foods specifically to draw in that crowd – it’s about time!
These trends have been here for a while now, so it’s about time someone really made use of them. You could add almost anything into this category though, so to limit it to a few black varieties would be short sighted – viral marketing is a thing that seems to be sticking around and using an alternate colour palate in the kitchen appears to be one of the easiest methods of entry.
Ultimately this is a fickle crowd though, so it should draw some high short-term turnover for businesses that play to that crowd, but it is unlikely that individual items will have longevity – the key is to pair it with exclusivity and have a steady stream of items that fit the criteria.