The lotus flower has been growing in China for at least 1,000 years. Not just a pretty plant, its root is a popular ingredient in several Asian cuisines, partly because it is said to have medicinal properties and partly because it provides such a great crunchy texture.
Earlier this year, the lotus root was named one of the 50 foods of the future by the Worldwide Wildlife Fund and Knorr, who jointly published a report encouraging people to diversify their diet (75% of the global food supply comes from only 12 plant and five animal species).
The plant’s attraction, according to the WWF, is that it is “incredibly resilient”: “[Lotuses] can grow and flourish in most bodies of water and replant their own seeds, which can be stored and survive for decades.”
The root, which is high in vitamin C is often stir-fried in Chinese cuisine, as at upmarket chain Hakkasan, where it is cooked with asparagus and lily bulb in black pepper. It’s also not uncommon to see it pickled and drizzled with chilli oil as a piquant appetiser.
Increasingly, it’s being used by various restaurants – from San Francisco to New Zealand – as a crisp to garnish dishes. At Brigadiers in London, for example, lotus root is fried and served with puffed chaat as an accompaniment to beer. Meanwhile, back in China, it has been given a dusting of salted duck egg yolk at one of Shanghai's most talked about new restaurant openings, Heritage by Madison.
Now, snack makers Made For Drink have partnered with the Laurent-Perrier champagne house to release lotus root crisps as a limited-edition bar snack.
The lotus position
Currently being showcased at Taste of London food festival, which opened today (June 19), Made For Drink’s lotus root crisps have been specifically designed to accompany Laurent-Perrier’s cuvee rose bubbly. The crunchy mouthfuls are flavoured with a shichimi togarashi-style blend – in itself an increasingly on-trend spice mix – featuring poppy seeds, ginger, chilli and seaweed.
Completing the picture, the snacks come in fully biodegradable and compostable packaging that is made from sustainably grown Portuguese cork.
"We’re always exploring new and original ways to enjoy Laurent-Perrier champagne, and the lotus root crisps are an innovative and delicious pairing for the cuvee rose,” said Juliet Elliot, marketing controller at Laurent-Perrier UK. “Based just down the road from our UK head office, Made for Drink are a perfect partner because they share our values of quality, family and sustainability."
As well as the PR push at Taste of London, the lotus root crisps are also being sold at a number of pubs and restaurants throughout the summer, including several outlets of Bel and Dragon.
In the retail environment, US-based brand Wild Hibiscus (sold online via Amazon and importer Kikapu in the UK) has created a trio of garnishes made from lotus root for cocktails and dishes. The range consists of butterfly pea and elderflower, hibiscus and ginger, and gin-spiced pickle.
For the raw ingredient, however, consumers have to turn to Asian speciality stores like The Japan Centre and online grocer Red Rickshaw.
We’ve already seen a number of companies leaping up to sell popcorn made from lotus seeds, but does Sparkie see a future for the rest of the plant?
I would sit on the fence a little with lotus root. At the moment, I’d say the crisps are more of a novelty, used as a means of differentiation from the vast varieties of potato or vegetable crisps. Where it has the potential to become more common is through the introduction of hydroponics as a common sustainable farming practice.
Lotus root requires a large amount of water to farm, which is generally not sustainable, so farms are pairing this with fish farming in order to improve on that. We have a few of these farms for things like watercress, but I think they will begin to become more common.
The amount of water-based crops that can be farmed this way is relatively limited, so that could be the opportunity for lotus root to become a more familiar ingredient.