Fruit and Veg

Quirky ingredients you never knew existed

Written by First Choice Produce
October 19, 2018

The food world is filled with a plethora of wonderful products. Some boast a powerful flavour. Some have an incredible texture. And some are visually stunning. But there are some you may not have heard of. In a guest blog, wholesaler First Choice Produce takes you through 10 quirky ingredients you can source on the market.

For many chefs, the vast majority of products on the market will be well-known — from the cheap and cheerful through to the gourmet varieties.

But there are some products you might not have seen before. So here’s a list of the cool, the quirky, the innovative and the creative.  How many of these quirky ingredients have you cooked with?

Buzz Buttons

Buzz buttons (also known as Sichuan buds) are the edible flower buds of the paracress plant. They don’t look fancy, nor do they taste particularly special. Their real quirkiness comes from the effect they have in your mouth when they’re eaten.

They create an instantaneous reaction that causes you to salivate profusely, coupled with a slight numbness and cooling in the mouth and throat. If you’ve never tried them before, it’s well worth picking up a pack to experience this odd reaction for yourself.

Buzz Buttons

Laser Cut Egg Shells

This fabulous product is a great choice if you’re looking to create a visual dish. Exactly as it sounds, these eggs shells are cut by laser to create a super clean finish.

These would sit perfectly on a tasting menu, perhaps for an amuse-bouche or for a quirky dessert. They’re also perfect around Easter time.

Laser Cut Egg Shells

Strasberries

The strasberry is touted as being a cross between the strawberry and the raspberry, but it’s actually a variety of garden strawberry with more of a raspberry-like appearance. It’s smaller, much rounder, soft textured and with a bumpy appearance that mimics a raspberry, but with the same great strawberry flavour.

Strasberries

Fiddlehead ferns

The funnily-named fiddleheads are the furled fronds of a fern. Whilst furled, they can be harvested as an edible vegetable that’s something of a delicacy in Asian, Indian, French and North American cooking.

They’re packed with vitamins, as well as being a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, some varieties — such as Bracken — are said to be carcinogenic if not cooked fully.

Fiddlehead Ferns

Gull’s Eggs

When it comes to eggs, we can all name a fair few. But did you know about gull’s eggs? This unusual delicacy has a strictly controlled supply within the UK, with only 25 or so ‘eggers’ holding government licences to collect these eggs.

These eggers are masters of their craft however, and know every inch of the 6 sites that allow the foraging of gull’s eggs:

  • Upper Teesdale
  • Barden Moor
  • The North Solent Nature Reserve
  • Kayhaven Marsh
  • Lymington Marsh
  • Pylewell Marsh

The black-headed gull lays the most spectacular green speckled eggs. The flavour is intensely creamy and rich, and — as these eggs are generally only around for a few weeks — they’re among the most sought-after eggs in the world.

Gulls Eggs

Edible Ants

Some people get the creeps when thinking about eating insects, but it’s actually very common in China and other parts of Asia. And for good reason. Insects are more environmentally-friendly to farm and they’re packed with protein and other nutrients that makes them a viable food source.

Edible ants are one of those insects. Due to the formic acid that they have as a defence mechanism, ants have an acidic, almost citrusy flavour. They also pack quite a punch for something so small. They’re best used as a garnish over dishes to add a pop of flavour.

Edible Ants

Edible Flowers

There are a number of flowers that are perfectly edible and therefore a fantastic ingredient to add some flair to a dish. Used predominantly in desserts, edible flowers can add a dash of colour and elegance that other ingredients simply can’t match.

The range of edible flowers is larger than you think, including borage, cornflowers, dianthus, fuchsia, marigold, nasturtium, tagete, snapdragon, viola, garlic chive flowers, and even cucumber and courgette flowers.

Edible Flowers

Micro Melons

Micro melons (also known as mouse melons, Mexican sour gherkins and cucamelons) are perhaps one of the cutest ingredients you can source. They look like tiny, grape-sized watermelons, and they have a taste similar to cucumber but with a sour edge.

Micro melons are originally native to Mexico and other parts of Central America, but more recently have been cultivated by commercial producers such as Westlands.

Micro Melons

Bee Pollen

We’ve all eaten honey, but have you ever eaten bee pollen? This product (also sometimes known as bee bread) is the compacted pollen of various flowering plants that has been collected by foraging bees. Usually these bees would pass it on to the worker bees to store and convert into honey, but if harvested before then it becomes an interesting and quirky product to use in cooking.

Bee Pollen

Crosnes

Crosnes (pronounced ‘crones’) is an unusually shaped, ivory-coloured tuber. It has a nutty flavour and is prepared in much the same way as a Jerusalem artichoke. It’s used widely in Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisines, but is not commonly used elsewhere.

Its quirky shape makes it a great choice as a garnish, but it can also be incorporated into salads, used as a side or pickled.

Crosnes

So there’s 10 quirky ingredients that you may not have cooked with before, all of which can be sourced by premium food suppliers such as First Choice, based here at New Covent Garden Market.

How many have you used before? Can you name some even quirkier ingredients? Comment below, or tweet us your ideas @MarketFood.

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