Food · Lifestyle

Bland Food for Thought

Is it just me or does anyone out there think the same about our food in the UK? In my opinion it is mostly tasteless. Why do all these TV chefs insist on food that is heavily seasoned? Think about it! And the answer is, much of our food doesn’t taste of anything. One person described salad in the UK as being, ‘just crunchy water’. I’ve recently bought strawberries that looked like strawberries, were the same colour as strawberries, had the same texture as strawberries, but they tasted of nothing at all.

If you ever travel to or through Italy, Greece, France, Spain etc. you’ll find that fruit & veg in these places tastes amazing! So much flavour, and individually tasty in their own right. Why? Perhaps it is because much of their food is grown locally to the market or supermarket, and not transported to one end of the country and back, and is therefore likely to be both fresher and tastier. They also have a reliable climate that guarantees natural warmth, sunlight and the required nutrients from the soil. The problem, as I see it, is when consumers in the UK demand these products all year round. You could also suggest that UK supermarket fruits and vegetables are from varieties grown to have tough skins (so they don’t damage in transit), have a long shelf life (so they can be transported long distances and won’t go off in the shop), and don’t easily bruise / spoil. You also need to factor in supermarket processing costs (it’s easier and cheaper for them to deal with produce exactly the same size and consistency i.e. peppers, plums, apples etc.) and the packaging, so that you can neither taste nor smell the goods.

Another factor is the demise of the local greengrocer. In place of wonky carrots and ‘dirty’ potatoes we now have uniform shapes, colours and sizes. And why have the supermarkets seized the monopoly on fruit and veg? Because the public demand cheap food, that’s why. So, in my opinion, it’s both our faults. But that’s not enough info. Why is it that I buy what are described as ‘sweet’ oranges, I peel one, and it’s so sour it takes the enamel off my teeth. You could use the juice from supermarket plums to remove paint, and the grapes can give you mouth ulcers. But that’s how supermarkets want to sell it. From picking, days of shipment, packing and finally storing, by the time it appears on the shelves it has to look exactly the same as when it dropped off the tree.

It’s what happens to the fruit and veg when it’s stored that is interesting. They go into what’s called Controlled Atmosphere Storage all year. This consists of regulating concentrations of oxygencarbon dioxide and nitrogen, as well as the temperature and humidity of a storage room. Both dry commodities and fresh fruit and vegetables can be stored in controlled atmospheres. So, for instance, this means that apples are harvested at a certain time of the year, are put into CAS, and abracadabra, apples are on the shelves throughout the year looking and tasting exactly the same as the day they were picked – and before they’ve ripened!

UK consumers (at least according to supermarkets) care more about cosmetic appearance than their continental counterparts who appear to care more about taste, and UK supermarkets care more about consistency of product (size, weight, appearance, availability). Consistency of availability also means UK supermarkets are less likely to stock a great product that is only available for two weeks of the year (there is a cost to setting up the supply chain). In essence, supermarkets stock what sells, and what sells is often tasteless but resilient fruit and veg. It tastes less good, and spoils quickly once it’s out of its packaging.

But we still buy it because the general consumer has little or no choice. And as a closing point, nobody under a certain age will have a clue what I’m talking about, having been raised on supermarket fruit and veg for their entire lives. Pass the salt and pepper!

Three quick tips:

  1. When buying imported fruits (and vegetables); keep them outside of the fridge as much as possible, and if planning to eat soon, place them on the window sill for a little while, and the flavours should improve.
  2. Try visiting a thriving market with colourful fruit and veg stalls where you are cordially invited to taste the produce by the stall holder and purchase free from packaging. And it’s often cheaper.
  3. Grow your own.

One thought on “Bland Food for Thought

  1. Agree 100% with your assessment of fruit & vegetable habits, especially regarding “the younger generation” not knowing any different. We used to own a pub restaurant & grew a lot of our own fresh vegetables, but every week had to go thro’ the “requested stores list” with a red pencil. The young staff were trying to order in vegetables growing 3-4m. from the kitchen door. Our cook once served rhubarb crumble – we were puzzled as to where the rhubarb came from. “The greenhouse!” he told us proudly. Knowing there was no rhubarb there we insisted he show us exactly where it was growing. He showed us – wait for it! – chard. He’d discarded the lovely leaves and chopped up the “rhubarb” stalks. The daftest part was that the comments from the Dining Room were highly complimentary. The diners’ taste buds were obviously attuned to sugar, not the taste of rhubarb. More power to the elbows of those trying to re-educate us, eh?

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