Acquiring A Taste For The Exotic

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world. Despite this great variety, our diets are dominated by a handful of staple crops.

The most popular 20 species account for 90% of our total botanical energy. There are many lesser known exotic plants from all around the world which are both delicious and nutritious.

Physalis berries

Electing to eat the exotic not only satisfies gastronomic curiosity, it serves a higher ecological purpose. It is easier to protect edible plants that have a market value. Rare and exotic edible plants don’t immediately have a market value, it is up to us to create it to save them from extinction.

There is limited opportunity to sell rare produce in wholesale markets, however, there is a valuable opportunity to sell it directly to consumers, fresh, preserved, fermented or dried.

Pomegranate and chestnut

Tesco sell approximately 180 different fruit, vegetable and nut products. It is possible for a forest farm to sustain a similar number of different plant species (some generating 3 or more different products) and many species of fungi. The reality of seasonality means only a fraction of products are available at any one time.

The benefit of growing rare produce is that there are few rival suppliers, the key challenge is creating demand.

A significant challenge in selling extraordinary produce is educating consumers as to why they should eat or at least try something new. Farmers’ markets, and the internet, provide an educational platform which is hugely valuable. Visibility is key to inspire future buyers of this extraordinary produce.

Night market

The choice to grow rare produce is not feasible for a commercial monoculture farmer; they cannot reasonably expect to sell tons of the unfamiliar.

For all but the most experienced chefs, cooking with something for the first time can prove challenging, and may put them off the ingredient for life. Drawing upon similarities to conventional produce can make the unknown less daunting. Empowering consumers with knowledge of how to cook the produce they are buying is an important hurdle to overcome.