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Global cooking: how specialist ingredients became a British staple

Global cooking: how specialist ingredients became a British staple

by Ollie Lloyd 31 July 2018

The UK’s love affair with worldly flavours (particularly Asian) has boomed in recent years, as our knowledge of international ingredients and cuisines constantly grows. Ollie Lloyd takes a look at how Britain is embracing more authentic products and a widening range of cuisines.

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In January 2018, we commissioned some research to look at the cuisines people were cooking at home. While Italian food remains hugely popular (regularly cooked by 42% of people in the UK), it was clear that French food was falling from grace with less than 10% of us cooking it regularly. Particularly amongst foodies, however, there is a growing interest in Asian cuisines with Indian, Chinese and Thai food all being cooked at home regularly.

Gradually, the UK population (particularly the UK’s foodies) is recognising that there is a lot of complexity in each of these cuisines and it is worth digging below the surface. While in the past we might have been happy with Anglicised takes on international fare, we’re now hungry for authenticity, seeking out recipes for regional Chinese dishes, information about far-flung flavours and even exploring almost unknown cuisines such as East African.

Hear more about Yau's and Asian cooking on the FoodTalk podcast

Hear what founder Philip Yau had to say on the subject of Asian cooking in the UK when he talked to Ollie Lloyd on FoodTalk here.

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Of course, to cook these international cuisines at home, we need the right ingredients; substitutions just won’t do if we’re chasing authenticity. A quick look in the average foodie’s store cupboard proves we’re going to specialist shops and embracing the ever-growing availability of specialist products. For example, 27% of ‘Committed Foodies’ have fish sauce in their cupboards (compared to 14% nationally), 12% have udon noodles (compared to 5% nationally) and 41% have coconut milk (compared to 23% nationally).

This increasing demand for international ingredients has an effect on more common products, too. Brands like Lee Kum Kee, which produces soy sauce (in 61% of Brits’ cupboards) and oyster sauce (in 11% of Brits’ cupboards) now take up whole sections of supermarket aisles instead of being only found in Asian food stores. Japanese brand Yutaka is also enjoying a growing presence in retail; something that’s perhaps being pushed forward by food halls such as Japan Centre in London’s Westfield.

Naturally, with more and more of us cooking international dishes and seeking out new and exciting ingredients, producers in the UK are starting to create home-grown solutions. Just take a look at The Wasabi Company in Dorset or Sussex-based Japanese farm NamaYasai (where you can get fresh yuzu fruits). There’s even a sake brewery in Peckham. Then there are producers like Yau’s, representing the smaller, artisanal companies that are pushing Asian cooking forward. Its satay sauce, for example, is free from nuts. That might sound strange (what with satay being a peanut-based sauce), but the recipe has managed to successfully recreate its iconic flavour using pumpkin seeds (among other things).

‘Every ingredient we use is natural,’ says owner Philip Yau. ‘For the sauces we started out doing them gluten-free, but we came across so many people who’re allergic to so many different things that we thought, ‘what can we do to make Asian cuisine more accessible?’ So we started cutting out MSG, then the flour. Now we don’t even use citric acid, which in food production isn’t a natural product.’

This means the booming free-from sector is now a part of this nationwide demand for international flavours. As more and more of us seek to recreate the foods we experience on our holidays, see on television or read about online, then so too will our appetite for products which are free from certain things or cater to specialist diets, without sacrificing on flavour. The future certainly has lots of exciting new ingredients in store.

The FoodTalk podcast

The FoodTalk Radio Show celebrates the entrepreneurs and artisans working to make the UK's thriving food scene one of the best in the world. Catch a new show every Thursday and find out more by visiting the website.

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