Food trends come and go, but some ingredients are mainstays of the ‘foodie’ scene. Chefs love pushing the envelope and introducing diners to curios, from unusual cuts of meat to global dishes and wince-worthy animal innards. We’ve picked 25 underused foods to sample at least once…
While this is something that would never appear in our healthy section, as a rare treat this Italian dish of cured pig's fat is far more appetising than it sounds. Eat it as you would other charcuterie, with crusty bread and pickles, or alternatively stir it through pasta or use as a pizza topping.
2. Razor clams
While the common clam comes in a heart-shaped shell, razor clams are tubular and contain much more meat. Grill them on the barbecue as you would calamari, steam with wine or cider, or try them cured with lime juice and chilli – otherwise known as super-modish ceviche.
Welsh laverbread is a punchy dish of cooked seaweed and a food of protected status, meaning it’s only produced in the land of the leek. Luckily, it can be bought online. We recommend it with eggs at breakfast, woven into casseroles or fish soup or simply enjoyed with a sprinkling of Welsh sea salt.
4. Goji berries
Hit your nearest health food shop to pick up these vibrant ‘superfood’ berries. Dried gojis can be eaten straight from the pack or mixed with nuts, but they can also be used to top cereal or in baking.
Cooked badly and you'll never go back for a second serving of tripe. But, if you take a leaf out of the Italians’ book and serve it in a rich tomato sauce or deep-fried in breadcrumbs with a piquant green sauce, you might even forget its origin – the lining of an animal’s stomach.
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6. Wild garlic
Unlike its bulbous sibling, wild garlic comes in leaf form and is far more delicate in flavour – think more along the lines of milder alliums, such as chives. Treat it in a similar way to spinach – whizzed into soups, wilted as a side dish or raw in salads. It makes a mean pesto too.
Try our wild garlic recipes.
We’re not talking the chocolate variety here. This luxurious fungus grows wild, and given the elaborate way of yielding them – using dogs or pigs for snuffling – the price tag means the closest many of us will get to sampling them is via truffle oil. If you do lay your hands on the diamond ring of the food world, use it shaved into pasta, risotto or scrambled eggs.
Pick up a bottle of truffle oil and try our haricot bean & truffle mash recipe.
8. Dulce de leche
Facilitator of many a cheat’s dessert, this South American caramel sauce has a thick, gloopy consistency. Buy it in cans or jars and use as a cake filling or topping, in mousse, chocolates or cheesecakes - or simply in large spoonfuls.
Use dulce de leche in our salted caramel pot recipe.
Korean food has been making waves across the UK restaurant scene for a few years now. If you're trying it at home, make a batch of kimchi to serve alongside your bibimbap-style rice pot. The fermented vegetable condiment is the ketchup of Korean dinner tables. Try our quick kimchi recipe.
10. Chia seeds
These miniscule poppy seed-sized spheres are packed with nutrition, boasting lots of omega-3, calcium and protein among other credentials. Sprinkle them onto porridge or salads, whizz into a smoothie or use to add texture to dishes.
Check out our chia seed recipes.
11. Wagyu beef
Said to be some of the finest meat in the world, Japanese wagyu beef comes from specific breeds of cow. The animals enjoy a nutrient-rich, bespoke diet which is said to give the meat its distinct taste, excellent marbling of fat and sizable price tag. It’s now available in UK supermarkets and is a sure-fire way of spicing up your next steak supper.
Celebrated for their health benefits, complex ‘supergrains’ are a wholesome alternative to pasta, rice or bread. Try pearled spelt in place of Arborio rice, or buckwheat flour to make an on-trend loaf or breakfast pancakes. More unusual grains from Asia, South America and Africa, such as freekah, amaranth and teff, are more difficult to find but worth the hunt.
At some point in 2013, the food scene got word that the UK had been missing out on crickets, grasshoppers and all manner of spindly creatures. The rest of the world has been happily munching on them for years - infact, it's estimated around two billion people globally enjoy insects in their everyday diet. Despite the fact that our interest has been piqued, British palates haven’t quite embraced the movement. But with sustainable food on the agenda, maybe this will change…
Think less garden flowerbed and more chic bedrock. When pioneering gastronauts like Heston Blumenthal and Reni Redzepi started serving crumbled dessert ‘soil’ in their restaurants, the world took note and started sprinkling granular cake onto desserts too. As it’s so easy to achieve, it’d be rude not to give it a go.
Make restaurant-style soil at home with our choc-peanut fondant recipe.
From laksa to pho, noodle soup is a pan-Asian dish, but Japanese ramen has become the darling of the UK restaurant scene. It’s open to interpretation too, with additions ranging from belly pork slices to boiled eggs. The base is imperative, so make sure you use really good stock– we like a dollop of earthy miso in there, too.
Try our popular recipe for vegan ramen.
16. Sourdough bread
With its substantial crust, chewy texture and distinct flavour, we can get behind the sourdough craze. Not sure what all the fuss is about? Try making your own yeast starter by feeding yeast with water until it expands to a small, lively pillow, which can then be used as a raising agent.
17. Cod's roe
Move over caviar - there's a new fish egg in town. Pressed or soft cod's roe is more affordable than traditional caviar, and much less dainty, meaning it can be treated with a rougher touch. Try it blitzed into taramasalata, deep-fried or sliced and stirred through pasta.
A whole boiled tongue is an intimidating sight, but when served in thin slices, this resourceful ingredient becomes something far more delicate – and tantamount in flavour to any Continental charcuterie.
19. Courgette flowers
Every summer, courgette recipes become some of the most popular on bbcgoodfood.com, so it stands to reason the vegetable's elegant flowers should be a hit too. Catch them in early summer and have a go at filling the paper-thin shells with Italian-style cream cheese.
20. Sea urchin
Approach with caution – this sea creature is covered in barbaric-looking spikes. Beyond this defensive shell is a core of delicious roe. A delicacy in Asia and Italy, we advise buying the roe ready-prepared by a fish expert. Try it with spaghetti for a Puglian-style pasta.
Don't be intimidated by all those tentacles and suction pads - appearance isn’t everything when it comes to octopi. The meat makes for a delicate dish when slow-braised or served in a Mediterranean-style salad.
Otherwise known as 'lady's fingers' because of their distinct tapered shape, okra is used extensively in Asian and Caribbean cooking, and rightly so. It can handle strong flavours and can be enjoyed whole or cooked down until soft. Try and pick okra up fresh, but the canned variety is a good alternative.
Most commonly sold in powder form and added to smoothies, juices and soups, spirulina is a blue-green algae and a nutrition powerhouse, being high in protein, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. In contrast to other super foods it has been reported recently that its harvest in Africa supports the economy and its producers – making it a superfood in more ways than one.
These beauties are related to the hazelnut and have a lovely smooth flavour. They come in a frilly cover and can be eaten fresh from the shell – or blitzed up and served as a crust for meat or fish, or in a nutty dessert.
Champion this underused berry, often eschewed for its lookalike, the blueberry. It's a sour fruit, so best served sweetened as a jam, filling or sauce. They can be found in the British wild too, so keep an eye out for them on your next ramble.
How many of our 25 foods have you tried? We’d love to hear your suggestions too, so share your unsung heroes in the comments below...