Originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Food is a central theme during meetings between individuals who work in the fresh produce industry. In Croatia, I recently had a discussion with a French colleague, who told me about the love that the famous French chef Paul Bocuse had for cream, butter, and wine. Bocuse reputedly once said: “I like butter, cream and wine, and not peas cut in four.” This was to illustrate his passion for hearty meals full of flavour.
The concept of different ‘trinities of tastes’ prompted me to read more on the subject. The first reaction to my Google search referred to the holy trinity of Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine — onions, bell peppers and celery, used in dishes such as crawfish étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya. I also came across the French trinity of mirepoix, a mix of onion, carrots, and celery, and the Spanish sofrito, a trinity of garlic, onion, and tomato. Further abroad, many Chinese dishes begin with a base of scallions, ginger, and garlic. In West Africa, the basis of most cuisines is chili peppers, onions, and tomatoes.
But it was the Indian trinity of garlic, ginger and onion that promoted me to write this column. You see, for the past months I have been collaborating with three specialized fresh produce companies that are pursuing various exciting innovations aimed at taking garlic, ginger, and onion to a higher level of convenience and taste in the European consumers’ kitchens.
Erik Waterman of Waterman Onions is a passionate ambassador for the humble onion. Every year, his company dries, sorts, packs, and ships more than 120,000 tons of onions all over the world, making it one of the most influential onion brands in Europe. According to Waterman: “Onions are really special. In addition to being super healthy, they are used in recipes all over the world. But it is much more than just a tasty culinary plant! The onion contains natural sugar, vitamins A, B6, C and E, minerals such as sodium, potassium, iron and dietary fibre. This makes the humble onion a tastemaker as well as a health-maker”.
Waterman says that not much visual attention is paid to onions, garlic, and ginger in the produce departments of food stores. “Our research shows that COVID-19 has led to a rise in popularity of ‘culinary@home experimenting’. European consumers have become much more creative and adventurous in cooking, especially in dishes that require a bite and a zing. Onions, garlic, and ginger provide exactly this! The challenge now is to develop convenience products that will inspire the everyday consumer to explore new and exciting taste dimensions by using variations and combinations of these three products”.
Waterman collaborates with two other companies (one Dutch, one Belgian) in pushing hard for consumer awareness of what he now calls the ‘tastemaker trinity’.
Dutchmen Arie Havelaar and Sander Kleinjan of Sawari Fresh International specialize in garlic and ginger, while the Belgium-based Roussel Onions has been the market leader in all forms of sliced, diced, cubed, grated and pureed fresh onions for decades. Havelaar calls the combination of garlic and ginger with onion ‘the tornado of taste’: “I have been cooking with these onions and garlic ever since I started off my career in importing them in 1981. In 2003, I became fascinated with the taste and health benefits of ginger, and when I started combining it with garlic and onion a whole new world opened for me. Sometimes my kitchen at home looks like a vegetable war zone as I slice, dice, puree, juice, mix and then try out these products in different culinary styles. Already we have developed some amazing taste profiles that we will launch in the European fall season.”
Roussel Onions has a long family history in growing and processing onions. Charlotte Roussel and her brothers Louis and Maxime have recently been tasked with leading the family concern into the future. According to Charlotte, “One of my earliest memories is of my Uncle Pol saying that ‘Elk gerecht begint met een ui van nonkel Pol’. (Every recipe starts with an onion from Uncle Pol.) We supply the mainstream foodservice companies, and we recently noticed a sharp increase in the demand for taste and product innovation, especially regarding convenience products. Apparently, new consumers want more challenging and interesting taste profiles in Mediterranean-style dishes such as lasagne. Together with our customers we have developed exciting new concepts around this new food trend. While we still sell our onions as a single-product convenience item, we are now starting to combine the sharpness of onion, the flavour of garlic and the bite of ginger to create new taste profiles for our foodservice customers”.
Maggie Waldron, the great American author, once said that “It is probably illegal to make soups, stews and casseroles without plenty of onions.” British food author Elizabeth David stated that “It is not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking.” Indian author Amulya Malladi lovingly recalls her mother’s kitchen: “Surveying the fridge, my eye caught the ginger. Mama buys big chunks of ginger. Lots of garlic and ginger in her food. Maybe not garlic in the chutney, but ginger. Lots of ginger for a sharp tangy taste.”
Need I say more? Get cookin’!!
Nic Jooste, owner of NJ Immersed, is a fresh produce marketing and CSR specialist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.