Does Northern Ireland’s food have its own accent?
Food cooked in Northern Ireland apparently has its own accent - sporting assertive and robust flavour notes due to our distinctive soils and climate.
That’s according to a panel of taste experts assembled by the National Trust, who say each region of the UK has it own “stand-out flavour” which is as distinctive as the local accent.
A rundown of the UK regions reveals cream and honey notes in the south west, vivid fresh flavours in the south east and “proud gamey” flavours in the Midlands. Meanwhile food cooked in the east of England offers notes of mellow fruitfulness, in Wales food is green and wild, in the north west there are savoury and lingering flavours and the Yorkshire cuisine is earthy but sweet. Do the experts agreee?
Sommelier Oz Clarke, chocolate expert Willie Harcourt Cooze, perfumer Angela Flanders and chef Brian Turner carried out a taste test with the National Trust.
The taste specialists sampled food and drink from across the UK selected by regional food experts to represent the distinctive and unique palate of the region, making sure to smell, touch, look at and savour the tastes in order to build as big a picture as possible.
As for Northern Ireland, they say, our cuisine is “assertive”, evoking big open skies and golden harvests with robust and assertive flavours. That was the verdict after the four sampled a roster of locally produced foods, including Guinness, Mount Stewart home-made beef sausages, lavender ice-cream, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries and panfree spring cabbage.
Oz Clarke said: “I was struck by the unmistakable differences we found in regional produce, from the white beetroot from the East, which tasted sweet and earthy – like it was sprinkled with fairy dust - to the Stourhead beef in the South West, evoking liquid life, outdoor grass and sunshine.
“Despite such tasty delights on our doorstep, our diets have become filled will homogenous high-salt and additive-filled meals, which means we need to re-learn the way we eat – and taste – if we are to save our nation’s distinct flavours.”
The four taste experts revealed that regional flavours are as diverse as dialects and each of our counties has a unique essence.
Food in its raw state can be made up of hundreds of thousands of flavour compounds, and small changes – such as the kind of soil a carrot was grown in - will have lasting impacts, which give them their flavour characteristics.
The National Trust warns that regional foods risk becoming extinct because we’re getting so addicted to homogenous high-salt and additive-filled meals that we are losing the ability to taste complex flavours.
And if we can’t taste them, we’re less likely to cook with local foods - instead choosing similar-tasting produce grown outside the UK, which are shipped in all year round.
Hilary McGrady, National Trust Director for Northern Ireland, said: “Taste is something we’re losing, because too many of our meals are packed with additives and flavourings. And because many of us don’t see food production for ourselves, we’re losing contact with where food comes from – and its distinctive taste.
“At the National Trust, we’ve prioritised serving local and sustainable food in our restaurants, cafés and tearooms as the way to create resilient, efficient and lower impact food systems for everyone, everywhere.
“We love local and regional dishes, because they remind us of the different character of different parts of the country, as well as helping us meet our sustainability ambitions. Reconnecting with our taste buds and the land around us means we are ensuring a bounty of tasty local produce for generations to come.”
Brian Turner believes you can save your regional flavours simply by choosing one recipe a week which calls for just one item of local and seasonal produce.
“Go out now and select something autumnal from your county, like wild mushrooms or pheasant, and savour it - every bite you take is a vote in favour of saving the nation’s taste buds and the legacy of our classic flavours,” he said.
Go online and visit www.foodgloriousfood.org.uk to discover more Taste the Land findings or to try out some great season recipes.
Cobblers, says Nick Price.
The chef behind Nick’s Warehouse in Belfast says regional dishes are one thing but nobody’s palate is fine enough to detect distinctive regional differences in dishes made here and in England.
“What a load of cobblers! I can’t agree with that premise,” he said.
“That’s a load of codswallop. Nobody’s palate is that fine - it really isn’t.
“I have a huge amount of time for the National Trust - they are very encouraging of local produce but you can’t have regional flavours in the same food. It’s a very ethereal notion.”
As for the dishes that most appeal to the Northern Irish palate, he admits champ is always popular.
“If we don’t have it on, people usually ask for it,” he says.
And the Ulster Fry is always a winner - or indeed, anything fried.
“People from Northern Ireland love fried stuff - anything’s good if you fry it. We loved fried things, we love chips,” he said.
“We do a lot of old standards, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate brownies, a really simple chocolate tart. It’s coming into the time for bread and butter pudding or crumbles - the apples are coming in and there are some nice local plums about.”
The Flavour Map
Northern Ireland: Assertive
South West: Cream and honey
South East: Vivid and fresh
Midlands: Gamey and proud
East of England: Mellow fruitfulness
North West: Savoury and lingering
Wales: Green and wild
Yorkshire and North East: Earthy but sweet