New Covent Garden Market released its annual Fruit and Vegetable Trends Report, which features brilliant wholesale trader insight on what is expected to be hot and what is simply unavailable to London’s most discerning diners in 2022, both those eating at home and at some of the finest restaurants across the city.
Near the top of this year’s menu are four unusual picks – Asian Wok Cucumbers, Celtuce, foraged sea vegetables and Crabapples – along with one staple on nearly everyone’s plates, potatoes of all shapes and sizes and even potato milk.
While cucumbers are always a cool hit when prepared traditionally, S.Thorogood and Sons says diners will be looking for stars on their plates, and Asian Wok Cucumbers – supplied by Caffarelli in Cambridgeshire – are the perfect complement. They are prepared in hot dishes and can add a succulence and crispness. Italian seasoned cucumbers and snacking cucumbers also are expected to be big sellers.
Another very different veg item on the list is Celtuce, a stem lettuce popular in Asia.
“It has a strong taste and a similar texture to iceberg lettuce, and it’s newly being grown in small volumes in the UK,” said Liam Kelly of County Supplies at the Market. “Currently it’s mainly imported from Spain and France, but chefs are increasingly incorporating it into their menus looking to offer something genuinely new and different.”
However, British chefs’ affinity of Asian produce likely will be met with challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact growers and the supply chain.
“Some Asian products that chefs love just aren’t available in the volume they used to be, if at all – and if there is product available, the prices have risen significantly,” said Vernon Mascarenhas of Nature’s Choice Catering and Greengrocers at the Market. “Snake Beans and a lot of the popular Chinese vegetables like Bok Choy and Choy Sum are a good example; you just struggle get them in the UK anymore. One of my customers used to swear by Thai shallots, but even if they are available, they are now as much as £50 a sack, so he’s had to adapt.”
Other constraints – namely the desire to have all fresh produce all of the time – have affected what can be made available to buyers.
“Smaller British growers are increasingly sought after. There is a focus amongst our customers on being super-seasonal, but essentially there’s not enough home grown crops to cater for the demand,” Kelly said. “It’s not year-round, and there’s not as much variety for what the supply chain would like to sell. If something is British, it is that bit more attractive. This has nothing to do with Brexit though, it’s been a trend for a while and it’s linked to a desire to create menus that are eco-friendly, sustainable and biodynamic”.
And so, there is a push to go beyond traditional and even indoor farms to find fresh food, including the beach and the sea.
Stu Gulas of Oui Chef Fruit and Produce says the dark green leaves of Sea Beet – think spinach or chard – and the salty leaves of Sea Purslane are becoming a hit with chefs. Gulas says the long-ignored crabapples are finding their ways into jams and jellies.
One item that is readily available and plentiful are potatoes, here and abroad. The South American Olluco is garnering attention, with its purple-red colour. But the newest creation, potato milk, will get a lot of attention in 2022 as a plant-based alternative to dairy milk. Pure Package on the Market is selling three types: original, barista, and unsweetened.
Pure Package’s Jenny Irvine notes the importance of sustainability to customers as well as a focus on gut health.
“The general public are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about how vital it is to maintain a healthy gut, and this in turn has led to a surge in gut-boosting foods,” she says. “It’s been well documented that consuming 30 plus plant foods in a week is linked to optimal gut-health and digestion, which has seen health-conscious consumers upping their intake of fresh produce”.