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There are many producers championing their internationally-inspired produce in the UK market, from Korean hot sauces to storecupboard staples, seasonings and beverages – and they all are gaining in popularity thanks to a heady, thoroughly-modern mix of experimentation and twenty-first-century media.
Thanks in part to the visibility shared by the likes of TV chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sabrina Ghayour, tahini is fast becoming a storecupboard staple for food lovers across the UK. Whether people are whipping up a simple lemon and tahini dressing to adorn their vegetables, making their own hummus or baba ghanoush, or baking with it – tahini adds a unique nuttiness to cakes and biscuits – it is a favourite ingredient for many consumers in the know.
Enter Biladi Foods, producer of authentically Lebanese sweet and savoury spreads boasting delicious ingredients and unique flavour combinations. On a mission to help bring Lebanese and Middle Eastern recipes to British consumers’ homes, co-founders Abbas Zein and Khodor Faraz are proud to tell the cuisine’s story.
“Sitting on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, Lebanon has been a crossroads and meeting-point of cultures and flavours since the days of the Roman empire,” they explain. “It brings together fresh ingredients, spices and flavours, and is based around small ‘mezze’ dishes, which encourage sociability and sharing.
“Lebanese and middle-eastern food is essentially the Mediterranean diet, but with more flavour. It’s becoming increasingly popular with restaurant goers up and down the country.”
Representative of healthy and vegan food – both key players in today’s fine food market – the Great Taste Award-winning range currently covers four versatile tahini products (Tahini, Chocolate Tahini, Carob Tahini and Grape Tahini), Zaatar & Olive Oil and Spicy Zaatar and Olive Oil – both blends of aromatic thyme, sumac and toasted sesame seeds in olive oil, with the spicy variant also showcasing paprika.
“There’s currently only a handful of Lebanese or middle-eastern food brands in UK supermarkets, and none, as yet, really ‘owns’ the market,” continue Abbas and Khodor. “We want our target audience to think of Biladi Foods when they consider exciting Lebanese food. Biladi is the gateway to a whole new world of middle-eastern flavour.”
One international cuisine which has not yet enjoyed the media focus currently shining on some other world foods is African – which is not to say that intrepid foodies are not seeking it out. “Africa is the final frontier of food, and foodies are always seeking out new and interesting flavours,” begins Maria Bradford, chef and founder of retail brand Shwen Shwen who was brought up and learned to cook in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
“I think that British people have always been adventurous in their food choices but I’m pleased to see a recent greater interest in African ingredients and dishes.” Education undoubtedly has a role to play. “I think there’s a real lack of awareness of what African food is, and definitely Sierra Leonean food would be a small niche within that,” she continues.
“One of my primary drivers is to connect people through food and share our culture so I see breaking down barriers and raising awareness as all part of it. I think retailers could be a little more open-minded; I’ve certainly got some ideas on new products and dishes.”
One of Shwen Shwen’s most popular products is Salone Fire chilli sauce, which feeds into the UK’s appetite for adding heat to dishes either within the cooking process or as a condiment. “I have repeat customers who say that they can’t eat their meals without a spoonful of my Salone Fire!”
Equally popular are the brand’s traditional juices, which really pack a flavour punch with ingredients like hibiscus, tamarind, and ginger. “I regularly serve these at events either as a non-alcoholic drink or topped up with prosecco for a special drink,” Maria says. “The reception has always been very positive, and many comment on the intensity of the flavours.”
With a myriad of international flavours ripe for indulging in – from all around the world – 2023 is truly an exciting time to be an outward-looking foodie.