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Sharp, tangy tastes are having a moment. At the Cook House restaurant, Newcastle, you’ll find house pickles, beet top kimchi and pickled fennel salad on the menu. At Caravan bar in London’s Bankside, there are homemade kombuchas and drinking vinegars. It’s not just hipsters in the cities who’re puckering up. At the Picnic Fayre deli, in Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, fancy vinegars on tap are selling well. Their range includes blood orange balsamic, fig and date balsamic, raspberry vinegar, and orange, lemon and ginger. While balsamic vinegar is still a top seller, accounting for 55% of Waitrose’s vinegar sales, speciality vinegars sales are up over 10% and cider vinegar 15.9% (Kantar Worldpanel).
WHY IS VINEGAR TRENDY NOW?
We’re acquiring a taste for ‘sour’, fuelled by our continuing appetite for Levantine cuisine. There’s also been a return to traditional crafts such as pickling, fermenting and sourdough bread-making. Fermented foods and vinegar are associated with improved digestion and gut health. Food writers are penning inspirational guides including Angela Clutton’s The Vinegar Cupboard and Harry Rosenblum’s Vinegar Revival. Finally, with the low- and no-alcohol trend, teetotallers are seeking drinks with complexity, health benefits and less sweetness. Enter the shrub – a fruit syrup preserved with vinegar and mixed with water, soda or alcohol to make a tangy cocktail.
I’VE HEARD OF VINEGARS MADE FROM PRIMROSES AND RHUBARB. WHO BUYS THIS WEIRD STUFF?
The main market is adventurous foodies including restaurant chefs. There are fun infusions to play with: from Burren Balsamics’ Beetroot & Cocoa Nib to Yarty Black Garlic Vinegar. Sales of black garlic went up 500% in the nine months to June 2019 based on chefs’ word of mouth alone.
SO SHOULD I SPLASH BLOOD ORANGE BALSAMIC ON MY CHIPS?
Maybe not, but you can drizzle it over Ricotta or prosciutto-wrapped peaches; use it in orange and fennel salad or over fruit salad; sprinkle on spinach and pasta; use it to marinate fish and poultry; or enjoy on vanilla ice cream, chocolate pudding or citrus sorbet. The trick with unusual vinegars is to give customers ideas. The distributor Anthony Rowcliffe, who supplies Picnic Fayre with vinegar, can provide point-of-sale recipes.
TELL ME ABOUT SHRUBS OR DRINKING VINEGARS
Nonsuch have a range of juices and herbs ready-mixed with fizzy water and apple cider vinegar, also neat fruit syrups you dilute yourself. We couldn’t get enough of their intriguing Apple and Cardamom recipe. Shrb (sic) Drinks of Walthamstow have stylishly packaged ‘prohibition sodas’ with handy ring-pull openings. While not everyone will enjoy shrubs with food, non-drinkers are now spoilt for choice and we’ve come a long way since J2O and Britvic orange.
MY CLEAN-EATING CUSTOMERS ASK FOR APPLE CIDER VINEGARS “WITH THE MOTHER”. WHAT DO THEY MEAN?
The mother is a jelly-like cluster of cellulose left in the bottle; it’s where the ascetic bacteria that make vinegar thrive. It’s believed to have probiotic qualities and benefit gut health. The words ‘raw’, ‘unfiltered’ and ‘with the mother’ suggest a well-made vinegar and Willy’s unpasteurised Herefordshire Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is a good example.
HOW CAN WE MAKE THE MOST OF THE SPECIALITY VINEGAR TREND?
We predict this year’s Christmas gift for foodies will be artisan vinegar, so be sure to have enticing displays of bottles alongside vinegar-themed cookbooks. Train staff so everyone knows what to do with obscure variants and keep a crib sheet behind the counter. In summer, cooks use premium vinegars for marinades and salads; extend the season by offering suggestions for winter salads and pickles.
ANY OTHER HOT TIPS?
Have a vinegar of the month with tasters, recipes and made-up dishes. How about chocolate brownies made with Burren’s raspberry balsamic? Offer refills at a small discount. “But don’t allow customers to tap their own or you’ll be paying for wastage,” warns Ashley Woodhouse, manager at Picnic Fayre.
WHOSE VINEGARS SHOULD I STOCK?
If you’re in Kent, how about Mighty Fine Things, who have a triple fruit vinegar gift set including Damson, Raspberry and Apple Spiced. We also like Burren Balsamics’ pack of three infused balsamic vinegars: Blackberry & Thyme, Armagh Bramley Apple and Strawberry & Mint. Outstanding raspberry vinegars include Womersley’s which won three Great Taste Award stars, Yarty and Ballyhoura. You don’t have to buy British. Andy Harris of the Vinegar Shed specialises in small batch wine and cider vinegars, importing many from France including a thyme flowerinfused vinegar made by Cistercian nuns. Trend Watch would love a bottle of his award-winning sushi ginger vinegar.
WILL THE TREND LAST?
Definitely. Vinegar is versatile, healthy and has a long shelf life. Confession. 20 years ago, Trend Watch would not have known what to do with raspberry vinegar. Now we are drizzling it over beetroot, berries, Greek yoghurt, ice cream and experimenting with drinks. It took 15 years for balsamic vinegar to appear on Jo Public’s dinner table, but look at it now. Good cooks have always known that if a dish isn’t coming together, acidity – not just salt – is what is lacking. Vinegar will brighten sales, too.
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