BBC BLOGS - Mark Mardell's Euroblog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Give me flavour

Mark Mardell | 03:50 UK time, Thursday, 2 August 2007

Epiphany came in the shape of a lemon. A mere quarter of a lemon, actually, squeezed in a lentil soup in the town of Cizre, in south-eastern Turkey. And perhaps it was more of a return to faith, than simple revelation.

lemons_203.jpgJust a spoonful of the soup and I could taste the lemon entire, not only the tangy juice but the pith and skin too. Perhaps just the hint of pip. It was like the moment that your months-old cold vanishes, your nose is clear, and you finally taste food again, having almost forgotten what the fuss was about.

I usually steer clear of writing about food, partly because I wouldn’t stop, and partly because it would attract jibes about being a greedy fat pig, which I am. But the holidays are upon us, or upon me at any rate, and perhaps it is time for me to indulge myself, on line as well as at dinner.

Turkish food is a revelation. In theory, it’s very similar to what you find in much of the Balkans, Middle East, and Greece: white crumbly cheeses, olives, lots of vegetables, dips, grilled meat. But it is done with a sprightliness and panache that is often sadly missing from the burnt and gristly offerings from some of those other countries.

Take the meal we had in Diyarbakir, in a crowded restaurant just by the airport, as the fighter jets roared overhead (we counted seven). The groups of diners were mixed, some all men, others couples or families. As far as I could see, they were all Turkish, no Western tourists. Service was at breakneck speed. Small boys ran everywhere, delivering cutlery with the speed and flair of circus knife throwers, hurling baskets of steaming bread in the middle of the table, dealing out plates like cards. Their older brothers and fathers proceeded at a slightly more sedate pace, but were still lightning fast, juggling salads and steaming meats.

Pomegranate sauce

It was the best meal I have had all year, so far. And the second best was had sitting uncomfortably low on tiny stool at a kebab place the night before. Diced tomatoes and cucumber in a pomegranate sauce. Watercress in yoghurt, smoky aubergine puree. A tangy lamb stew. Juicy kebabs. Flaky, puffed-up balloons of sesame-sprinkled bread. Like the Platonic lemon of Cizre they all tasted complex, full not just of flavour, but of flavours.

veg_203.jpg“Fresh and simple,” must be among the words most overused by food writers, but it is one of the keys to Turkish cooking. That restaurant undoubtedly had skilled staff who knew what they were doing. But they had the incalculable advantage of rather wonderful raw produce.

It reminded me of a recent conversation with an Estonian colleague, who has only been living in Brussels for a few months. How did she find it? She said sadly she couldn’t get used to the Belgian food. As Brussels boasts some top-end restaurants and Belgians generally eat rather well, I raised my eyebrows. It was the potatoes, she said. You just couldn’t get potatoes like at home. Belgian potatoes were not a patch on Estonian ones.

As my friend is rather elegant and sophisticated, I had a few days’ fun mocking her for adhering to the Central European adoration of the potato. But she probably has a point. Where are those potatoes of yesteryear, the ones my dad dug from the garden, still tasting of the earth? Or those roadside melons and peaches of childhood holidays in the south of France - the first time I realised that food could taste that good. The answer is perhaps to grow your own, but I neither have the time, nor, I fear, the required colour of fingers.

When I first came to Belgium, one of the things that thrilled me most was to be able to shop regularly in a market. I still love it. I much prefer bustling though a square, seeking out the right stall, queuing in the open air, than wheeling my “chariot” round the aisles, pointing at what I want. But I have to admit that the quality isn’t that fantastic and it’s more expensive than the supermarket. I was recently banned from doing the shopping for paying a ridiculous amount for a free-range chicken at the meat stall, which didn’t taste a great deal better than the shop version.

Tiny artichokes

When I’ve been to Bulgaria and Romania, people say they fear joining the EU will mean the loss of their fresh food, as new rules begin to bite. But it is one of the oldest members, Italy, that I would say has best sustained its flavourful fruit and veg. Perhaps the third best meal of the year was in a Rome restaurant, with its range of antipasti, lightly cooked spinach with olive oil, tiny artichokes, and that curly vegetable which I can never remember the name of (you keep it in water and serve with an anchovy sauce).

melons_pa_203.jpgIf there is a loss in flavour, who is to blame? Us, for not shopping carefully enough? The European Union and standardisation? Or the demands of the supermarkets for stuff that looks bright and shiny? Or big farms with standardised production? I don’t know, and would be interested in your comments. Am I not right in thinking it took years of breeding and selection to get a tomato to taste even better than the yellowish “plump thing with a navel” that grew in the wild in Peru? So when did human husbandry take the wrong turn and reduce, not increase flavour?

Not just answers to these questions but any food stories from over the summer would be welcome.

Oh, a hint of mystery and exoticism is always welcome in food. So it was fitting we finished that Turkish meal with a coffee flavoured with a spice that I can’t place. It wasn’t cardamom, and I’ve now forgotten the Turkish name... was it Mel... or Mal-something? When I looked it up it just gave me the name of a berry I hadn’t heard of either. It gave the coffee a buttery, almost chocolate-y texture and a very faint mellow flavour, a bit like cinnamon turned down several notches. Well, I’m off to pack. Have a wonderful and flavoursome summer. I will be back in September.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 04:18 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • HKLivingston wrote:

Thank you very much, Mr Mardell, for the article--one could actually picture the colours and imagine the flavours described, without use of pretentious words food writers habitually flash.

May you have an enjoyable, restful and safe summer holiday.

I know where I'll be having my next one--in the food-heaven places you described.

  • 2.
  • At 04:27 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • lavinia moore wrote:

I love food and i love cooking.cooking that is with fresh food that tastes good. because if the ingredients dont have flavour, then the finished meal will not aither; at least not the flavour I am looking for.
I get told that the reason we have tasteless tomatoes for example is that they have to gow the type that will "travel" well.
I grow my own, and they travel extremely well:from my vegetable l-plot to my kitchen.
then there are the potatoes that seem to be filled with watery flesh, again with no flavour. No-one has told me why that is necessary.
And i could go on.
I rented a house in italy for a while and it was wonderful to have vegetables and fish etc that was fresh and wonderfully tasty.
Growing local may be the only way to solve the problem. eliminating long distance transporting would obviate the need for the goods to "travel well', and therfore the need for plastic-hard skins and fruit picked unripe that goes rotten before it ripens and that lacks the natural sugars which give all good fruit the flavours we all love.
p.S. ecen city bound food lovers can grow lots in pots.
try it and taste the difference-but not hydroponically.
Fruit needs soil to get good flavours.

Must go.
this weekend i am preparing my vegetable garden for the summer plantings. Its a couple of months before that happens, but tending the soil means that i stand a chance of getting another wonderful harvest this summer!
Bon appetite.
Lavinia moore

  • 3.
  • At 04:32 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Gretchen wrote:

What is the name of the spice the author is explaining in regards to the Turkish coffee? It sounds delicious--I'd love to try it. Interesting blog... it made me imagine I was at those places he visited.

"So when did human husbandry take the wrong turn and reduce, not increase flavour?"

There are two things that Big Agribusiness is encouraged to breed food for: "looking good on the shelf" (which often means "bigger", about which more in a minute) and lifetime. As food (both plant and animal) is increasingly grown far away from where it is consumed, and with almost no food being "seasonal" anymore, it's of top importance that any given food product be able to keep in a more or less fresh condition for a very long time. And as for bigger, "better" vegetables? Not usually. Although it looks like you're getting more for your money with a larger tomato, the size is largely from water and other non-flavourful content—meaning the flavour is weaker than a smaller, more conventional tomato, sometimes downright insipid.

The good news is, people are noticing, and being aware of the problem is the big first step to fighting it. As more people buy organic and family-farmed food because it tastes better, you can bet the big agribusinesses will start working on breeding food for taste as well as volume!

  • 5.
  • At 04:40 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • gisela mcdonald wrote:

I believe the main reason that fruit and vegetables have become truly tasteless is that they are being 'bred' primarily for l. transportation, 2. shelf life, and 3. appearance. Personally, I have not been able to find a good potatoe here in Canada either for at least five year; and the strawberries imported from California do taste like sawdust.

What worries me is that children will get used to eating such poor-tasting fruit and vegetable and conclude that this is the normal taste. It is especially worrysome as the nutritional value has also suffered.

I do not have a solution, but will be watching for comments.

  • 6.
  • At 04:43 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • graham reinders wrote:

Vancouver, Canada.

"Looks like heaven, tastes like hell",
this is the mantra of all who now have to eat Californian fruit and vegetables.

The reason? Profits for the corporate investors.

Our local fruit industry of quite good tasting fruits was displaced by "Bigger, Better, and Cheaper" fruit that tasted like helll.

"Just in Time" inventories needs fruit and veg that can be stored and shipped at specific times no matter what.The logistics calls for cast iron skins and shapes.

We the people are totally at the mercy of the advertisers, the shippers, and the supermarkets. They stock what makes a profit and we either buy it or go without.

It is actually a no brainer.

Graham

  • 7.
  • At 04:44 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Afzal wrote:

A very interesting read. In my opinion, the case for the loss of flavor is understated. Here in NJ, US, I have combed farms near and far (certified organic onces too) but it is rare to find the flavor of old.

In truth, I write not to carp over the lack of flavor in fruits and vegetables today but to comment that the US Dept of Agriculture has recently allowed for the import of mangoes from India. They arrive secretly at local Indian grocery stores and sell out in minutes. Not as orgasmic as the ones picked for me by my great uncle from his orchard on the banks of the ganges, but the taste, ah, the taste!

Y'all find some good eatin' and share their whereabouts, y'hear?

  • 8.
  • At 05:00 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Louis Whitley wrote:

How lucky you are to have any access to living food at all. It has long been gone from the United States, even at most farmer's markets. Hopefully there will be effective resistance to the EU's dead-handed rule making.

  • 9.
  • At 05:21 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Wayne Blakeley wrote:

I have read your comments about the loss of flavor in food. The only reason the American food is so bad is the mineral content and the way they process the food. They pick all veggies and fruit too soon. To get the flavor out of the crop one must pick it when the plant has rippened it naturally, other than that you are eating a toxic fruit or veggie. The plant places toxin in its flesh to ward off bugs to protect the finished product, this is nature. When the fruit rippens the fruit or veggie inputs a nutralizer to remove the toxin. It is that simple, but we have lost this simple knowledge. To get the best out of your food, grow it yourself and enjoy a tasty delight.
Wayne Blakeley KCMO

  • 10.
  • At 05:22 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Carol wrote:

Maybe you should write about food and go on holiday more often: I really enjoyed this article.

In Brussels, can you get the brown tomatoes called Kumatos? (You can in Lille). They have more flavour than average. Pigeon-heart tomatoes (bout the size of a cherry but heart shaped) are also not bad...

Happy holidays.

  • 11.
  • At 05:28 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Industrial fruit and veg. production relies on chemical fertilizers that tend to force the growth of big, watery, flavourless produce. For great flavour go organic, or use your own compost from kitchen peelings and grow your own.

  • 12.
  • At 05:29 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kiran wrote:

I konw exactly what you are talking about! Talk about missing the sights and smells!
I have recently migrated to Canada and the first thing that shocked me is the utter lack of the familiar scents and flavours of fruits and vegetables. I compare eating them to chewing plastic. There should be more to a meal than to be visually pleasing. The most heart breaking moment was the realization that even mint leaves smell like grass. Who could have imagined that flowers could have no scent??? Back home, you can smell a flower shop from a mile, and I am not exaggerating.

  • 13.
  • At 05:31 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • John Holt wrote:

I blame the Dutch, who seem to have perfected the science of making veg tasteless. Their tomatoes and salad veg may look perfectly formed, glossy and appealing, but actually, taste of nothing. Because of my work I'm able to compare the flavours of the Dutch produce available in our local supermarkets with fresh produce on offer in Turkey and central asian markets. I'm happy to be reminded on these trips, what real food, grown in the earth food, tastes like.

John, Dubai

  • 14.
  • At 05:46 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • James wrote:

I think it depends on the particular produce and the location. I live in the German state of Hesse where Spargel (asparagus for those of you who don't know, usually white rather than green) is king. The spargel there is truely fantastic and unlike anywhere else I have ever been. That said some of the regions other produce is rather unexceptional. If the local population has a fetish for it expect it to good; if they don't then it's probably being grown for mass consumption and quantity takes precedence over quality.

The fruit and vegetables we buy from the local supermarkets in Confolens, France, taste much better than those we bought from the local supermarkets in Harrogate, England. Why?

  • 16.
  • At 05:53 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Gus wrote:

Blame the supermarkets and their grip on primary production in Europe and elsewhere. Buying policies dictated by executives who value low price, appearance and uniformity in product over taste and nutritional value.

  • 17.
  • At 05:54 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Maria Amadei Ashot wrote:

Ah, Mr Mardell: food is the most interesting subject of all, isn't it? It becomes who we are, after all. Who our friends and our children are. There's a reason why food has sacramental significance: it is the great unifier, the sine qua non. It is magical: plants grow out of nothing, really. The food you describe as "Turkish" -- not to offend anyone -- is the traditional cooking of the Armenians. When the Turks took over those lands, in the days before refrigeration and lorry, they counted on the newly enslaved locals to cook for them... And so much of what we call "Turkish" cuisine is just ancient Armenian tradition. Disbelieve me? Find a reasonably affluent Armenian family (they're everywhere) and join them for a wedding or major event. All the food you describe will be served up, exactly as you have described it... Then fly to Erevan, right there. Sample the food. Then just a couple of hours away, Georgia. Sample their food. All pretty much what you describe here: and what I discovered for myself, multicultural California foodie that I am, after I married an Armenian who cooks like a god. As to why the food tastes awful now, in most parts: you can thank the same forces that have given us global warming. Methyl bromide in the strawberry fields. Carbon dioxide emissions from the lorries hauling the tomatoes. Refrigeration. Toxins from emissions saturating the air, soil, water -- compounded by pesticides that even if they have been banned in some parts of Europe, nonetheless circulate on the air currents & water currents that circumambulate the planet -- and you are asking your greens to grow essentially in a hothouse filled with noxious fumes... And your farm animals are eating those greens. In the better cases, they are living off the land, so whatever the land has to its credit will go into the animal. In the average, American case (for example) the animals are being fed mixtures of all kinds of awful ground-up concoctions... Foul-smelling mush. I noticed when I visited the UK that your farm animals don't smell, or at least not nearly the way they stink in the US... You care for them more gently, more thoughtfully, and feed them (on the whole) a better diet. My personal opinion is that if we can reverse global warming, fend off climate degradation through more sensible management of resources and by becoming a little less self-indulgent with consumption, then we will also regain, as a side effect, the delicious flavours and aromas that I still remember from my early childhood in Argentina, when I last had peaches worthy of their reputation. Finding a decent tomato or cucumber today (even in California) calls for a major expedition, and a thick wallet. Enjoy your holiday & eat well!

  • 18.
  • At 06:03 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Alan Hewat wrote:

Blame it on Brussels? Nonsense. I lived in Oxford before '73 and the food was terrible - bread-filled sausages, stale fruit and vegetables, pathetic cooking... I have lived in France since, and also in Australia and the US. Food and cooking in Europe and Australia are far superior to that in the UK and US, though UK food has much improved since '73. Blame it on customers in large national markets who prefer unblemished regular fruit, picked green to reduce loss. Yes, you really have to grow your own, or live in a village that does not depend on mass distribution.

  • 19.
  • At 06:05 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Roberto Don wrote:

the curly vegetable, you had in Rome, are called PUNTARELLE.....
I am now living in Indonesia, but believe me, puntarelle are the first thing when I get back to my city - Rome !!!

  • 20.
  • At 06:09 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Keith Wardill wrote:

You got this right, Mark. I worked in Turkey for a couple of years, in the 1980s, and still miss the wonderful fruit and vegetables (and service) that was available.

I can still remember sweet strawberries, apples that tasted like apples and lettuce-flavoured lettuce - unlike the sour and tasteless standard bio-engineered, chemically-treated things imposed on us by a 'civilised' Europe.

  • 21.
  • At 06:15 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Nancy wrote:

I had decided the taste of food had diminished due to my aging, though I am still in my 40's, until I purchased an organic grown peach. The flavor was so intense childhood memories flooded my thoughts recalling my father bringing a case of peaches home each year. Living in Minnesota these peaches were hovered over to assure not a one spoiled.

Later that year I was diagnosed with Celiac disease and to avoid poultry injected with broth I purchased free range chicken. Again childhood memories returned of the homemade chicken noodle soup and fried chicken my mother made using the chickens from our Uncle's farm.

We turned the corner when cost, appearance and shelf life took priority over flavor.

  • 22.
  • At 06:19 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • D. Fear wrote:

Nice to see Mr Mardell concerned with something less dramatic than usual - or is it less dramatic? No, it is very dramatic indeed. One part of the problem consists of EU rules - but the other part consists of supermarkets, large-scale farming, and how the rules are applied. Tasteless veg, humdrum meat - all familiar! I do not buy tomatoes very much any more: they have no flavour and are not worth the money. I avoid paprika unless I can smell aroma - a very rare experience. The fresh vegs on offer are a disgrace, and that, I am sure, is down to the producers and the distributors, and, in the end, the consumer. It is a vicious circle. Can we, the consumers, change all that?

  • 23.
  • At 06:22 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Andrew Simpson wrote:

I agree with the lack of flavour from vegetables now, I think it has to do with the intensive farming techniques employed coupled with the fact that there is no seasonal food anymore, produce that is out of season is just imported from the other side of the world and then treated to keep it looking fresh.
I moved to Tasmania and the difference in flavour of the locally produced food we have here, and the mass produced stuff supplied by the big supermarkets in the UK is huge.

  • 24.
  • At 06:31 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Rimu wrote:

My guess would be that the cause is years of relying on chemical fertilisers to make plants to grow, regardless of the underlying deadness of the soil.

Modern agriculture treats the soil like an inert sponge, and dumps chemicals on it to make plants grow.

In natural ecosystems, the soil doesn't need fertiliser, all the nutrients in the soil come from decaying other plants.

So in countries that have not been using modern methods of agriculture for long (eg turkey) or as aggressively, the food tastes better, and is better for you.

You are absolutely right in perceiving a gradual diminution of flavor in produce over the decades. When was the last time you had a really good strawberry? Was up in Tahoe last week and was served a salad every ingredient of which tasted as though they had been passed through a de-flavorizer. Couldn't tell a beet from an onion. Why? Who demands flavorless produce? I don't understand.

  • 26.
  • At 06:45 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • mike wrote:

I couldn't agree more. I've never had a bad (tasteless) meal in Turkey ( or for that matter in the Lebanon) but unfortunately a lot of restaurant/home meals in Europe in Europe can be disappointing.Is it the "factory" produced vegetables?. Have you ever tried to SMELL factory glasshouse produced aubergines, zucchini, tomatoes,pepperoni, herbs and flowers from the Low Countries and elsewhere? They only LOOK different! Yes, the supermarkets are partly to blame as they require delivery of what is clearly unripe produce to ensure a longer shelf life. But let's face it, the consumer buyers aren't any better!. As for the lemons, for shelf life reasons they are sprayed with wax - which kills the aroma! Going organic doesn't improve matters either. Home grown / locally grown and bought is by far the best!

  • 27.
  • At 06:46 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Bushnell wrote:

How right you are. Fruit smells wonderful when it´s ripe. Gas ripened armoured balls of color are what we should never buy as good consumers. Trust your nose.

  • 28.
  • At 06:46 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ceza Kassem wrote:

I really enjoyed your blog on the food and it made want to go to Turkey!
Your comments on the coffee are very precise.

We also in Egypt perfume our "turkish" coffee with various spices. Cardamon is one of them and the other that you are looking for is probably nutmeg. We also add mastic, roseleaves and laurel leaves. All this is mixed with the coffee beans after ther are roasted to one's taste ( I like them very dark) and then they are ground together with the spices.

In old times one ground just the needed quantity of coffee to make a cup or two to have the full flavour of the coffee fresh... The good old days?

  • 29.
  • At 06:54 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Hithum wrote:

At last, there is someone out there who feels and thinks as I do. For Years now, I have been crying Foul about these Great Looking Fruits & Vegetables that are on offer at our Markets. Like poor Mr Mardell, who had to go months if not years, before tasting a REAL LEMON again. I too, have been suffering greatly. Even though I live in California, with it's huge fertile Central Valley, I long for the taste of a good Tomatoe. When I eat a Bannana, I make believe and try to recall how those Bannanas of my Youth tasted like. Because even though these things look like a Bannana, walk and talk like a Bannana, they sure don't tatse like one. And the same goes for the Tomatoes, Potatoes, and almost any other Fruit or Vegetable you can think of.
I feel sorry for the children and all future Generations, who may never get to know the Real tatse and flavor of a Real Lemon.

  • 30.
  • At 07:02 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sean wrote:

Yes, I have been wowed by Turkish food also. And you should try the Turkish grocers in Brussels, they at least make a credible effort.

As an economist, I think the answer to your question lies in information asymmetry and search costs. You can't always tell by looking at the thing what it tastes like or how fresh or ripe it is, so people will not pay a premium for those properties, whilst they do have an extra cost, and so they do not get delivered to the market. Whilst you can find this kind of produce, you also need to go out of your way for it and so forego economies of scope (one-stop-shopping). Few of us have time for that, except on rare occasions.

What is needed is a credible quality certification.

But there is also a question of social learning and unlearning - the culture of food and the knowledge of how to prepare and present it. You are wrong that Belgian food is great, it isn't, most people eat very badly here and that has been going on for generations - since the industrial revolution, most likely. It is practically impossible to find simple and fresh food in restaurants. And since people have no idea what to do with the curly vegetable or even that it exists at all, why would they buy it?

Lastly, I'm sure that the CAP distorts markets by subsidizing intensive farming on a basis unrelated to quality, but grateful not to be an expert in that. I'm sure someone else will fill you in!

  • 31.
  • At 07:06 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

For me the cause of taseless fruit and veg is the desire to have mass produced good looking produce in the supermarkets. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 4 years where most of the fruit and veg was manufactured in great quantities in an artificial environment given the terrain and temperatures in that country. It was sold in huge supermarkets in the major cities. I now live in Albania where the climate and terrain are perfect for fruit and veg and where produce is grown on thousands of smallholdings and sold at market stalls or on the side of the road. The difference in taste is amazing.

I've lived in Indonesia for 11 years. At the start I had the impression that the fruit and veg did not taste as good as that back home in Northern Ireland. My reasoning was that things grow too quickly in the tropical climate before they have time to develop flavours properly.

Over the last few years my parents have been coming to visit me. Every time they remark about how good basic things taste here. Tomatoes taste good, not like those mass produced tomatoes from Holland or Spain. Also eggs, and the yolk actually is the colour that egg yolk is supposed to be.

The chickens are a bit on the small side compared to those in the UK, but then maybe they haven't been force-fed with food or other things that chickens are not supposed to eat. In my case if I want a chicken I can always buy one from one of my neighbours who have lots of them running around in the street in front of our house. This, despite the goverment's attempt at a mass cull to avoid the spread of avian flu!

The only problem here is that all the spicy chillis dampen the taste buds a bit so that there is less of a taste of food with more subtle flavours. But at least that's reversible: just stay away from the chillis for a few days. If however food tastes less because it's been mass produced and engineered, genetically or otherwise, to maximise yields, then that's a bit more difficult to reverse.

Ciaran Harron
Jakarta.

  • 33.
  • At 07:17 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Nik wrote:

I think that, as usual, a combination of things is to blame. By and large we are discriminating shoppers - its just that most of us tend to look for value and give our produce, at most, a cursory visual inspection. That means the largest, brightest things at the lowest prices. Supermarkets know this and, especially these days, are able to chose from a wide range of growers the produce that fits the bill.
Say a farmer can grow a fixed number of tomatoes - it makes most sense for him to grow the variety which weighs the most per tomato, is hardy enough to not get visual blemishes when shipped, will be in season for a long time, and will keep from spoiling as long as possible after being harvested.
To gain all of these qualities (which we desire for convenience or visual satisfaction) some must be sacrificed. Strawberries hardy enough to withstand a month of shipping and store shelves are quite different from those I ate growing up in Ukraine. Those went bad quick, were destroyed easily, and, perhaps most important, were, at best, half the size of those I see in America. But if there was a bowl of strawberries anywhere in the appartment - you could smell it. I would bet, like wild berries, they also had more vitamins.
Perhaps a solution, for those who can afford it, is to learn when the seasons for individual crops are and buy them when they are in season, and grown locally. Heck, I would bet that if enough people adjusted their habits to select not the cheapest and prettiest produce but the produce that smells like it is supposed to (sounds easy, but finding a peach that smells the part from even a foot away is by no means a sure thing even in the summers) the industries would adjust and we would once again be able to tell fruits apart by more than their look and texture.

  • 34.
  • At 07:21 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • fleisch wrote:

Cardamom (hayl) is the spice in Turkish coffee. All sources on Turkish coffee, including the sites based in Turkey, never mention any other spice. As noted in the discussion below, it may be the freshness of the spice or the method of preparation that led to your not recognizing it.

https://www.chowhound.com/topics/423586

  • 35.
  • At 07:21 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Adam Reeve wrote:

There is a flip-side to your tale.

As a child, I found the taste of nearly all vegetables and many fruits really quite revolting. As an adult, I still find it hard to stomach sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, peas, almost anything green, etc.

Or, still found it hard until the beginning of this year, when I moved house and now live around the corner from a huge Tesco. Their vegetables taste of so little, I can eat almost any in any quantity - including their sprouts. I love the new opportunity for health this supermarkets complete lack of taste has afforded me: I have lost over four inches from my waist line.

  • 36.
  • At 07:23 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Carey McIntosh wrote:

How timely of you to write about this as I have recently been enjoying the most wonderful nectarines in Sarajevo and Prishtina. We used to live in Rwanda and I fantasized about feeding my daughter "northern" fruit while on holiday in the UK and was bitterly disappointed (so to speak). I think that we as consumers are at least partly to blame because we accept fruit & veg that tastes terrible just to have it year round, and we buy fruit in plastic, which shows that we care more about appearance than taste.

Coming from Serbia and spending last couple of years in Sweden, I can only say that I can hardly wait for the end of October and my return to Belgrade where you're still able to buy real food. I am rather sick of eating plastics :(

  • 38.
  • At 07:38 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Mustafa wrote:

I am a Turk studying in the United States for the last 5 years as a PhD student.

I truly, madly and deeply understand your taste (and craving) regarding the authentic vegetables, and fruit.

Everything I eat here in the U.S., is plastic. The apples look like apples, peaches look like peaches etc. But not even the organically grown ones comes close to the "real-true-authentic" taste of the fruit. All my friends here agree with me. The groceries are full of fruit looking rubber.
I miss Turkish stuff sooooo much!
You are sooo lucky!

  • 39.
  • At 07:38 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Charity wrote:

I quite agree about finding lackluster food options. In my travels I have tasted delicious Turkish and Middle-eastern fair which sadly is hard to come by in my neck of the woods (Western US). Prior to the Czech Republic joining the EU, I enjoyed a savoury traditonal stew type meal with dumplings, however the stew was never as good after the change in kitchen laws- nothing can sit for too long, and though I understand the healthful intentions of the laws, any good cook knows that a soup or stew must do just that- stew in order to maximize its flavor.

  • 40.
  • At 07:39 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Pearce wrote:

Just a guess...

I think your mystery spice might be mahlep. It is made from the seeds of a type of black cherry that that grows all around the Mediterranean region. It is used a lot in baked goods, and it sounds like a great accent to Turkish coffee. It has a mild sweet almond-like flavor with just a little bitterness which I love in breads and pastries when I can get it.

It is also used in wines and liquors, and the leaves make a tea that's supposed to relieve nausea.

  • 41.
  • At 07:40 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sogon wrote:

this is an issue I've wondered about for a while, I can tell you that the best explanation I've heard is that flavor does not grow with the size of the produce.

So a small tomato which is allowed to grow normally (slowly) will have an amount of flavor which I'll refer to as 1 unit. If we use lots of fertilizer and water we can double the size of the tomato, however we still only have 1 unit of flavor. It is also possible that there is less than 1 unit because rather than taking nutrients from the ground (natural) they are taking synthetic fertilizer nutrients which don't provide flavor.

There is good produce to be had, most organic produce has a much stronger flavor than non-organic counterparts. My recommendation is to look at the origin of the produce, whether it be Spain or Israel or Africa, the flavor can be wildy different depending on the source.

The way vegetables need to look in the supermarket is part of the problem however the rate of food production is much more of the driving force.

  • 42.
  • At 07:49 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Penny Ewles-Bergeron wrote:

I live in Naples, Italy. As a child in the UK never ate a raw tomato as they were never tempting. But the 'pomodorini' grown around Vesuvius won me over - they look beautiful and taste sublime. I could eat a salad of these with basil and mozzarella every day if I wanted to balloon on the cheese! Produce here tastes very good indeed. However, Neapolitans are conservative in their repertoire of foods so that I do miss the enormous range of foods of other ethnicities that are on offer in the UK. Care packages of spice arrive from home and the right ingredients to make houmous. Enjoy the Turkish cuisine - it sounds wonderful.

  • 43.
  • At 07:50 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Roland wrote:

I recently holidayed in Croatia with my wife. Driving down most any road in Istria we frequently encountered farm stalls selling fresh fruit and veges.

I couldn't believe how good it all was. The grapes were bursting with sweet, flowery flavours and the nectarines, peaches and apricots (fruit that I assiduously avoid in the supermarkets of Britain!) were astonishingly delicious, big and juicy. The cost was, of course, a fraction of what we'd pay in the UK.

  • 44.
  • At 07:58 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ahmed Al-Azzawi wrote:

I totally agree with this.... a couple of months ago I bought some strawberries in Athens from a street stall. The taste was absolutely amazing. Yet you go to a supermarket, the look of the strawberries may be great but they have no taste.
The problem is that we now expect fruits and vegetables all year round, when in fact they should have seasons. I remember how I used to look forward to the plum season when I was a kid... now you just go to the supermarket and buy plums all year round, the problem is they taste just like the apples and peaches and strawberries, totally tasteless.

  • 45.
  • At 08:07 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Patricai whittlesey wrote:

Mark
You are right so very right PLEASE head up a protest.... my view is the supermarkets have forced the uniformity of tasteless fruit and veggies on us and then they tell us we don't like to buy unless it is all clean and the same size it simply is not true. We have a generation of children (nearly 2 now) who do not know what fresh means in terms of taste.
We should do as the French and take no notice of EU rules just go to their markets where are the HSE police? Time to take stock.
Pat

  • 46.
  • At 08:13 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • ben wrote:

Part of the problem in urban society may be that we seem to prefer food that looks good and tastes of nothing, than food that looks imperfect but which comes from untainted soil. In the UK we follow our celebrity TV chefs whose work can neither be smelled nor tasted and follow the word 'organic' as if it were some designer label but we have come to learn that the essential 'tastiness' of food is the last thing to be considered at point of purchase.

I remember when I moved to SW France 6 years ago smelling strawberries as I passed them in the market. It reminded me of my childhood.

  • 47.
  • At 08:17 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Darwin Godwin wrote:

As an American expat living in Spain, I am in love with the fruits and veggies. When I'm back in the States, I'm reminded that slick packaging is the defining characteristic of our well-travelled produce.

  • 48.
  • At 08:22 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Les Osborne wrote:

My wife and I grow our own fruit and veg and are members of the Heritage seed libuary, what we have found is that what we do grow does not taste anything like what is on offer in shops etc, it tastes far , far better and makes all the hard work very worth while

  • 49.
  • At 08:24 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Iain wrote:

Hello,

I definitely appreciate what you are saying. I lived for almost 20 years in France and the food there was excellent and cheap, you could have a good meal in a restaurant if you knew your way around for a few francs or euros.

I now live in Holland, and although it has to be said that their burocracy is definitely a hundred times better organised than France, where you can spend weeks going round in circles to obtain a useless document that is however neccessary for anything you want to do, the food here is, in a word, crap.

Tomatoes taste of water, meat is tasteless too, everything looks good and tastes awful whereas in France things look a bit iffy and taste great.

My ex father in laws' home grown potatoes were wonderful. Probably the thing I miss most about France.

  • 50.
  • At 08:26 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Giacomo Dorigo wrote:

I don't know, in Italy we didn't loose our flavours... for example ice cream, I have eaten it in other European countries but it was without taste, someone told me it is because in countries other than Italy they use dry milk, while we use whole milk... I don't know if it is true.

However there is a problem with oil and this really depends upon EU law: a farmer told me they have been compelled to keep oil inside steel bins instead of the traditional terracotta ones, this is a problem because during the winter the oil in the steel bin freeze over and you risk to loose its flavour.

Anyway Mr.Mark, talking about vegetables, if you come to Venice I advise you to taste tomatoes and artichokes from "Sant'Erasmo", you will not find them in the supermarket, but in the little groceries. I don't know which kind of tiny artichokes you tasted in Rome, because in Italy we have plenty of different regional varieties of any kind of food, but in Venice the tiny artichokes are called "Castraure", and of course the better type are the "Castraure di Sant'Erasmo" to be cooked with a little chopped garlic and parsley inside.
Coming to fish but remaining in the field of artichokes, if you will come to Venice, I advice you to taste the "pasta al salmone e ai fondi di carciofo" usually the pasta used are the spaghetti, but it can be used also different kind of pasta. What is "salmone" I think you can understand, what are "fondi di carciofo"... I don't know how to translate, they are the "heart" of the artichokes more or less. I don't know if this dish is typical of Veneto or it is diffused also in other regions (or maybe other countries)... besides typical fish dishes from Venice are: sarde in saor, schie coa poenta, bacaeà mantecato, bigoi in salsa, and bovoetti (all these names are not Italian names but Venetian ones, obviously) try them when you have time an then tell us what you think!

  • 51.
  • At 08:28 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David B Ward wrote:

Mark!
I have lived here in Germany for the last thirty years, and I have noted what is missing (for the British palate). Potatoes are mushy and good only for "kartoffel salat", cannot find Bird's custard, HP brown sauce, orange marmalade, lemon curd, ginger biscuits, cream crackers, or decent bacon. I choose ciabatta bread where available, I am not impressed with the standardisation of foods to meet bureaucratic centralized cultural blueprints. To obtain good curry ingredients is a challenge (one must find an Indian shop). Dave Ward

  • 52.
  • At 08:32 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • bruce wrote:

Agreed...sadly with the dominance of supermarkets in the UK we are used to year-round uniformity of ingredients. The variety and choice that comes with family suppliers is gone.

It is surprising too how many of us do not know the taste of really fresh things. I have cooked with garlic for many years but did not know the mild, moist taste of freshly picked garlic until I bought some at the side of the road in France.

Similarly buying freshly landed fish is better than what is pre-packaged at the supermarket.

In Cadiz, Spain I was amazed to see that there was a covered market with rows of smallholders selling vegetables, fish and meat. It all looked very good.

  • 53.
  • At 08:32 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Stewart Fergus wrote:

I could not agree more with your despair at the abundance of tasteless fruit and vegetables. I remember 10 years ago visiting Vietnam and being bowled over by the sheer flavour of the fruit. The melons (of all kinds) were particularly wonderful, unlike the heavy lumps of nothing we get in European supermarkets. The strange thing is it brought back a sudden rush of deja vu, as I remembered this was how fruit used to taste when I was a child. That means we can do it if we want to, but maybe not all year round anymore. There are no such things as seasons any more. I always associate strawberries with Wimbledon - my children look at me as though I'm crazy when I say this. They have always had strawberries whenever they want - even for Xmas.

I live in Turkey and can vouch for your comments on Turkish food, especially in the provinces. Now, should I ask for a fee from the Turkish Tourist Board or the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture?

  • 54.
  • At 08:33 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David wrote:

What a wonderful article.. We live in Greece and I've just dropped my wife at the street market in the next town.
When we came to live here, fruit & vegetables tasted like something we remembered from childhood. Even chicken had a rich taste rather than the watered down version we'd unknowingly accepted in the UK.
So My wife buys fresh in season at the street market. Every meal is a feast and the bonus, no colds and no allergies amongst our family.
Off to Turkey next week - can't wait now!

  • 55.
  • At 08:33 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • revdrjc wrote:

Like many others here I could respond very fully and enthusiastically to your comments, but really just wanted to say what a fabulous and engaging piece of prose! Thank you so much. Jeff Cuttell.

  • 56.
  • At 08:34 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Richard Christy wrote:

Mark

Interesting article, thanks - it's clearly time that you joined the Slow Food movement (https://www.slowfood.com/)

Bon appetit!

  • 57.
  • At 08:37 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

My personal relevation was when I started buying an organic box of fruit & veg from a local scheme of farmers co-operative.

The first carrots I had from them were so flavourful! They arrived still covered in dirt from the field and as you peeled them the smell of delicious fresh carrot rose to tempt you - at that moment I realised that no carrots from the supermarket have ever smelt that good!

I agree with others here that supermarket standards have led to this decline in flavour, but ultimately its the consumers who have to take the blame as we accepted the poor standards and kept buying from them. Well, no more! Stand up for flavour and eat well.

  • 58.
  • At 08:37 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tim wrote:

After working in north Spain ,where food is a prioirty and cheap too (7eruos for a 3 course meal at dinner time with table wine) i came home to eating bright flavourless veg and decided to do something about it. i tried farmers markets and although the quality improved exponentialy it still did not hit the spots as the cheaper variety in the Basque reagoin did. it came at a price too.

so i now grow my own. yes i have fruit and veg that is as good as i have tasted anywhere in the world. however i now know the problme....

we, as a species used to eat in season. This is, after all, when fruit and veg is at it's best. we demand all products all year around and this has to come at a price. if we were to all eat what was avilable at that time of year in our own country i am sure half this problem would vanish. however i can't see it happening and even i go and buy the odd cucumber in Nov / Dec as its what i have become accustome too...

i therefore see the problem lies in our demands and not some insane idea that the supermarkets have downgraded our produce !

  • 59.
  • At 08:40 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Terry Skeet wrote:

I was born in the Lincolnshire Fens in 1937 where food was dug up or picked and was on the table the same day. Where has that taste gone?

Terry Skeet, Lincoln UK


  • 60.
  • At 08:41 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tim Port wrote:

Just face up to it - you get what you pay for.

Tasty tomatoes or whatever are available at a price and not everybody can afford it. They don't even have to be organic, free trade etc. If you want tastier fruit & veg get your wallet out and spend your money. Otherwise stop moaning.

  • 61.
  • At 08:41 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

I'm afraid the plastic state of our produce is due to 'mortgages'. People are in hock to their mortgage so they work all the hours God sends. They then don't have time to shop and cook properly and therefore go to supermarkets.
They use supermarkets because they can buy everything in one place and 'save' time.
Supermarkets realise people are 'time poor' and therefore sell things like ready meals.
Supermarkets have to package everything as all their products have to go through their distribution system which helps to save cost. Very little supermarket food is also bought locally and they require consistent looking produce that can travel hundreds of miles without blemish.
So millions of standard, strong but cardboard flavour tomatoes and strawberries etc.
But in the end it's all down to us over extending our finances which means both partners having to work full time (and more) and therefore not having the time to shop and cook properly.
Sadly this trend has become so established that if you tried to shop properly in the UK you'd be hard pressed, because all that's left in many places are supermarkets.

  • 62.
  • At 08:46 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • GraemeSmith wrote:

Thanks very much, you're article put a smile on my face on an otherwise dull thursday morning. I'm a student and i love cooking but i had to learn myself. i have realised that cooking fresh is the best way and i think italian food is the bees knees.

  • 63.
  • At 08:53 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Nix wrote:

Thanks for this article - food writing can be a bit zzz but this was well written and made me determined to finally book that trip to Turkey. I think (and other comments have touched on this) that the reason you find so much good veg in e.g. France and Italy (I'm focussing on Western countries because I don't believe that food travels such long distances in less "developed" countries) is that most if not all consumers place a great importance on food and they simply would not buy poor quality veg. In this country shops can get away with stocking rubbish because it will still sell. Also playing a part is ignorance on some consumers' parts about what's in season (parsnips and apples aren't going to be very good at the moment but presumably are stocked because people buy them). Plus supermarkets store fruit and veg incorrectly (always chilled, often in plastic bags which just makes it rot) probably to try and make it look fresh for longer. And why are bananas always soaking wet? I'm not going to eat the skin so there's no need to wash it.

  • 64.
  • At 08:55 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Rosie Nichols wrote:

British meat, fruit,vegetables and cheese was excellent until post war food shortages led to a Government drive for increased food production. This in turn led to plant breeding for whole field/one harvest crops and the introduction of Landrace pigs for instance and large scale poultry farming. The battle to feed the large urban population was won by supermarkets intent on long shelf life and cheap,uniform,unblemished produce. As a result many small farms had to stop growing potatoes, carrots, salads, fruit etc because they could not compete with agricompanies or importers. Supermarket produce buyers seem to be young men who live on pot noodles, who do not know or care that fruit needs to ripen on the plant or meat needs to age on the carcass.We have bulk supplies of year round inferior products but it is not always the British farmer who is to blame, he only produces what people will buy.

  • 65.
  • At 08:56 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Elizabeth Will wrote:

I agree with what you say. If you read "We Want Real Food" by Graham Harvey -- it will make you really concerned. Too much artifical fertilizer (esp Nitrogen) making plants lush and fast-growing, while not supplying them with the nutrients they, and we, need. Read the bit about where cattle lick bare earth around hedgerows -- land that hasn't been over-plowed due its location -- in the search for nutrients. Remember when slow-growing, seasonal, English strawberries were the best you could buy?

  • 66.
  • At 08:59 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • tim tilden-smith wrote:

I have the luxury of my own vegetable garden and a huge greenhouse.there is no doubt in my mind that my products taste better than a supermarkets. The reasons are simple. Overthe years I know which potatoes are best for roasting,mashing, or salads.I have found a beetroot which tastes better than most other varieties etc. In my greenhouse I grow four varieties of tomato and the real secret as to why mine taste so good is that I pick them when they are naturally ripe. All bought toms have to be picked when the green is turning to yellow then red by the time they reach the shops.They are still hard and have minimal flavour. The same applies to my lemons. They are a variety that are soft skinned when they are ripe so do not travel. they have a wonderful lemon scent and are not as bitter as other varieties. Peaches too, picked warm and ripe from the tree are bursting with flavour.
Hope I have whetted your appetite!!

  • 67.
  • At 09:07 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Maria Allsopp wrote:

I have a 'pet' lemon tree growing in a pot outside my kitchen door and once I got used to descaling and debugging it with soapy water regularly, it produced me the most beautiful, huge lemons with a flavour and keeping qualities unmatched in those I used to buy in shops, not to mention the fabulous smell when one picks the fruit. Home-grown and personally tended is definitely best if one has the time and the facilities. Unfortunately, other than the lemon and varoius herbs, also pot grown, my garden is not suitable for growing produce - too many trees, sandy soil and too little water

  • 68.
  • At 09:09 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tony Nutley wrote:

Mark,

I am an avid reader of political commentary from both yourself and your other BBC colleagues, and my other passion is food and wine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. As I read about the full flavoured food that you had enjoyed I was taken to both Italy and France, my partners parents live in France and we visit them as often as we can, the simple joy of walking around the markets picking up irregular “non-standardised” vegetables is beyond compare. Getting them back to the kitchen and being able to smell the food as I prepare it is fantastic, its so rare in the UK that this so “simple and natural thing” has become one of life’s pleasures that I look forward to every time we visit.

I recently took my parents to Italy and their reaction to the food was so marked out it is worth mentioning to every supermarket in the UK. My mother claimed that the food was “just like it was when she was young” .. that would be a long time ago and in Ireland. My farther decided that the food was so good, and value for money that he went shopping for produce before we headed back to the airport.

It’s a sad truth that we have lost our connection to “real” food, the supermarkets have only responded to what they assumed we want, “perfectly formed amazing looking fruit and vegetables” the trouble is this desire for “better” has now become the very route to large profits and tasteless food that has travelled half way round the world. Recently I was in the local supermarket and they had apples from various locations around the world, oddly non from the UK, how strange.

The good news is that I think the population is beginning to come out of the trance the marketing machine of the supermarkets has had us all in and questions are being asked, terms like “food miles” and “locally sourced” seem to have gained a certain currency. However there is a catch, we have a local farmers market which I get to as often as I can, the produce is real unpackaged and tastes great, but is obviously costs a little more. We the British have become hooked on “low, low even lower” process, the framers have to do what the supermarkets want and so the cycle is there. We need to regain a respect for food and a connection to the land where it comes from, till then we will continue to eat plastic food and dream about the good old days.

I look forward to your next posting on food.

Kind regards

Tony Nutley, Swindon

  • 69.
  • At 09:12 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ahmed wrote:

The 'real' fruits and vegetables are left only in the developing countries. The developed ones now have access to only 'mutant' varieties.

Being a frequent traveller to USA, I always lament the tasteless fruits and odourless flowers one finds there. Back in Pakistan, even if you have just one apple, the whole house smells of apples and the taste is just heavenly. Here in USA, the apples look wonderful from the outside but have no aroma and taste like octopus!!

  • 70.
  • At 09:13 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Cynosarges wrote:

I can only relay the words of a farmer I know well

"The EU has banned many of the best varieties, and the supermarkets will only buy a few of those that remain"

Between regulatory diarrhoea from the EU and desire for pretty pictures from the supermarkets, we are left with good looking tasteless food.

  • 71.
  • At 09:14 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Debbie wrote:

I now live in a small town in the UK, after a lifetime of living in a city. Here I pop around the corner to the local farm and pick my fruit and veg. Dig up my own potatoes, pick my own strawberries. It is seasonal, but you get used to that and rather enjoy it. I am just reliving the true taste of fruit and veg, the taste I remember as a child, when my grandfather had his own plot of land which supplied veg for the family all year round. However, you'd be amazed how few locals use the farm. Most people in this town still buy fruit and veg from the supermarkets. It is the discerning visitors who buy their fruit and veg from the farm.
Shame isn't it? The answer then, if you get the chance, stop using the supermarkets and support your local farm.

  • 72.
  • At 09:16 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

Graham above writes

"We the people are totally at the mercy of the advertisers, the shippers, and the supermarkets. They stock what makes a profit and we either buy it or go without."

Hang on - just who is it who does the buying, that creates the profits? Things are only profitable -- if customers buy them.

Nobody forces you to buy anything. So stop buying what you don't like, and start buying what you do.

  • 73.
  • At 09:17 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jakub Kocmánek wrote:

From Czech perspective I can say European standards have indeed influenced quality of one product - so called "syrečky" - if I'm right the only one type of cheese that originated in the Czech republic. It is salty, smelly, naturally fatfree (just about 1%) and quite delicious with bread. But as EU imposed its sometimes ridiculously rigorous hygiene standards, part of the taste (and smell :) vanished.
So as always with the EU a bit more common sense would be desirable. There are traditional food procedures that might not look super-safe from behind Brussels desk, but that has worked perfectly well for years and years...

  • 74.
  • At 09:17 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • W. Kolkman wrote:

I recently move back from Syria to Holland and totally agree with your observations and experiences.
Is the EU to blame for this? I do not think so, seems to me that we europians consumers prefer our food to look good and be cheap rather than taste good! As consumers lets not underestimate our power and we should be able to indluence this and for instance support the 'slow food' initiative.

Finally, perhaps based on your observations we should support Turkey's entry into the EU, as a good way of improving the quality/taste of our EU fruid/vegies!;)

  • 75.
  • At 09:20 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Igor wrote:

Food nowadays is indeed quite terrible and although it is difficult to pinpoint the reason, I can only say that economic development and taste seem to be linked in some bizzare reverse way. As I child growing up in Yugoslavia, I had the opportunity to taste flavours which have since disappeared, especially in Slovenia and Croatia. Conversly, underdeveloped Serbia and Macedonia still produce marvelous fruit and vegetables, not to mention the meat.

As far as "organic" is concerned, I must agree with Mr. Mardell: it often tastes exactly the same, which leads me to believe it's just an elaborate commercial ploy, targeted at snobby urbanites.

  • 76.
  • At 09:21 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ahmadi wrote:

I had heard before that in most of the industrialized countries they don't have the great diversity and taste of fruit we have here in Iran, which are quite commonly consumed by all classes of people. But I wondered If they were really true or just exaggerations. I hadn't heard it from an European or North American. After all, shouldn't technology help develop "better" fruits?
Now I'm hoping we don't lose this advantage as Iran is beginning an extensive biotech program.

  • 77.
  • At 09:23 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kat Law wrote:

Bravo, how true Mark Mardell's words are. It is only since leaving the UK to live in Poland that I found out just how bland fruit and veg at home had become. It is wonderful to now be somewhere where you can walk to the local shop and find fresh produce that tastes like it should without having to pay a fortune for it. The preoccupation with perfect looks and regulation sizes have long meant no flavour of any description.
There is no doubt that seasonal produce tastes best, blemishes and all.

  • 78.
  • At 09:24 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tim Saunders wrote:

Come and live in New Zealand. Our fresh produce beats anything I tasted in the UK or Europe, and it's cheaper as well. The same applies to our wine. How ironic it is that the French, the guardians of good food, are responsible for making sure our produce no longer reaches your lips.

  • 79.
  • At 09:28 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

This is the first time I have posted to a blog but I had to do it to support your comments about Turkish food. I've been 8 or 9 times and never stop marvelling at the tastes and smells of the food and the cooking. Your blog brought back many happy memories and my mouth even started watering. If our fruit and veg tasted half as good we'd be doing well.

  • 80.
  • At 09:28 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Roger Bingham wrote:

My theory supports most of the above comments and extends comment 44 above.
We all complain about tasteless fruit and veg (and meat is no better), we complain about too many trucks on the roads and carbon emmissions from aircraft; all these things are related.
We should be buying locally produced food developed over many years for the specific soil and climatic conditions. Requiring little transport or storage this reduces both the cost and environmental impact of exotic varieties. We have to accept that some items will not be available during certain months but oh, the pleasure when they are. We have to accept marks on the skins and less-than-perfect shapes. In return we receive real flavour. I fear there is no going back - THEY won't let us; our children may never experience the thrill of the first Jersey Royals with butter or garden peas with a touch of mint. Shame.

  • 81.
  • At 09:29 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kitsune wrote:

It would be worth surveying, how much of the veg/fruit sold in other countries then grown is picked unripe and then ripened artificialy (with ethylene or simmilar). To me it meant, that I can't trust color of peaches north of Pannonia.

  • 82.
  • At 09:32 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Helen wrote:

Thanks Mark, for the wonderful article highlighting an issue that is close to my heart.
The reasons for the dismal taste of our food are in my opinion all to do with economics. Only fast and large growing varieties are grown regardless of the taste. Almost all our fruits and veggies are picked FAR to soon to allow for more travel time. But ripening in a warehouse is just not the same as ripening in the sunshine. I haven't been able to find a properly ripe paprika/tomatoe in de supermarkets for years now. On many farms pigs are now fed a diet of sago (cheap ,but bland) ever since the EU decided that restaurant scraps weren't allowed. Yet if I was a pig I know what I would choose.

Besides that fact that food is getting increasingly more tasteless, I suspect that many of the fast growing plant hybrids and hormone injected meats may possibly have an adverse effect on our metabolisms. Some independant scientific research would be great.

  • 83.
  • At 09:33 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Alan Hall wrote:

Hello Mark - Good blog!. The soil in which the food is grown, the climate and the variety of veg all play their part, not to mention freshness. This year, for the first time in 30 yrs I grew some veg of my own in the back garden -result superb veg just like I remember it when we had to grow our own. Supermarket food in particular is grown primarily for volume and appearance, it just cannot compete. Alan Devon

  • 84.
  • At 09:40 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Victor Compton wrote:

Modern food is tasteless due to using modern nitrogen and other fertilizers in the fields, instead of natural methods such as manuring and crop rotation. This does 2 terrible things to soils. It locks certain minerals and metals into a form that cannot be digested by the plants. This lack of nutrients then makes them very vulnerable to insects and diseases, hence the necessity to douse the plants with pesticides, mold inhibitors, etc.
The second crime is to kill all the earthworms. This stops production of humus and renewal of soil, and water absorption is reduced as worm tunnels are no longer existent.
Of course, breeding for looks and shelf life longevity do not help matters. It should be noted that the nutritional value of artificially fertilized foods can be up to 75% lower than organic foods. You can literally starve to death eating them. This info has been available since I was a hippie in the 1960's.

  • 85.
  • At 09:40 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Brendan Dunphy wrote:

Yes indeed, Dutch agribusiness must take some of the blame for producing the most tasteless fruit & veg in Europe. I have been told that Italian fruit and veg tastes better than its French equivalent (I live near theFrench/Italien border in Nice)because of the high mineral content in the volcanic soil that can be found in Italy. true or False?

  • 86.
  • At 09:41 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Howard Longley wrote:

Dear Mr Mardell,
Thank you for a very interesting article and one that has enormous potential for developing in many directions. The fact is that the quality of food in the UK and Europe and the US is poor and has deteriorated over many years. The reasons are many but when they have all been gathered together they can probably be condensed down into a fairly simple explanation. To take oranges and their derivatives for example. The harvesting seaon in the northern hemisphere is around October in the Southern hemisphere May. So on that basis look in your supermarket where they come from and from October buy from say Spain, Turkey, Moroco etc. from May buy Chile, South African etc. However this has ceased to be fool proof. Hybrids have been developed to increase crops, growing seasons and appearance. The cost is loss of flavour. Not only that but they are harvested before they are ripe and stored in an inert gas atmosphere to prevent ripening and increase shelf life. About two months ago I bought some nectarines from South Africa at Waitrose, they were inedible. They had been stored in an inert environment from one season to the next. Unfortunately Waitrose, whom I have (had) a high regard for gave a legalistic politically correct claptrap explanation along with some further insulting compensatory vouchers totally missing the point that I want oranges that taste like oranges and that I can really enjoy. This principle sadly applies to most foods now. Factory farming and agressive commercialism by corporate business. Organic has little to do with it.

With Kind Regards

Howard Longley

  • 87.
  • At 09:41 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Murray wrote:

Well put Mark! Please pass this article to every politician you meet in the next month!
The flavourless white centred Strawberry, to me the indicator of all that is wrong.

  • 88.
  • At 09:42 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Dimitri wrote:

I agree with some of your views but completely disagree with your portrayal of food in other Meditterenean countries. Coming from Greece means that I can understand what you are saying about real taste of fruit, vegetables and meat but it is misleading to talk about burnt and gristly offerings. I believe that a lot of tourists who visit Greece or other countries in the Med do not understand the culture or philosophy around eating and food in those countries. It is not just about the freshness and taste its also about the places you go to eat, the way you order food and the way you eat food. If yourself were amongst other British tourists who visited the Greek islands at some point in their life and had a warmed up plate of Mousaka then I am afraid that is not a real representation of Greek food. Try going in little villages, trying talking to Greeks about food and asking them about it. Please do not generalise from a few bad examples.

Excellent article Mr Mardell. The best food that I had was on holiday with the family in Brazil. I had fruit there that I have never seen nor heard of anywhere else. The Mangos were just fabulous, not the tasteless rubbish you get in Tescos, and there were all sorts of Papayas. Even the humble banana tasted better. Seafood tastes of the sea, rather than a chemical tank. Even meat, which I simply cannot eat in Europe any more, tasted wonderful. Gone was the faintly metallic taste which puts me off red meat in Europe.

Chicken was stringy in texture but had a deep flavour that I have never got from the watery offerings here in the UK.

I really wonder what it is that we are doing to our food!

On my recent interrail trip, i've travelled through the Central Europe, including the Balcans. I did noticed the more i went east (from Austria) the more tastier was the veggies.
Since i'm Vegan, that obviously was noticible. Back home, in Portugal, i've came to get the habit of you have mentioned: (saturday's) open air market. And everywhere i went in that journey, i couldn't shop anywhere, but at a local, small shop with baskets full of fresh fruit and veggies all around it.
however, the water was awful, and i rejoice much when i finally got home and drank true fountain water.


On a counterpost, i should mention that you didn't mention the loss of nutrients in the supermarkets' products.

Also, the uprising tendency of bio/natural/organic products is an effective way to change the current state. I'm doing it every saturday.

On a final note in response to whom to blame? the consumer, who is demanding it, of course.

  • 91.
  • At 09:48 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Angus Mackenzie wrote:

Having lived in Turkey for 16 years I was delighted to read your thoughts on Turkish food. Of the many attractions of living here, good, healthy and delicously tasty food is certainly one of the main ones.
Its worth noting that eating in Turkey is definately seasonal. Summertime brings wonderful tomatoes which can be eaten like apples they are so tasty; crispy salads which only need a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon or pomagranate juice; grilled fish and rocket salad, the list goes on...
Wintertime sees markets full of broccali, tatties, carrots and other winter veg. Springtime brings artichokes that are a world apart in flavour.
I wont even mention fruit as it simply cannot be compared to anything available in the UK.
Each season brings different tastes to the table because food is grown naturally. We hardly eat tomatoes or other summer veg here in the wintertime as everyone knows that they will have been grown in greenhouses and wont taste of much. Best to wait until the season, and enjoy whats fresh at the time of year, and, wash it all down with a few glasses of icy cold raki and a spicy coffee to finish. Heaven!!
Agri business ensures that supermarkets in the UK are full of every type of veg all year round, most of which tastes of .... nothing. God only knows what else is present in these out of season fruits and veg.

  • 92.
  • At 09:48 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Abbi Rouse wrote:

Things are slowly improving, but as long as supermarkets have a stranglehold on agriculture in the West, this situation will continue.

It is easiest for most of us to shop at the supermarket, but we've all heard about their policies of forcing down supplier prices until farmers almost go bankrupt. Because we none of us tend to know what is a fair price for the goods we buy, we're unwittingly maintaining the status quo each time we buy. The farmer is caught in a trap where the supermarket dictactes price and conditions and leaves him nowhere else to trade.

We're all familiar with the Fairtrade concept: why stop at giving our custom to smallholder chocolate, coffee and tea farmers in 3rd world countries? We should be extending the same system to farmers in our own country so that they can esape the tyrany of Tesco et al. Until then, each time we grab a bargain pack of veg or fruit we're adding to the misery of our farmers and doing nothing for our palates!

  • 93.
  • At 09:50 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Curran wrote:

My wife and I have just returned from the Loire and know what you mean. Tomatoes like we have not tasted for ages, local goats cheeses that are so full of delicate and creamy flavour, wonderful salads.
Next year I shall grow as much of my own veg as I can find the time to plant.

Best Wishes.

  • 94.
  • At 09:50 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ash, UK wrote:

Everyone here seams to be blaming someone else but themselves, it’s a free market, we get what we want, for years in the uk everyone has been looking out for the cheapest food (look at the raise of tescos/asda) and we got what we wanted. Now good food is fashionable again and the supermarkets and rolling in the organics (not good but better) and specialists stores (a lot better) are going from strength to strength. Even if you don’t have access to a good food shop most deliver nation wide next day. If you want go food and can afford it don’t buy bad food, simple

  • 95.
  • At 09:50 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Neilson wrote:

Your comments touched a very sensitive nerve in me. An important reason for my moving to Italy five years ago was the sensational quality of the food here. It tastes how food tasted when I was young. The skill in cooking here is to be minimalist and leave the quality to speak for itself. And you get the quality not only from the markets but also from the smaller supermarkets. Why? Almost all the food is seasonable. Products become available at the same time every year and the annual anticipation is itself a joy. Almost all the products are either locally grown (in my case the Marche region) or come from other parts of Italy, and their precise provenance is always clearly indicated.

  • 96.
  • At 09:51 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Michael Lewis wrote:

I am so pleased to read the comments of Mark and the other people who can contributed.My wife belives that I am angry old man evertime I complain about the lack of tast in a lot of modern produce.As many people have commented produce is grown for maximum yeild and good looks,it would seem the people who produce do not eat it as tast is not
considerd.Consumers of America and Europe use your people power and stop buying the rubbish you will soon see tast return.

You have to blame our agri-industrial attitude to food production, I'm afraid. And our desperation for low, low prices. If you demand that a lettuce costs tuppence ha'penny, and that it be totally clean and free of earth and aphids, then you deserve everything you get in terms of chemical input and tastelessness.
Good food takes time. It also takes money. It's a life-saving drug. If you had a terminal illness and there were three possible cures, would you just go for the cheapest because it's the cheapest?

  • 98.
  • At 09:52 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Perrott wrote:

From June until October we welcome an abundance of produce from the garden and greenhouse. I'll keep it brief: cucumbers. Not limp flaccid, tasteless, watery tubes polythene wrapped but a vibrant, crisp, sweet and juicy salad vegetable which when served with olive oil, salt and lemon makes you salivate. And they look good as well. I'm with you on this one, Mark.

  • 99.
  • At 09:54 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Nick Bornoff wrote:

I may not have read everyone's response, but it seemed telling that those with the best explanation -- as to why food is now tasteless and bland -- came from the USA and Canada.
Mark Mardell's acccount of his gastronomic experiences in Turkey seemed very familiar. During a famiy trip to Istanbul a couple of years ago we all waxed ecstatic over the food and, notably, the qualitiy of the produce used in its preparation. AS the markets piled high with wonderful RIPE fruit and vegetables lay clear, the secret ingredient was really very simple: this is a country which is fortunate in still having few supermarkets.
Small farmers increasingly turn to subsidies and benefits as large agro-industries tear down the barriers, hedges, woods, habitats and so on between the fields. Supermarkets dictate high-yield, low-taste, easy-transport, long storage varieties of producce to farmers, whether they like them or not. Oh, and pick or harvest them when they're unripe! Heaven forbid any real, sun-ripened natural taste.
Every wondered why the birds and the bees are flying into the history books? Why, the same reason that you trawl through your crumbly potatoes and crunch your way through summer fruit. They all come from the same sterile, eco-vandalised environment. The one dictated and enforced by eurocrats for the benefit of the agro-industrialist and the supermarket instead of for the individual farmer and shopkeeper. Regulation-size peaches, tomatoes, egg plant et al; pasteurisation of just about everything (did all that many people die when it was only for milk);
But this is a waste of time. This is not just a Bad-food-Britain problem. I lived in both France and Italy as a child and I am only too painfully aware of what things are like now. But does anyone under forty really know what good food tastes like, does anyone really care?

  • 100.
  • At 09:54 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Saad wrote:

I totally understand the concerns outlined in this piece. I've recently come to Canada from Pakistan and am quite shocked at the lack of taste in many fruits and vegetables. Take Mango for example, there are at least ten different types of mangoes in Pakistan with each type having its own unique taste. All I see in big supermarkets here, are RED mangoes from Mexico unless I make the effort and look up smaller South Asian stores that manage to get small quantities of Pakistani mangoes on to their shelves (owing to lower imports - most of it goes to the EU). Even then, they're difficult to get hold of as they are gone from the shelves the moment they're put up there. Alas! Its a struggle for the right taste.

  • 101.
  • At 09:56 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sashka wrote:

Great article! I love food and cook every day for my family. We’ve lived a few years and Germany , USA and UK; traveled to different countries and tasted different food but nothing tasted better than the tomatoes and cucumbers from my mom’s garden in south Bulgaria or the pears, peaches, white cherries and figs from my grandma’s orchard.
Your article took me back to my youth years when I hiked every summer in the Bulgarian mountains and ate the wild moutain fruits. Have you ever picked ripe,wild blueberries and strawberries in the forest? The taste is heavenly. If you ever visit Bulgaria and the mountains, you can buy from the local people wild strawberry jam. The best ever!!!
Have a wonderful vacation!

  • 102.
  • At 09:58 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Miller wrote:

Farmers are to blame for producing this muck!

They plaster their land with pesticides, destroy all natural sources of food in the soil, feed the plants on artificial food, buy and grow the most bland (but 'efficient') crops possible and then - to add insult to injury - claim millions of pounds of taxpayers money as 'subsidy'!!!

  • 103.
  • At 10:01 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • MickJ wrote:

Oh, blame Brussels, blame the supermarkets, blame "big business".

The fact is that life has changed, and so far from using their evil poweres to ram tasteless food down our throats these institutions are simply responding to our demand for a safe, consistent and affordable supply of food.

It's fun to dawdle among the veg stalls ina amsll town when on holiday. But how many city families now consist of a single breadwinner backed up by a full-time housewife with the time to "do the markets" and prepare the food in the evening? Veg purchased from markets has to be used pretty much immediately, and the quality and availability can vary widely. For a planned weekly shop, a supermarket offering a consistent range of food is a must.
Seasonaliy is a great principle and worth practising up to a point, but who really wants to go back to a time when you were restricted to a diet of root veg through the dark days of winter? Nostalgia's all very well, but I don't find myself looking back on the British diet in the late '60s and early '70s with any degree of fondness.

Unfortunately for the bulk of the 20 billion or so calories consumed by a city like London every day, supermarkets offer the only feasible option. A lucky few can pay over the odds for free range and organic produce, and there are options to grow your own--I've recently taken on an allotment, but it's a major outlay of effort for quite a small amount of food.

I moved to the UK from the far east in January, after 17 years away, and have been very struck by some parallel trends visible in supermarkets:

Two-legged felines in search of their personal catnip

(https://wombatdiet.net/2007/03/27/novelty-and-loyalty/)

Traditional brands being bought up and their products debased until they are a sorry travesty of the original. Had a wine gum lately? --to mention one example. If it can be made a penny cheaper it will be.

More and more people eating processed convenience food, like Chicken Kievs. I was offered one recently and found it a bit watery and rubbery and on inspection found that it was made of reconstituted chicken, concealed in a breadcrumb-like coat. I couldn't stomach it.

The organic food businesss is far too freighted with fraud and fad, and I decline to become a vegetarian.

Strange how food is being labeled every which way except for taste!



  • 105.
  • At 10:05 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Stuart Russell wrote:

Many large towns and cities in the UK now run organic box schemes offering a variety of fruit, veg, bread and meat that is organic and locally sourced. It's a little more expensive than the supermarket, granted, but at least products are seasonal and have not been transported by air. And the flavours are noticeably better, I have to say. I think more and more people are catching on to the idea of supporting local farmers, butchers and fishmongers rather than automatically buying these foods from the supermarket. Only by continuing this trend will we drive standards up.

  • 106.
  • At 10:06 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • adamfenner wrote:

We all need to stop buying fresh food from supermarkets, I know its more expensive & not all in one store so slightly more time consuming. But along with the better flavours we will also get more nutrients. How can food grown in poly with hydro lights and fake food/water be expected to tast as good ? In OZ people buy canned goods etc from supermarkets, but fruit/veg from Fruitiers who only stock local seasonal REAL food. Come on everyone, we need to stop buying everything from these giant stores, they are hurting the agricultural industry, and reducing our choice..

  • 107.
  • At 10:06 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • thomas wrote:

Dear Marc,
When coming back to Brussels, you should try some restaurants on the Chaussée de Haecht.
I recommend you Mettin II. Not far away from the donkey of Hodja Nasreddin.
There you can enjoy the best turkish pizzas (pide) of Brussels: incredibly fresh ingredients.
Nearly next door, Octabasi (?) is nice to, with daily specials and grillades.
Regards,
Thomas

  • 108.
  • At 10:09 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Rachel wrote:

I tried some so-called "cost effective" fruit and veg from a certain large supermarket - well, let's just say, even the horses wouldn't touch the apples!

There are too many places to lay the reason, but, we need to re-establish our palette to the taste of good fruit and veg - and this can only be done if it's available to everyone. Realistically, this can't be done by everyone growing their own - so, blame them or not - it's up to the supermarkets to provide this - and also to assist in the education of the people. Do we really, really need strawberries in the middle of winter and be left with tasteless balls of water in summer?????

  • 109.
  • At 10:12 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jo wrote:

Mark,

Why be surprised about food alone? The EU is about bureaucrats and politicians (legally)lining their pockets in the service of big business, this time big farms. They have no interest in the ordinary citizen and only want to make us consume more, more, more. More here means industrially farmed junk.

  • 110.
  • At 10:13 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Paul Baxter wrote:

I do not eat some of the fruit her in New Zealand in the winter it is all right when the fruit is in season as our own fruit grown in NZ seems to have lots of taste but in the winter when fruit comes from North America, eg Nectarines @ Peaches the ones from North America seem to be tasteless.

  • 111.
  • At 10:14 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • hannah wrote:

I've only grown up with fruit and veg that have "subtle" taste.
I'm now so excited about the prospect of more flavours after reading these comments, I want to go to the nearest small grocery and buy the most expensive, organic plum I can find. Just to see if there is more to it than a skin full of water.

  • 112.
  • At 10:15 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Phil M wrote:

I grew up in Fareham - a town famous for red bricks and strawberry fields.

As a child, we used to go to the fields to pick them. I remember rows of green plants and golden straw, and there, ripening slowly in the gentle English sunshine, the glorious red berries.

Of course, as kids we ate more than we put in the punnet! They were deliciously sweet and juicy, almost sugary at the core.

Unfortunately I believe the strawberry fields are now gone - and supermarkets seem intent on stocking sunburnt fruits from unsuitably hot, dry climates.

If the best weather that England can hope for is sunny spells with showers, then let's at least put it to good use - strawberries, apples and pears!

Most fruit and vegetables the average person adores don't like the Northern European climate which means:
1) we grow them in greenhouses like the Dutch and it's just not the same, or
2) we import them and the journey destroys most of the flavour and quality.

Also the demand for tomatoes remains steady throughout the year but vegetables are still seasonal products. In order to meet demand, the stuff must then be grown in some sort of artificial environment which again, does not result in good quality.

Consumerism ruined everything.

- Erik from the Netherlands (I apologise for our tomatoes).

  • 114.
  • At 10:15 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • perfidiousalbion wrote:

Mark is absolutely right about flavour, but this has been going on for many years to the extent that our food has become beautifully bland. Growing up in Kent in the 1960s I was bought up on fantastic soft fruit...strawberries, greengages (remember them?) plums and raspberries. Most of those small market gardens have gone, replaced by bigger units growing mono-varieties that favour modern logistics. I have worked around the world since and have observed that while our own flavours have deteriorated, it could be worse. North American fruit and veg is huge and largely tasteless, Dutch veg is grown for appearance in heated greenhouses. Their meat is comparatively poor although you can still find excellent traditional butchers. By contrast I was recently in Libya, a country largely passed by in "progress" terms. The fruit and veg was limited to varieties "in season" (water melons during my stay) and they were superb...bursting with flavour. The only way out of this blind alley is to either grow your own if you can, or support small organic growers via the internet or farmers markets.

  • 115.
  • At 10:20 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • JohaM wrote:

I recognize most of the reasons for the tastelessness mentioned above. I missed one: many vegetables tasted slightly bitter (e.g. brussels sprouts, endive, lettuce). Many people did not like the bitter taste. So, to please as much customers as possible, they created versions without any taste...

  • 116.
  • At 10:20 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jeff B wrote:

Knee-jerk reactions blaming the EU for somehow taking the flavor out of our fruits and veg aren't very helpful.

Most large companies that "produce" fruit and vegetables have the following priorities for the sort of fruit and veg they grow:

1. Simply harvested (saves labor cost)
2. Grows as densely as possible (saves land cost)
3. Is most resistant to disease (reduces risk)
4. Looks good (nobody tastes anything in supermarkets before buying)
5. Has a long shelf life (for cheaper logistics and transport)
6. Can be ripened remotely in greenhouses or chemically (logistics and cost again)

Nowhere does taste enter into it. In fact the people making the decisions may be 1,000s of miles away from the produce and never even see or taste it.

The reasons for this are myriad, however one of the main ones is that European shoppers want the cheapest possible produce and the supermarkets have to offer this which forces the producers to deliver it. This is espescially true in Germany where I live and where I haven't tasted a decent strawberry or tomato in years.

Even buying from farmers markets may not help as if the variety the farmer is growing is one that's been bred to conform to the above rules, it still won't taste any better.

I worry that breeds that don't conform to the above 6 rules will die out, and we'll be left with nothing but industrial produce, but I'm not sure what to do about it.

  • 117.
  • At 10:22 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • ADilbert wrote:

Your observations strike a familar cord with me. My damascian revelation on what had happened to the taste of our mass produced food came at my in laws in the south of France. I was tasked with digging up some new potatoes for the evening meal, inwardly thinking how much more convenient it would be if they had a supermarket nearby. Now I am not a foodie and regard potatoes as mere stodge to bulk out a meal. However even my jaded palette was amazed at the texture and taste (yes taste!) of these fresh new potatoes. Even if the meal had contained the juciest steak (of which I am fond) I would have pushed it aside for a second helping. I am now concerned at all the other tasteless produce we have allowed to become the norm. What are we missing out on?
At least I now intend to retire to the land and grow my own.

  • 118.
  • At 10:24 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Scott Evemy wrote:

Thank you for your article, I enjoyed reading it very much. It is my belief that the supermarkets demand for all year round supplies of traditionally seasonal fruit and veg that has brought about the reduction in taste. Recently my partner and I have switched from supermarket fruit and veg to being supplied by a company called Riverford Foods, based in totnes devon. They deliver a weekly box of fruit and veg that is all grown and supplied to the specific seasons of their produce. The taste difference is amazing; the other unexpected result of the change is that it forced us to increase our range of dishes. The reason for this is we never know what will be in the box from week to week. My message to everyone is dump the over produced tasteless fruit and veg you get from the supermarket and start sourcing seasonal varieties. You’ll thank me for it, oh and its doesn’t mean you have to spend more money

  • 119.
  • At 10:24 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ray wrote:

Having had my previous comment on this subject refused for no reason at all, I can only assume that this blog is biased in favour of a certain kind of reply.

What is the point in that?

  • 120.
  • At 10:24 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ros wrote:

The other problem is that crops are bred for ease of picking. To mechanise picking all the crop must be ready at the same time. Hand picking is more efficient if large proportions of fruit and veg are ready at the same time.
So the crop must mature simultaneously, be robust, have a nice shape and preferably be of uniform size. Flavour is a long way down the list.
Even going to our local pick your own fruit farm did not produce fruit with a flavour I remember (and still found in some small, misshapen, unhygenic wild raspberries which I sampled).

  • 121.
  • At 10:26 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Adrian wrote:

Back in Romania where I was born, the fruits and vegetables were not to be bought in stores, but at the market, where they were being brought that very morning by the very farmers selling them. Who can actually think that a tomato from a shelf of a supermarket can rival in taste and smell (yes, real tomatoes do smell...) with one grown up on a small pot of land and picked up a few hours before you buy it?
I think this is also the only possible answer to the question - what can we do to have better food: refuse buying low quality food. Eating properly is the best way you can spend your money, along with providing adequate housing. If not on food, on what better to spend your money? Luxury goods while living on a junk-food diet? not for me, thanks...

  • 122.
  • At 10:27 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • abu faisal wrote:

Actually the herb/spice is probably marmiar which has some kind of menthol quality to it too

  • 123.
  • At 10:32 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sarah Jumel wrote:

Write more about food, Mark!
You are so right. The trick is to buy local. I have been to California and the fruit is fabulous THERE. What kills it is the trip to Europe and to the rest of America. The concentration is on appearance, not on taste. The stuff does not ripen properly either it just rots. I loved mangos, but recently they have found a way to ruin them too; once rich tasting pulp now fibrous and only good for making a salsa with.
It is maddening to have to buy organic to get something decent. If it was easier to buy local I think more people would do so. I am sorry about the lousy food, but maybe if legislation let people know what WAS local and just how long it had been in a refrigerated container things would improve.

  • 124.
  • At 10:36 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • JohnB wrote:

Thank-you for raising a subject dear to my heart. I have many theories about why we put-up with tasteless produce but here I only want to make two pragmatic points.

Firstly that it is difficult for the home-grower to get hold of the kind of seeds etc we used to get. Even the "same-name" varieties have been modernised - who could possibly claim that today's "cox" apple is the same as the old biennial cropping cox. And herein lies part of the problem. The commercial grower wants and needs consistency. The lettuce must all be ready for cropping on the 61st day from sowing. We private people however need a short row that matures over a couple of weeks. The commercial grower requires something that will stand packaging and transport. We who pick our own don't mind if it bruises and can't be used tomorrow for we are going to eat it today. Sadly, the commercial grower buys most of the seed so the seed companies need to comply and give them what they want. Lovers of taste are not a big enough market force to oppose the culture of sameness and safety.

My second point is that this summer's plethora of rain (in the UK) has pumped up soft-fruit almost to the point of tastelessness even in my own garden. Irrigation too accounts for some of the insipidity of commercial products. To produce heavy crops water is pumped into varieties that could produce a tasty (but smaller) crop if kept under a little stress. Of course, living in a country where ham can legally be sold with up to 38% of its weight being water I should not be surprised that I have to pay premium prices for water under the guise of buying fruit and veg.

JohnB

  • 125.
  • At 10:36 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kevin wrote:

The problem of tasteless food is largely the EU's fault. Read this

https://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=435

This quote from the article is particularly apt

'On farmers’ seeds, the long-standing problem in Europe, since the 1970s, is that the EU’s seed marketing regulations require that plant varieties are registered according to industrial criteria (genetic stability and uniformity) in order to be sold. This means that traditional materials and farmers’ seeds cannot be marketed. Worse, the rules were updated in the 1990s to further stipulate that “marketing” includes non-monetary seed exchange. Some countries like France implement this ban on farmers’ seeds more fanatically than others, but the legal reality is there: farmers, gardeners, hobbyists, breeders, associations and so on cannot exchange or sell any seed that is not on the official EU Common Catalogue – what GRAIN described as “agricultural apartheid” in an editorial last year.'

Mark I know you have gone 'native' while covering the EU but you need to do some research before you write your articles

  • 126.
  • At 10:37 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ros wrote:

Hi,
I think things are starting to get better. I can't remember a summer with better-tasting strawberries. Absolutley gorgeous English fruit, nothing like the ghastly huge, solid but tasteless things we import out of season.

  • 127.
  • At 10:40 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Geoff Holmes wrote:

I realise these comments are largely about veg, but here's a meat-related one, for which I make no apology: a growing number of young people are under the impression that supermarket meat is how meat should be. My butcher has confirmed that people who "try" his meat complain that it tastes funny, by which he has managed to find out, means it tastes like it ought to taste. Or used to taste.
Nothing will change now. Only people with an interest in food will read these posts, or watch food programs (which themselves, in the UK at least, seem now to be nothing more than devices to pull in advertisers). The rest regard food as nothing more than a chore, and a mealtime as a mere refuelling stop, letting strawberries or new potatoes at Christmas - UK again - pass without comment.
I'm fortunate enough to be able to grow my own veg, so comments from me about tastelessness are not needed here.

  • 128.
  • At 10:47 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • John Hart wrote:

No-one is forcing us to buy tasteless, water-filled fruit and veg. However, as a nation, we in the UK just don't seem to have the passionate approach to cooking and eating which you find in some other countries, where food like this just wouldn't be tolerated. In addition, here and in the US we have for many years had a very sophisticated marketing machine which excels at persuading us we should be buying things which are good to sell rather than good to buy. These two factors make a hard combination to beat!

In my experience, once people do get the taste for good, tasty food, they have a Road-to-Damascus moment and don't look back. However, the problem in getting them to take that first step is that many people feel having such feelings for food is a bit middle class, pretentious or "foodie", when the truth is that junk food and ready meals are often expensive and frequently take longer to prepare than alternatives made with fresh ingredients.

  • 129.
  • At 10:47 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • George wrote:

THERE IS HOPE, FOLKS !!!!!!!!!!!


Australia has the same kind of commercial agriculture as other developed countries, with long transportation distances. When I arrived in 1982 from Hungary, I was shocked by the tasteless strawberries and tomatoes (and beer, but that is another matter).

But crop breeding is nowadays aimed at bringing taste back into the technology-tolerant foods. Increasingly, the large, perfect-looking strawberries have a good, sometimes great taste. The cherry and grape tomatoes that appeared in supermarkets a few years ago are quite tasty, and even the large ones ripen (not in the fridge, of course!) before they would rot, and acquire a reasonable taste.

As for tasteless US fruits, the imported US navel oranges are better tasting than most Australian ones, so it cannot be all bad.

European consumers should demand the tasty stuff too - after all, they pay outrageous prices for it, due to EU policy to mollycoddle farmers.

  • 130.
  • At 10:48 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Elizabeth Campbell wrote:

Sad to say that the taste of our food has gone the way of the wonderful perfumes of flowers. Mass production and massive profits have seen to that.

  • 131.
  • At 10:48 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • H Grant wrote:

I had a similar experience in Pakistan a few years ago. I went to buy fruit and veg for a tour group in a market miles from anywhere. The fruit and veg were decidedly strange looking to eyes accustomed to standardised produce - the tomatoes were all different shapes and sizes, and the apples had all sorts of blemishes. However, the taste was unbelievable, so wonderfully rich and delicious. I remember thinking that I had forgotten that tomatoes tasted like that! Who is to blame for UK supermarket veg? Hard to say. We consumers, who only want to buy perfect fruit, have created a demand for standardised items bred for looks not taste. But I also wonder whether it is possible to achieve a fabulous taste in food that is dragged across half the world before it reaches our tables.

  • 132.
  • At 10:51 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • tania wrote:

Mr Mardell,

that curly veg. you ate in Rome (and you only get it in Rome...) is called puntarelle and yep it's fab. You'll only find it in the winter though, the clever Italians never eat or order out of season stuff, that's also part of the secret!

  • 133.
  • At 10:53 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Dan UK wrote:

What a great article. Please feel free to write about food again. We are all fat pigs at heart. :-)

I think the problem with our food is that because of price we are almost forced to buy food that is mass produced, standardized, picked and shipped before it is even ripe.

When in Thailand and you taste the fresh mangoes, pinapples, and melons that have been bought from the market in the morning, brought to the beach and perfectly sliced in front of your eyes, it really makes you realise how dull the more excotic fruit that most of us are used to really is. The same goes for apples because are supermarkets are swamped with apples that look delicious even their name suggests it but they are really very bland when compared with English apples that dont get much of a chance or are too imperfect to be sold.

Anyone who grows their own vegetables knows that they really are magnitudes better in terms of taste.

I think the way forward if you really like your food is to try and venture away from the Supermarket that sells cheap tv's and cheap vegetables, and try do shop in local produce markets or a step further would be to try and shop in farm shops, or failing that you will have to try and grow your own.

Fruit and veg that is produced in the UK is usually up to a pretty good standard and I think if you try and shop for what you know will taste good the more locally something was produced the better.

When in rome...eat like the romans.

  • 134.
  • At 10:57 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Matt Smith wrote:

Excellent article - really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

  • 135.
  • At 10:59 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • ADilbert wrote:

Top tip; Most supermarket food is grown for appearance, shelf life and transportation and not taste. Recently supermarkerts have introduced 'value' or 'all shapes and sizes' ranges which contain less cosmetically beautiful produce. Not only are they cheaper, they actually taste of something! I assume that this is to do with it being less 'messed around' seasonal produce.

  • 136.
  • At 11:00 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Mark Knight wrote:

You are absolutely right. I went to Turkey a few years ago and remember thinking the food was far more tasty than in the UK. I just put it down to the feel good factor of being on holiday. I now know I wasn't imagining it.

  • 137.
  • At 11:01 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ellie wrote:

Reading the comments here, the overwhelming conclusion has to be that to get fresh produce that tastes as it's meant to taste, go to the places where it's meant to be grown, or thrives naturally. Can we really expect strawberries grown in this summer's miserable climate in the UK to taste as good as they do in warmer places, or from warmer years?

In recent years, I've started to appreciate the difference between even the 'posh' brands of meat and veg in the supermarkets, and what you can get locally, or from small-scale prodcution. The bacon from my parents-in-laws' smallholding just tastes different, more intense, than the best brand of bacon in the supermarket. I've grown courgettes this year for the first time, and they taste better than any I've had before, probably because they go straight in the pan. I never buy fruit in supermarkets without sniffing it first, and if I can't smell anything, I won't buy it! The best and most aromatic lemons I know come from a gnarled old tree in the yard of my father's house in Lisbon: whenever I manage to bring them back, I hoard them like the unusual, rare gems they are.

  • 138.
  • At 11:01 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Katharine wrote:

My husband has just started an allotment. And for the first time since I was a kid I am eating raspberries, lettuce, and beetroot that taste like they did 45 years ago when my Dad dug/picked them from the garden. We've even had figs straight from the tree - not something that Dad grew in 1960. Melons are coming along, but I daren't hope - especially with this summer's weather - they'll emulate the taste of those roadside charentais that were the highlight of French camping holidays, when we thought ourselves too poor to buy local meat so survived on bread, fruit, vegs and Sainsburys' tinned steak. Some things have got better..

  • 139.
  • At 11:08 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tobi wrote:

As a student on my first visit to the University cafeteria in Strasbourg, I used to wonder why you never smell the food. You could be directly in front of the food trying to chose what to eat and you still wouldn't smell a thing. I thought it was poor service until I went to the supermarkets to shop for food. At that point I gave up on ever eating sweet smelling foods again until I returned home to Nigeria. I know I haven't been to Turkey or any other exotic place but back home in Nigeria, I could smell my mother's cooking miles away. It's said to never go hungry to a market as the smell of all the different foods, fruits and vegetables could spark off a battle in the stomach.
Who knows? Maybe one day foods in Nigeria will be like that of the US and UK too: mechanically grown, fat, goodlooking, non smelling, tasteless and filled with all sorts of chemicals. A pity for the next generation.

  • 140.
  • At 11:10 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Christine Self wrote:

Mark

I think the two bloggers mentioning 'minerals' and Vesuvius' may have hit the nail on the head. Although modern farming methods add nutrients to the soil they don't replace the minerals depleted by over-cultivation.

Just think about the difference in richness and flavour between Chilean wines watered by snow-melt containing heaps of minerals and the wines of other countries that have been growing vines on the same soil for centuries.

On the subject of perfectly formed fruit I bought a peach tree in a pot - it only produced a single mis-shapen and wizened fruit - but Oh the flavour! I have never tasted anything like it!

We have just returned from a holiday in Assisi: I was served some homemade pannacotta with a superb sauce of tiny sour cherries - not one of the fancy restaurants - just a little one overlooking the Umbrian Plain in a side street - Arcinova La Fontanella on the Via Bernado da Quintavalle. The pasta was superb, packed with flavour and prepared as we waited on the terrace. Heaven.

I have started getting a veg box delivered from the local farmer. The flavour is much superior to the pre-packaged supermarket stuff.

I have written about it here

https://www.cluelessaboutwine.co.uk/2007/07/batten-down-hatches.html

I have always been shocked by the poor quality of vegetables and fruits available in this country. Their only chance to ripen after premature pickings is under neon lights at the local supermarket. They are completely flavorless and devoid of any nutritional value. It is a supply and demand thing. British consumers do not care about what they eat and therefore suppliers send their lowest grade products to the country, keeping the best of the crops for more discerning markets. To break the status quo, stop buying third-grade products, complain more and switch to quality retailers. Paying more for food means valuing food more.

  • 143.
  • At 11:14 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Frances wrote:

Hi Mark,

I agree about the tasteless vegetable problem. However just stop shopping at the supermarket! All you have to do is take a short walk from the Commission to Saint-Josse where the Turkish and Moroccan grocers have lovely fresh fruit and vegetables, and ever fresh coriander and ginger to cook tasty stir-fries and things.

The melons are particularly fine at the moment. Though my Spanish housemate did say there were tasteless compared to the ones from Gran Canaria -- but isn't that what Europe's about?

  • 144.
  • At 11:15 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Diarmuid Hayes wrote:

The big supermarkets want fruit & veg that looks good and that has a long shelflife; taste costs them more so they just give us the cheap & cheerful tasteless stuff..why people don't complain about taste in the UK & Ireland is beyond me!

  • 145.
  • At 11:16 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Koen D wrote:

Hi,

I think a lot of us can remember the standarised meat from "lesser" animals which were carefully selected for their easiness in de-boning. That this resulted in less savoury meat was not a problem. The customer wanted a cheaper product. So the meat-industry provided them with cheaper products unfortunatelly with less taste.
Prettty sure the same basics are at work with all the rest of the food.

  • 146.
  • At 11:18 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • mars wrote:

I have been saying it for years; it especially struck me as I arrived in San Francisco the bay area; fruit and vegies looked great but no taste; tried the farmers market, no luck either; in general everything tastes bland but looks great; on my return to europe the only places where you can find the real thing are the open markets (not always though)or directly from the farmer; I live in the Grenoble area in France and they have this cheese called Tom which is famous in the region; I bought a sample from the supermarket; it had no taste and if you chew plain paper it has more taste; until I stumbled across a farm up in the mountains who sold their product on the premises; what a difference!Now that was the real thing.
Conclusion: small is beautiful, slow food is great.
The opposite: mass production, fast food destroy flavour

  • 147.
  • At 11:19 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • clive Cunningham wrote:

Good going Mark. When you are next in England, and I mean England, not Britain or the UK, I suggest you make a short Trip to Somerset where the best beef comes from - Browncow organics, (established also by BBC food programes, even Rick Stein says so) The cheeses will knock spots of some fo the French varieties, one can still get unpastureised and pastureised local cheeses, The Cheddar is wonderful if you buy it from specialist shops, though even Sainsburys here sell it in addition to the usual tasleless kind. There are local cheeses (Devon as well as Somerset) which you would only find in expensive shops in Covent Garden. Fish comes daily from Brixham some of the best Pub grub would put many a West End restaurant to shame. I could go on. I hope you will come to the West Country for a holiday, the scenery's good too!

PS No overnight food convoys filling the air with poisonous fumes as in most of Europe.

  • 148.
  • At 11:20 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ann Dunn wrote:

Interesting article. We haven't ventured out to Turkey yet as we have real reservations about civil rights there but I do agree about Greece. We moved to Crete in January and are amazed at how big the fruit and veg. are and how good they taste. I can't remember when I enjoyed tomatoes so much.

We think that the main cause of tasteless food in England is that supermarkets force farmers & market gardeners to produce more and more for less money. Quality is bound to fall by the wayside.

Producing things out of season probably doesn't help either because it has to be picked too early and travel maybe thousands of miles. It's so much better to source things locally, or grow your own if you can, and eat them as soon as possible after they are picked. We're growing our own now and it's an interesting hobby as well as nourishing.

  • 149.
  • At 11:22 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

In defence of farmers and supermarkets (and no, I don't work for either of them) their primary function as far as we're concerned is to produce enough food for all of us. Would we like to have beautiful, flavoursome food, but not enough of it? At the moment we know that we can go to the supermarket and there will be plenty of food there for us, even if it does taste like cardboard. Would we want to queue for hours in the hope of getting something tasty? Would we want to have ration books to make sure that everyone got their fair, but small, share of this beautiful produce? I don't think so.

Food has to be transportable, because people won't stand for stuff being seasonal any more - we want fresh tomatoes at Easter, we want new potatoes with our Christmas dinner. That can only happen if the food is transported from countries where it's in season at the time, and there's no point transporting tomatoes thousands of miles if they're rotten by the time they get here.

What we want is food that's cheap, plentiful and good. Unfortunately if it's good and plentiful it won't be cheap, if it's good and cheap it won't be plentiful, and if it's cheap and plentiful it won't be good. You pay your money and you take your choice, and most people seem to choose cheap and plentiful, which is why the supermarkets are well-stocked with cheap food that has the taste and texture of wet toilet paper.

  • 150.
  • At 11:24 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sanya wrote:

Is this article on TV as well? Have I missed it? I love to see this arcticle on one of BBC TV -may be on NewsNight or 10 O'clock news.

  • 151.
  • At 11:25 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Terry wrote:

In theory, it's very similar to what you find in much of the Balkans, Middle East, and Greece: white crumbly cheeses, olives, lots of vegetables, dips, grilled meat.
But it is done with a sprightliness and panache that is often missing from the burnt and gristly offerings from some of those other countries

Service was at breakneck speed. Small boys ran everywhere, delivering cutlery with the speed and flair

Hi Mark,

A couple of things here. It looks like you want to start another war, setting the Greeks and Turks against one and other. The way you compare things here, it's like you really like to hear yourself write because what you say, does not ring a bell. Greek and Turkish cuisine is not the same. But this style of writing too, you name the Balkans, Middle East, and Greece.
Then, in the same paragraph you connect it all together by saying 'some of these other countries.'

What I'd like to know then, is since when did the Balkans and the Middle East become countries?

Therefore as the only other country you mentioned was Greece, it must be about that at least.
In Greece, I've never seen lots of vegetables, lots of tomatoes, cucumbers and then paprika and aubergine but not a lot more, this is what caught my eye when you compare all of these places and say they are all the same.

You are not a fat pig but those who are overweight thgough not having yet turned into pigs, most likely feel hurt hearing those kind of terms.

The small boys, well, another holiday destination you may enjoy is any poverty stricken country where kids are made to work.

Sorry, didn't enjoy this post.
I know you will not allow this post, still, I had to say something.

Terry

  • 152.
  • At 11:25 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Torgo wrote:

Also possible that Mark's spice was malabathrum (malabar leaf), which is part of the cinnamon family.

  • 153.
  • At 11:27 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Maria wrote:

Fruit and vegetables are tasteless today because they are bred for appearance first,shelf life second and round the year availability. Who is to blame for us this?
Us the consumer, used to the modern notion that food musted be "plated", ie look good on the plate before anybody can be persuaded to eat it.
Ten years ago, I lived in Norway where in season we often got tasty natural food that was derided by my fellow expats because it looked odd, or arrived too late in the summer or was too small, etc, etc.

  • 154.
  • At 11:28 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

I love this article. My 86 year old neighbour recently gave me Kenilworth variety tomatoes he had grown. I was sceptical, and not a big fan of tomatoes anyway. However, once I tried these I was amazed. They had a flavour that I suddenly remembered from my childhood. Literally, they were the star of my meal of Scampi, new potatoes and salad. The simple fact is supermarket tomatoes are bitter by comparison, or have no flavour. Why are we being forced to eat inferior produce? Why don't our supermarkets stock any of the wide range of English apples and decent varieties of potatoes?

  • 155.
  • At 11:29 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Auntie Sue wrote:

Great article, Mark, and I've enjoyed all the comments.

Three words sum it up for me:
- globalisation
- greed
- seasonality.

Three suggestions:
- always buy/eat local (that means travelling abroad if you want food that's produced abroad!)
- avoid processed/packaged foods at all costs so you don't pay the astronomical mark-up that contributes to the supermarkets' obscene profits
- only eat what's in season!

OK so that means we might have to go back to strawberries only in June/July and if we have dreadful weather we may have a rotten crop of beans here in Cornwall and have to pay more for our veg, but hey, as others have said, the difference in flavour when it's come from your own garden (or bartered with the neighbours) is just outstanding.

I still miss the flavour of the misshapen peppers and blemished, fist-sized tomatoes bought in the markets of Provence or Greece, but there's no way you can get that here in the UK so why try? We have really nice local veg of our own that the Greeks/French would love too. Cornish early potatoes, cauliflowers and Cornish king cabbages are amazing. You should come here and try them.

My runner beans will be ready in about 4 days...

Auntie Sue

  • 156.
  • At 11:32 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Helen wrote:

Re your Estonian colleague's search for good potatoes, I went to Estonia a couple of years ago and I distinctly remember being impressed by the exceptional taste and texture of the potatoes there. Seriously, they were fantastic. And no, I don't normally get excited about potatoes...

  • 157.
  • At 11:33 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Julia wrote:

When I was young I lived in Mexico. I would go to the market with my mum once a week. We bought whatever fruits and vegetables were on season and we always stopped at the dairy stand to buy the old man's or the "viejito" cream and cheese. I loved the experience and we all grew to love healthy food, that is fresh lovely tasting produce.

When I was in my teens I tried to make money by going to the "Central de Abastos" with my sister. The idea was that we would help my mum's friends to buy their food lists doing the trip to the market ourselves. We would arrive to the huge warehouses market were all the food to distribute in Mexico arrived. Then we had to buy goods for up to 10 families. We were amazed by the size of the place and the beauty of some of those produce. On our first trip we found huge red perfect apples and brought them home feeling very proud of our "find". During the next trips we increasingly bought bigger and more perfect looking fruits and vegetables... until one of my aunts told us the truth Our choices were not good. They were tasteless. We went back to the "Central" and changed our tactics to keep the clients going and to eat better ourselves. We chose the smaller, local, seasonal produce. But we also asked the merchants why they grew those beautiful tasteless fruits. They answered "because they sell better in the international market".
Now I live in the USA and I see all those beautiful produce. Even in the organic supermarkets. I can fid perfect looking tasteless strawberries all year round. To find a local market is virtually impossible. So I count on escapades to Europe and Latin America to enjoy food again.

  • 158.
  • At 11:33 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • sarin kouyoumdjian wrote:

That thing in the coffee is called HEL in lebanon....i think it is something made with cardamon.

  • 159.
  • At 11:35 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kerry wrote:

Thanks for making the flavours of Turkey come alive.

I recently returned to Brussels from living in Zambia. Although the majority of Zambians don't have enough food and can't afford the tasteless offerings of the supermarkets, what they do have reminded me of how food should taste. I was honoured to be given traditional village chicken in a tiny hamlet miles off the beaten track near the small town of Petauke. That small chicken brought back memories of how chicken used to taste before we cooped it up, fed it fishmeal and injected it with who knows what. Food plays such an important role in our lives - whether for survival like the majority of Zambians - or for enjoyment and pleasure. That skinny but tasty village chicken will remain with me for a long time! Now all I need is to try that Turkish coffee!

  • 160.
  • At 11:35 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ana wrote:

We all agree that food is worse than it was. 3 years ago i went to Croatia
and there I found food which tasted like the one I reemember from my childhood. I always knew that Polish food is much better then what You can get in Western Europe especially England and Ireland, so it was a surprise. In my opininon the more Modern, rich and developed country the worse food, In Poland i had a small shop run by a familly 2 mins from my home here(Dublin) the neerest shop is Tesco 15mins away and I hate shopping there. Big farms, supermarkets and mass production kills the taste not only of fruits and vegies but of all foods. In Poland since 89 we have much more supermarkets and big farms and we have much worse food as well I just hope that we return to the natural before it gets as bad as here..

  • 161.
  • At 11:49 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • john s wrote:

As a European editor, you obviously dont follow Belgian news but as a resident of Brussels, you might have noted that the 2006 Belgian climate was not particularly favourable for agriculture. All the Belgian TV chains reporrted last September that the potato crop was adversely affected by the weather not only in quantity but also in quality. Your Estonian colleague wouldn;t have been aware of that fact

I have just discovered your Blog - I hate the tasteless fruit and veg you get in Wales!! Most people here do not seem to mind.

  • 163.
  • At 11:59 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • John Brown wrote:

The bland, standardised food is the creation of us, the consumer. We value low price, convenience and availability over flavour, so that's what drives the supermarkets, and ultimately the producers.

People have already mentioned box schemes, and these demonstrate that there's a market for local, seasonal, high quality veg. But it comes at a premium, and unless people are prepared to pay for that then it will never influence production standards.

It's a bit of a paradox though, since if everyone valued flavour then the supply chain would swap to delivering that as the customer service, and once there was enough highly-flavoured veg on the market price would become the determining factor again leading to pressure on the producers and a need for more and more automation, probably resulting in reduced flavour.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for, and we in N W Europe are seeing the results of that in our supermarkets now.

  • 164.
  • At 12:05 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Cliff wrote:

I agree with your comments regarding the lack of taste in the food we eat. I have just come back from three weeks holiday in Brazil. The juice bars on the street serve fresh fruit. The taste is just sublime for all the juices. the food over there is relatively simple but the taste of the meat, veg and fruit is just out of this world - nothing like the flavourless produce we consume in the UK.

One other thing I have noticed is that, as always, you tend to eat a lot more on holiday. Frankly, I was ashamed of myself, gorging on steaks, seafood and fruit all day and night. When I returned to the UK I was dreading the thought of going on the scales to see just how much torture I would have to go through in the Gym to get back to a semblance of reasonable weight.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that after three weeks of indulging in a culinary orgy, I had only put on 5 pounds! If I had done the same thing in the UK I would have had to be put in a hoist to get me upstairs.

This begs the question that links with yours. Why does the food that we consume in the UK make us so fat and yet the natural food in many countries abroad does not?

  • 165.
  • At 12:06 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Anne Johnston Smith wrote:

Have you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan?

St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

  • 166.
  • At 12:07 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Philip Stewart wrote:

Why don't the "Granny Smith" apples I buy taste like Granny Smith apples? I'm not much of a fruit lover, but I did enjoy a good GS now and again. I had to stop eating fruit altogether for a few years (dodgy digestive system) but I can now cope with it again, except I can't get my Grannies! The sweet, yellowy, mushy things I find in the supermarkets now remind me of the utterly detestable French Golden Delicious objects everyone was slagging off a few years back.

So how come the growers and sellers can still claim that the re-designed or re-engineered fruit we get now is an example of the traditional variety? It clearly isn't the same tart, green, crisp apple I used to enjoy.

And another thing: when I was a lad, in the 1950s, I'm absolutely sure that tomatoes didn't have a woody bit in the middle. They do now, especially those manufactured (grown doesn't seem to be the right word here) in Holland. Perhaps the Dutch are trying to cross-breed them with the clog for economic reasons beyond our understanding. It's most likely connected with the production of the taste-free pork and rubber chicken they love to send us.

  • 167.
  • At 12:09 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ann Dunn wrote:

Interesting article. We haven't ventured out to Turkey yet as we have real reservations about civil rights there but I do agree about Greece. We moved to Crete in January and are amazed at how big the fruit and veg. are and how good they taste. I can't remember when I enjoyed tomatoes so much.

We think that the main cause of tasteless food in England is that supermarkets force farmers & market gardeners to produce more and more for less money. Quality is bound to fall by the wayside.

Producing things out of season probably doesn't help either because it has to be picked too early and travel maybe thousands of miles. It's so much better to source things locally, or grow your own if you can, and eat them as soon as possible after they are picked. We're growing our own now and it's an interesting hobby as well as nourishing.

  • 168.
  • At 12:10 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Mark Jones wrote:

I've stopped buying fresh produce altogether from supermarkets in the UK, I'm growing my own green beans, potatoes, onions, spring onions, garlic, herbs, beetroot, lettuce, kohlrabi, strawberries, carrots and broccoli in the garden and it all tastes 100 times better than the rubbish that supermarkets sell us. I also get a box delivery which isn't quite as good as homegrown but still a big improvement. The only way to change the situation is for consumers to vote with their wallets and boycott the bland fruit and veg.

  • 169.
  • At 12:12 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Paul Villa wrote:

Tasty vegetables? I fear they've all gone the way of the yellow banana!

If you really want to get a taste of a country, you have to head for its outdoor markets. And in Greece that means the local weekly ‘laiki’ (common) market.

The market is a treat for (and sometimes an assault on) the senses. Crowds jostle, trolleys trundle (sometimes right over your toes), hawkers shout each other down in contests to grab your attention and veteran buyers examine the goods and haggle over prices.

The air is filled with the sweet scent of ripe melons and peaches; the sharp aroma of fresh lemons; the pungent twang of huge purple onions the size of my hand or heads of garlic like a fist; and the heady smell of fresh basil plants or dried local herbs. And putting the cherry on the top of that intoxicating cocktail of smells are the souvlaki sellers grilling a constant parade of skewered pork cubes over hot coals from daybreak til traders and shoppers alike surrender to the midday sun, pack up and go home.

The feast for the eyes is no less seductive. You’ll find none of the clinical uniformity of a British supermarket’s fruit section here. Large and small keep company, and there’s not a waxed orange or vacuum-sealed package to be seen anywhere.

Instead, you’ll find shiny fat black aubergines nestling next to their slimmer mottled mauve cousins, plump red tomatoes, scarlet peppers shaped like horns of cornucopia, massive watermelons like striped green bowling balls – some cut open to display their succulent red innards - and a veritable rainbow of fresh flowers, plants and herbs.

Here, ‘laiki man’ is in his element. And he’s as 100% locally produced as the fruit and veg he sells. Whether he’s a moustachioed giant with a belligerent belly or a wiry tanned chancer with a cigarette permanently clamped between his teeth, he’s as authentic as they come. There’s no sophistry in him - he is the Del Boy of the Greek stage.

He’s convinced of the superiority of his produce – or at least he's very convincing. His is the sweetest, the freshest, the firmest, the juiciest – and if you don’t believe him, he’ll cut open a sample so you can try for yourself.

You can forget pretentious overpriced delicatessans, or the clinical anonymity of the supermarket shelves. Good food, fresh food, real food, is all about authenticity and passion – and ‘laiki man’ is brimming over with both.

  • 171.
  • At 12:16 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jan Andrew wrote:

Hallelujah!!
Thank you Mark for writing one of those blogs that made me go "Yes! Yes! YES!!". I think you should email this to every supermarket chief exec in the country!
I think the root of the whole problem is the fact that we've lost touch with food and how it's grown and produced. I'm as guilty as anyone for taking advantage of the convenience shopping in a supermarket offers. But at the same time, we have all now come to expect that peppers are all the same size and colour (how can they each be priced the same???), perfectly Bugs Bunny shaped carrots and lettuces bereft of any trace of bugs!
I lived in Israel some time ago and if you'd asked to buy one pepper there they'd have looked at you like you'd gone mad!! Peppers were all different shades of red, green and yellow and were curvy and dimpled and guess what....THEY TASTED OF PEPPERS! I can't ebar those hothoused, water-filled facsimiles of red peppers from Holland (no offence meant to the Netherlands!) we get presented with here.
So bravo, Mark! If it's time to start a campaign for Real Food, count me in!!

Jan

Great article, very evocative, thanks Mark. One of the freshest meals I remember having was in Istanbul. One man caught fish with a fishing rod, passing each fish to the man with a griddle on the bridge; he killed, gutted and cooked each fish. Diners stood or sat around helping themselves to warmed bread and salads to eat with their fish.

  • 173.
  • At 12:17 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jane Prior wrote:

PLEASE...someone start a movement for real food. At times I wonder if my aging palate is at fault but I don't think so. If you think food is tasteless in Europe you should try Canadian supermarket food to experience really tasteless. The list of so called fresh produce that I refuse to buy at great cost gets longer all the time. Not only the fruit and vegetables, meat is not like it was, cheese is like soap. Proof of this is, the increasing range of very spicy food available, an unconscious attempt of people have to some sensation on the taste buds. I wonder if the obesity pandemic is a reaction to this tasteless food....people are never satisfied with what they eat and just keep eating trying to sate their need. No one has mentioned another property of modern food, it goes rotten really quickly. Great article but keep on this subject, it is really important and we the people are way ahead of you journalists, grocers and politicians........

  • 174.
  • At 12:18 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jan Andrew wrote:

Hallelujah!!
Thank you Mark for writing one of those blogs that made me go "Yes! Yes! YES!!". I think you should email this to every supermarket chief exec in the country!
I think the root of the whole problem is the fact that we've lost touch with food and how it's grown and produced. I'm as guilty as anyone for taking advantage of the convenience shopping in a supermarket offers. But at the same time, we have all now come to expect that peppers are all the same size and colour (how can they each be priced the same???), perfectly Bugs Bunny shaped carrots and lettuces bereft of any trace of bugs!
I lived in Israel some time ago and if you'd asked to buy one pepper there they'd have looked at you like you'd gone mad!! You'd buy at least a kilo and they were shades of red, green and yellow and were curvy and dimpled and guess what....THEY TASTED OF PEPPERS! I can't bear those hothoused, water-filled facsimiles of red peppers from Holland (no offence meant to the Netherlands!) we get presented with here.
So bravo, Mark! If it's time to start a campaign for Real Food, count me in!!

Jan

  • 175.
  • At 12:20 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Gervas Douglas wrote:

This is the most pertinent article on the BBC website. One of the things I mourn in Spain is the Loss of Flavour in the Spanish Tomato. The Spanish have succumbed to the temptation of mass production of flavourless vegetables. What stupidity! What a tragedy!

  • 176.
  • At 12:21 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kathryn Muirhead wrote:

I don't believe that modern seed varieties are necessarily worse than old ones: one of my favourite tomato crops is a fairly recently introduced F1 from T&M - flavoursome, decent yield, and even some blight resistance. Part of the perception that the older, traditional ones are best is because only the best old varieties had survived, and partly just general nostalgia. I think if you taste-tested good modern varieties against good old ones, you'd not see much difference, and you might get better hardiness or higher yields into the bargain: it seems silly to think that the old varieties were perfect and incabable of any improvement.

The biggest single problem (I think) is picking underripe (even Dutch greenhouse tomatoes are pretty decent if you get the ones sold to locals that the pickers have missed and are vine-ripened), the next biggest is choosing varieties for the wrong reasons (ie economic, not culinary), and pushing for maximum yield off yoru chosen variety is a distant third.

  • 177.
  • At 12:22 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jonathan Hibberd, Kiev, Ukraine wrote:

Having spent 3 years living in Hungary and taking several trips to Romania I have to say that I have feared the EU's influence on the food in these places for some time. The taste epiphany described sounds very much like what I have experienced in Eastern Europe. I never even tolerated beetroot until I tasted the 'real thing' in the form of Ukrainian borsch. Back in England for several weeks in the summer I am finding those plastic bags of Marks and Sparks fruit very unappealing indeed.

  • 178.
  • At 12:23 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Stewart Robertson wrote:

"Ash" hit the nail on the head in post no. 94. So many people want to blame somebody - farmers, supermarkets, government, the EU - but at the end of the day it's a free market and we get what we ask for. In the UK, too many people have been saying for too long that what we want above all is CHEAP food. And that's what we've got. Don't want it? Don't buy it. The suppliers will get the message.

Here in the US, the tomatoes are the MOST disappointing piece of produce around. Once upon a time in Ohio, my husband and I tended an organic garden on a piece of land that, thousands and thousands of years ago, was beachfront of Lake Erie (called "sandy loam" it is glorious for growing all sorts of things). Later, it was a pig farm and then, finally, where we made our vegetable garden which we fortified with buckets of compost from our kitchen (veggie scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells...). When my son was born, he would toddle out to the tomato rows and eat them right off the vine. They were sweet, dense and juicy and did not want for salt or dressing of any kind. They were amazingly good. The spongy, anemic things that are sold as tomato in our markets here in New Jersey are so bad it's unbelievable that anyone would even bother to eat them. Honestly, if I am going to make a cooked sauce, I prefer to purchase the canned variety--while not "fresh," at least they are picked at the height of their ripeness, taste like tomatoes, and are red. Often, too, the frozen beans and peas are similarly more tasty.

And, for those who have not made the switch to organic milk (either in your cereal bowl, glass, coffee or tea), you simply don't know what you are missing. It's creamy, delicious and actually tastes like milk!

Best,
Dar in NJ, US

  • 180.
  • At 12:31 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Zahra wrote:

Mark, I recently visited Europe, I come from Africa. I had a bad time eating becuase the food was always tasteless. At least back here, for now, we do have flavour in vegetables and fruits.

  • 181.
  • At 12:34 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Gary Singer, Chicago USA wrote:

Like Mr. Mardell, I have traveled and dined in a good portion of the world. Since I am a chef the world's cuisine plays a large roll in our activities. Generally, the underdeveloped world, while poorer, has by far tastier foodstuffs and cuisine. I think out of necessity the population has to produce its own food. Therefore, the food is fresher, and the consumer has a link and understanding to what makes quality. Growing local produce and serving fish cought that day is by far superior to industialized products. However, can the world feed itself on this scale. In chicago, we have fantastic local farmers markets. The produce might be bruised, but is sweet and full of flavor. The western consumer's obsession with price causes products to be shipped in from 1000's of miles away, and therefore is always picked when it is not ripe. I think the most important thing is to buy locally. If it is more expensive EAT LESS! Give up your fillets, and try braising your meat. It is a fraction of the cost, and in my opinion more tasty

  • 182.
  • At 12:34 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Wendy Milner wrote:

Thanks Mr Mardell for highlighting this issue.
A week in Bordeaux just recently convinced me that we're missing out. The food bought even from supermarkets there sent me into a nostalgic reverie for my childhood - the taste of the tomatoes and strawberries was heavenly. When we got back to England the only thing which came near was the organic fruit and veg from our local market. They sold 'black' tomatoes which looked unsightly but were the best taste ever. Tiny avocadoes, not much flesh but worth every little bit for their taste...and they needed very little salt. When you think that eating is one of the most basic and essential things we do to survive and we spend an awful lot of time doing it, shouldn't it be a pleasure? I'm now committed to buying organic fruit and veg (from local suppliers where possible), not because I think it's better for me but because I need to enjoy what I'm eating, and scrubbing 'taters is worth it for that.

  • 183.
  • At 12:35 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Excellant Article !!!

Who is too blame for the sexy fresh looking Veggies that taste of well sometimes nothing.

Society Is my answer. In our busy lives we dont have the time to shop every day, or for that matter every other day. So the Fruit and veg need to be "Fresh looking" for longer, not just in the Shop but for us to store for the week at home. If it was Off in a couple of days we would complain and throw it out. The shop reacts to our demands which is passed to the producers..
But it doesnt taste as good...
A small price to pay for longer shelf life....
Not in my opinion .

I shop every day at a local Grocers for my fruit and veg. Yes I pay more But the taste is better and It has been grown " As it should" and not farmed.
Look at strawberries only used to be on the shelves for a month or two. Now you can get them all year round. But they never taste as good as if you go to the farms and pick them yourself !!!!

Were all to blam. We are all too busy to take time to buy real proper food !!

  • 184.
  • At 12:37 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

Any chance that the BBC could start a campaign to STOP the ridiculous semi-religous, semi-sensual tone that everyone adopts in writing or speaking about food? It really is dull and off-putting. No offence to Mr. Mardell.

  • 185.
  • At 12:38 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Flo wrote:

Supermarkets are just part of the problem. I tend to buy my fruit from greengrocers - it's cheaper anyway! - but the quality isn't always a lot better. Their fruit and veg is pretty much the same standard nowadays unfortunately.

I was shopping at Sainsbury's a few weeks ago, and noticed some peaches at reduced price as they were reaching their best by date. They were perfectly ripe, and smelt nice so I got some, and to my surprise they didn't rot straight away, and actually tasted fantastic! So sometimes they can do it - why not more often?

  • 186.
  • At 12:47 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Robert Prummel wrote:

An excellent observation! The problem, it is difficult to blame anyone in particular, is manyfold;

* We shop with our eyes, the melons that you ate in France 30 years ago taste great but shoppers in supermarkets prefer goodlooking tasteless ones...
*The supermarkets present us what they sell best..
*Small (green)grocers dissapear...
* Monoculture, here in the Netherlands 80% of all seed for vegetables is sold by one company.
*New products (vegetables, varieties of seeds) are tested on groups of housewives and children. But children have to learn to appreciate bitterness in food. That is why all our food is loaded with suger and chicory has lost it's unique bitter taste.

The solution is education. The move to proper, tasty, healthy school food, as is proposed in Brittain, is a great move ahead!

Faithfully yours,

Robert Prummel

Groningen
The Netherlands

  • 187.
  • At 12:56 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Geert Haghebaert wrote:

On the one hand it bothers me a bit to read "Brussels" in your columns as a metaphore for all what is bad in the EU.
On the other hand I just came back from a holiday in Belgium where I enjoyed food so much more than in the sugary North Western hemisphere I live in... and part of the joy came from the Turkish meal I had in Ghent...

  • 188.
  • At 01:01 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Anna Fairey wrote:

With so many comments on yr blog, I shall make mine short: agree with everything about lack of taste, quality etc. espec. tomatoes and|Jersey potatoes and the delicious brown bread I grew up with in the last century. Irefuse to buy any veg not marked UK which means I suffer when my own crops are poor or finished. My doctor told me when I was slightly anaemic that because I had been living for some years in tropicalcountries where veg grows v. fast it has fewer minerals that UK grown so supermarkets and their evils are actually undermining our health. LIving in Scotland I put back on shelves raspberries and blueberries imported from Poland: we have the very best of these fruits right here and in plenty. For pities' sake, will someone organise a countrywide fight against supermarkets and bring back small shops which sell fresh local produce. AA

  • 189.
  • At 01:03 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Rob Branch-Dasch wrote:

I absolutely concur: taste is too wonderful a sensory experience to waste on what often masquerades as produce. For years bio-engineers have worked to develop varieties that maximize return for the factory farmer, i.e they grow quickly, require less water or fertilizer, and produce a more visually appealing fruit or veg, which can then travel well and last long on the shelf. Bio-engineers and factory farmers have no care for the flavor, which the consumer experiences only after having already purchased their product.

  • 190.
  • At 01:07 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Liz wrote:

I agree a lot with #103 and #148.

There's several factors at work, and 'the evil supermarkets' really isn't one of them (by the way,I don't personally like shopping at supermarkets myself,but get fed up with their hypocritical demonisation):

1.The limitations of feeding a dense/large population at reasonable cost, with a range of foods, embodying adequate nutrition,and with flexibility that getting hold of essential items fits in with people's lives rather than dominates them (Soviet bloc, anyone?). Something's gotta give: you can't wring every last drop out of the soil and expect produce to be wonderful,but on the other hand truly 'sustainable' food (which doesn't necessarily taste better anyway) is going to be restricted in quantity &/or variety. Dare I say...optimum population?

2.The desire of people to recreate 'that wonderful peach they ate in Spain' or 'mango in Thailand' is itself part of the problem. Stick to local,seasonal foods and they MIGHT be tastier...but in the UK,bite the bullet that you're then going to lack variety (and possibly risk scurvy in winter).

3.Supermarkets can only stay in business by selling what people will buy: it's up to you to buy what you'd like to see more of sold. That said,other retailers are at least partly responsible for their own demise: it's obviously short-sighted to be open only when potential bread-buyers are out bread-winning (apart from a brief period in the 50s,there never was a societal norm of the 'pure' housewife).

4.At the end of the day,let's keep it in perspective and not go in for too many rosy views of other times & countries. I was surprised to learn that W.African markets aren't always a good place to get veg;produce in European markets has often travelled from more exotic places than its supermarket counterparts;and the misuse of 'chemicals' is so widespread in developing (& poorer European) countries that workers & consumers are frequently put at risk. Compare the abundance of hedgerows in England with the agro-prairies of apparently 'concerned about food' France!

  • 191.
  • At 01:14 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jo wrote:

Mark has just summed up my last 2 weeks in Romania!!

We've just had my parents over here for our wedding and we've eaten to our hearts' content of all vegetables and fruit available. Everything including meat tastes like it did in the good old days, and although the vegetables do not look picture-perfect as they do on our supermarket shelves back home in Geneva, I would much prefer them ANYDAY! The 'excuse' of Romania is that they never had the money to 'upgrade'to the way Western Europe farms. Now, they are being told to keep up what they are doing as it is the organic farming that we are effectively trying to go back to, and charging an arm and a leg for on our shelves.

I've been coming to Romania for 11 years now, and my dearest wish is that things do not change from a culinary point of view. I hope it is not just wishful thinking!

  • 192.
  • At 01:21 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Valerie wrote:

We recently went on a trip to Italy and couldn't believe the taste of produce there. And not only the taste, but the price! Even for bland, local grocery store tomatoes, we pay three times the price of their fruits and veggies.

As for the spice in the coffee (to add to the numerous other suggestions already presented above), it might have been mahlab. It's a ground cherry pit and it is smooth and buttery. I use it in date squares and cookies. You can also try brewing your coffee with ground coriander, with or without orange zest.

  • 193.
  • At 01:25 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • booster wrote:

Can you imagine how awful life is for those of us who can't smell? Its like having a cold all the time. As taste is half to do with flavour and favour relies heavily on smell, all these people have is their taste buds. And if food doesn't taste of anything...well, QED.
My advice for a world in which food is tasteless for everyone? Buy shares in Tabasco!

  • 194.
  • At 01:33 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ferhat Savcı wrote:

Hi Mark, hi all,

The spice in your coffee was the seed of "mahlep", the mahaleb cherry (lat. "Prunus mahaleb"). It is also used in pastry and can be addictive.

The wine liqueur (similar to a vermouth) made from the flesh of the fruit is also delicious and is one of the two drinks usually served alongside regular, pure Turkish coffee (the more popular liqueur is creme de menthe, as, it compliments the "raki" after a "muhabbet" session).

  • 195.
  • At 01:34 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Caner wrote:

I just returned from a one month trip to Turkey and I have to agree that it is in the produce.
I have heard from relatives that the “hormone” invasion has not yet impacted Turkey as it has North America or Europe.
“Grow them big and grow them fast” seems to be the motto, but in Turkey, they seem to be resisting.

Note: Flavoured Turkish coffee! What is next??? Milk in your tea???

Enjoy

  • 196.
  • At 01:36 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Ann Williams wrote:

Great article. Thanks.
Been to Diyarbakir, Eastern Turkey. Fab food!!!!
No alcohol!!!
Nice city walls.Not much else.

  • 197.
  • At 01:39 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Raul A. Cardenas wrote:

Good writing Mr. Mardell.
Refrigeration, genetics, fertilizers,pesticides and yes above all:GREED, have destroyed flavour!
I buy fruit at Walmart that has been regrigerated in warehouses, tranportation and at the estore: No flavour!
I buy bananas and figs at the traditional market: delicious!
Have a nice day,
rc

  • 198.
  • At 01:47 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • datsuncog wrote:

Very much enjoyed the blog, and just to throw my own tuppence-worth into the debate, I do feel that supermarkets are doing themselves and their customers a great disservice.
In Northern Ireland, one of the few genuinely local delicacies in season are Comber new potatoes, and while perusing the shelves of my local friendly vast mutinational retailer, I was pleased to see packs of Comber spuds clearly labelled, with signs suspended from the ceiling with 'Northern Ireland Produce' emblazoned across them, and shelf-edge labels proclaiming the same. There was even a little 'wobbler' hanging from the shelf, telling me that local new potatoes were in the Top 10 local products stocked by Tesco.
However, on picking some up, it seemed that although the potatoes had indeed been neatly packed in a nearby town, the 'Produce of Israel' printing on the front of the pack seemed to undermine that local labelling. Local produce? It seems that, like many retailers, supermarkets will say anything to get a sale and then claim all the signage had been put up 'in error' when challenged. Consumer pressure for local produce may well result in similar sharp practice and mis-labelling, and even local stuff grown on a huge scale may still prove just as tasteless and disappointing anyway.
Ultimately, I got my new season Combers from an old man with a trailer parked up beside the road, just outside Comber - delicious, and very much 'the real deal'. Farm shops etc can't always stock local produce to meet demand, but it's the next best thing if, like myself, you live in an apartment block and really can't grow anything except windowsill herbs.

  • 199.
  • At 01:48 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Veronica wrote:

I'm mexican and I have been living in Belgium for 2 years and this topic has been in our table many times, specially with tomatoes, they taste like water, some of them don't even have a smell and they are considerable expensive for what you get. We are seriously considering plant our own ones next year and I hope we will have a better result.
Regards!

  • 200.
  • At 01:49 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Tony Naleo wrote:

Tasteless in Paradise? When I saw the article I just had to read it. Come to Tanzania where we grow the fruits and vegetables on natural soil. We can ill afford the fertiliser and insecticides. A traveller can buy tomatoes, apples, mangoes, oranges and watermelon by the roadside for a 1,000 kilometres from Arusha to Iringa. They are so tasty one can eat them on the way. My family lived in California before and I went there often. The beef and chicken tasted bland, the veggies looked great but cannot compare in taste to what we have in Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar. I live in Tanzania now, and had the opportunity to travel quiet a bit to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Dubai, and Cairo. They have lots of tasty local foods.

  • 201.
  • At 01:51 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Leslie Farkas wrote:

Competion to reduce price and cost have led to agriculture and food selling to being a big, high volume, mass production, deep pocket corporate business. Only lesser developed countries, where corporate capitalism has not yet made inroads in these areas, do you see agriculture dominated by very small producers. Given a trade off between flavorfulness and much cheaper price, most people, whatever their nationality, prefer to go with the latter. A possible answer for cultures like Bulgaria and Romania, is subsidisation of small, local production; this may be a violation of EU rules though. Sooner or later, the Conagras and Cargills of this world win.

  • 202.
  • At 01:55 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

I think it's pretty clear who is to blame for the lost of flavoursome food: the supermarkets, for selling rubbish, and consumers for buying it.

I've recently started growing my own veg, and the transformation in taste is just amazing. Who would have thought that, for example, a humble cabbage could taste so good?

There is very little excuse for anyone who cares about food not to do likewise. You really don't need a big garden (although of course you can grow a lot more if you've got one). Even if you live in a flat there are plenty of things you can grow in pots on a window sill. What's more, it really isn't difficult. A couple of hours spent reading some gardening websites will tell you all you need to know to grow most things.

As for not having the time, well, that's just a matter of priorities. If you want delicious food, you'll make the time.

if you're ever in hong kong seek out the chilli snow crab; deep fried lamb shank (utterly divine); good honest chinese soup, ultimate comfort food; and the espresso in the mandarin oriental hotel comes with a twist of lemon peel, which goes so well I wonder why I've never seen that anywhere else :-)

regarding tasteless food, perhaps a "real beauty" campaign for vegetables is required. the extra transportation costs can be met by lobbying the government to up the recommended daily fruit & veg intake to six...

it's great to read all these foodie comments!

  • 204.
  • At 02:23 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Aloke Vaid wrote:

Mark,

At one of the spectrum, there is Turkey. At the other end, we have the good ol' the US of A.

As Kramer in Seinfeld says there is not a single piece of fruit in a supermarket that is fit to eat.

Aaaah.

No wonder, here in the US, th farmers markets with local produce are becoming popular again.

Clearly, you have touched a nerve with your readers.

Thanks,

  • 205.
  • At 02:29 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Laura wrote:

Its so strange for people to compare childhood memories to organic food. Maybe I am not old enough, but my family owned small farms. And they used fertilizers. We always used fertilizer for our home gardens. And the vegetables tasted wonderful.

As a chemical engineer, I know that we focus on giving what people want. Good looking vegies, good looking/smelling things (including water) ignoring fundementals that people dont want to pay for.

The best way to get good fresh food is local farmers markets and buy IN SEASON food. This means you shouldnt buy a lot of fruit in the winter and expect it to taste like summer time. Nor shouuld you buy bananas from argentina and expect them to taste like in argentina if you are anywhere else.

People blame chemicals for things all the time that have no factual evidence. And a lot of this biodengineered food was engineered to feed poor people. We have only gotten more poor people so the market for food that is engineered to be hardy is not going to die.

Oh and farm animals smell bad. I mean the worst smell is amish farms - and they are definitely not using modern marvels to feed animals or grow foods. (Amish = no electric/power and are self sufficient for a breif ovreview).

I miss corn fresh off my grandpas farm. Corn in FL does not taste the same, and no food tastes the same when its not off the farm. A good way to battle all of this is to see if there is a cooperative farm or the oppertunity to start one. Then the food is grown to the liking of the people in the coop and you can get fresh food.

And a note on global warming. Methane is 3x more damaging than CO2 and is the strongest greenhouse gass most of the time. All the excess waste could affect it more than saving anything by organic means. These are two different issues, dont confuse spin for science.

  • 206.
  • At 02:33 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Lawrence wrote:

As a graduate with an Environmental Science degree, and also a part-time chef, I find myself in total agreement with this article. But there is a solution!

Farmer's Markets, with local, seasonal produce, provide a way back to the flavours we all crave. Fresh garlic, heirloom onions, bushels of apples from the orchard down the road; these are the keys to reawakening our taste buds. And don't even get me started on heirloom livestock. The flavor of our modern breeds is appalling, but they make for good massive-scale production.

But the best bit is the consequences of eating locally and seasonally: farmers can afford to get out of their contracts with Tesco and Asda, and instead buy heirloom varieties to sell directly to you. Increasing demand for local produce also allows you to reinvest in your community, and that's got to be better than sending your hard-earned money overseas, right?

Sure, this means that we won't produce enough for everyone to stuff their face with a Big Mac, fries, Sunny-D, and ice cream every hour, but that's okay. As a nation, we have to stop compensating for quality with quantity.

Ask your restaurants if they buy their meat direct from the farmers. I know that the places I've worked have saved money buy buying direct. It's more work, but completely worth it.

Eat less. Eat local. Eat seasonal. Eat better. Rinse and repeat, forever and ever. Amen.

  • 207.
  • At 02:41 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Santosh wrote:

Its all because of the hybrid GM stuff. I have lived in the US for several years but when I come to India the same vegetables which I loathe in the US taste great back in India. Bell peppers in the US are these huge monsters appealing to the eye but when you cook them they are taste less. In India we get these small bell peppers and they are so delicious.

Thanks, Mark, for highlighting what's evidently a subject that many identify with. Particularly interested in the posts by Rosie Nichols & Roger Bingham.
Take direct action - walk to your local greengrocer for veg! Mine expects to be asked where it comes from, and where possible makes local purchasing decisions because people ask these questions. He buys daily from a local wholesaler (I could go there myself, but I wouldn't get as good a price), while the local market stalls seem to buy "cheaper" rather than "better". My grocer’s produce is often marked as local &/or "without chemicals". Local pressure works! Even if it’s British rather than local, it’ll have fewer food-miles than out-of-season produce shipped from the other side of the world, and keeping cash in the local economy allows local businesses to thrive. Be aware, too of the supermarket practice of shipping (British-produced) goods around the world for waxing, packing, etc.
Busy lives, no local greengrocers? Seek one out where you work, live, or pass through, it’s well worth it.
Ripped off in the past, or greengrocer charging too much? If you care, and if you want it, you need to either pay; to grow it yourself; or to get it from someone who does. Consider a higher price to be a trade-off for having someone local nurture your food on your behalf, and hopefully treat it with more regard than those who take your money to move “commodities” around the globe to line their pockets.
Can’t carry it home? Buy a trolley, or take help – I find the offer of a coffee from a **local** coffee shop an attractive inducement! Then chill out a while and watch the world go by…

  • 209.
  • At 02:45 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

Much as the all-organic hippie brigade says otherwise, it's not the big evil businesses loading our produce with chemicals causing the problem. They are only giving the average consumer what they want, food that looks good and stays 'fresh' for longer. Feeding this is the other part of the problem, that we want fresh everything all year round, so it has to travel across continents and oceans. For my fellow Canadians: should you really have any right to expect fresh strawberries in the middle of winter? I suppose we gain variety, but as everything then tastes of nothing, it's mostly a visual effect.

Buying local goes in hand with buying seasonal. On that note, I am passing from strawberry season into blueberry/raspberry season (and peach season). I will be quite happy to leave behind oranges, sprouts, broccoli, you name it.

  • 210.
  • At 02:51 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sophie Grillet wrote:

Another place for mouthwateringly flavoursome fruit is Argentina. Things like peaches, plums and apricots which have taken the worst hit in (N) Europe and the US.

They're certainly not worse looking, but are they more expensive? I don't think so, but exchange rates might mislead. I think supermarket shelf life is probably culprit no. 1. twinned with larger production units (farms? Orchards?) which are neccesarily further away. I don't mind subsidising small farmers - it's cheaper and more satisfying than subsidising wars.

  • 211.
  • At 02:52 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jonathan wrote:

An excellent, thought provoking article. I have often remarked on strawberries being sold in supermarkets. How I have laughed to see the displays and the customers making their selections. There in the middle are a few punnets of small bright red English berries surrounded by hundreds of punnets of big pale berries. The customers (mostly) smell the wonderful English berries but buy the big watery tasteless things!

I do blame the customer - many times I have heard excuses made for not picking the fruit from back gardens; "they have marks on them" or "I saw wasps and bees on them". If only they saw what is sprayed onto the tasteless things they buy whilst tasty fruit rots in their gardens!

the food is tastless as it is forced, with lots of water, tomatos and other fruits and veg require to be stressed, good on you for reminding us of the difference. I live in the Basque Country where food tastes great :-)

  • 213.
  • At 03:16 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

As with many of these things, much of the fault lies with us. We wanted cheap food, so we got cheap food. Unfortunately caring for food, and accepting a level of wastage increases prices.

There are several oganisations opposing this ("campaign for real food" or the "slow food" movement being the most famous). These have a growing membership and aim to protect and promote food produced with care, to taste good at sustainable levels.

Please don't blindly bash the EU over this, they have developed more schemes to protect locally produced food than any domestic European government. However, local fresh food comes at a premium, the question is whether you are prepared to pay for it.

As a final point, this year I made my first attempt to grow veg. I am not a keen gardener and have very little time so I picked easy veg that grows with minimal care. The result has been great, and they taste fabulous. I wouldn't have believed the results that a complete novice (and a lazy one at that) could get.

  • 214.
  • At 03:23 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Giuseppe wrote:

Come on, Mark, what's food flavour has to do with the EU? You're well aware the EU CAP (common agricultural policy) is about supporting the revenue of farmers as well as protecting EU produce from competition from outside its borders. It is not fundamentally about gastronomy, although measures do exist to ensure quality (minimum size and optimal shape, and presentation) of fruit, fish and other goods. Besides, a comprehensive scheme does exist to protect geographically typical products. All in all, this is more than enough in terms of pubic policy, and there is no point hinting the EU has anything to do with the taste of lemon, potatoes or - god forbid - the flavour of pub chips. Quality food is a matter of individual dedication, and could not be provided by the public authorities, whatever the latitude.
Regards.

  • 215.
  • At 03:35 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Kathy wrote:

Mark certainly hit a chord didn't he?
This evening I pick up my first veggie box from a distributor who is 10 mins from my home. Yes the produce is organic, but my main concern was that it be seasonal and local and the farm is 20 miles away. I am heartily fed up of the supermarkets who sell organic produce from the other side of the planet and expect you to pay a premium for them. And don't get me started on flavourless tomatoes - I'd rather live without them. I'm getting 7 veg, 1 fruit and milk for £8. I don't think it's too much to pay for what I want.

  • 216.
  • At 03:40 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • J. Wall wrote:

Good article Mark ...

Isn't it ironic that the more afluent countries all seem to be have lower food quality on the average food shelf whilst the less afluent countries seem to have better food quality taste wise.

Recently returning to UK and shopping in the supermarket, I noticed a number of customers rejecting particular fruit and veg because of small blemishes on the outside. I live in Hungary currently and this is never seen. Indeed, they considered perfectly good (and not just bacause they're all that's available)

The UK's supermarket fruit and veg presentation will make the better photograph but not the better salad. The Hungarian fruit and veg section may not present as 'perfect' but will out flavour and out taste the UK ingredients.

When it comes to choosing my ingredients for my salad, I'm buying in Hungary.

This is not EU standardisation or rules, it's individual consumer choise and individual food knowledge and education (basics only) at play here.

Jó étvágyat (Eat well)

jack

  • 217.
  • At 03:53 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Varun wrote:

I have just moved to US from india. I found all the fruits appealing visually but tasteless. Watermelons red but not sweet. Raw mangoes all over the self. The most disappointing part is that I developed allergies. I was never alergic to anything before.

  • 218.
  • At 04:11 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • JillP wrote:

A great article - and thanks to Roberto for naming puntarelle as the mystery veg. Let's really make the growers and distributors listen. Even 'organic' food in supermarkets and markets can be awful if it is picked under-ripe and then over-chilled for transport. 'Ready to eat' fruit that isn't, and turns brown rather than ripe; carrots that are merely orange; beans that come at best in three types.... We can do better if we demand better but, in the overall scheme of things, we may get quicker results starting with transportation and distribution standards than by being adamant about organic. Get what we can now produce to our kitchens in better shape and give the (organic or not) growers time to adapt/upscale to a newly discerning set of customers. Meanwhile, let those of us who care, remember to help our children and their friends taste the difference rather than get lectured about 'food miles' or 'five-a-day'. For those lucky enough to have it, food is fun.

  • 219.
  • At 04:21 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Nicholas wrote:

Interesting article. Anybody who grows their own vegetables will turn up their nose at mass produced ones.
In Herefordshire where my parents live, there is a controversy about strawberries grown in plastic tunnels for Tesco. The strawberieis look ok but are tasteless. And the tunnels are an eyesore. Tescos seem to encourage their customers to buy these large red bubbles of water, and there will no dobt be a generation of consumers who beleive that this is how strawberries should taste. Sad.

  • 220.
  • At 04:25 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • HYLL wrote:

Nothing wrong with tomatoes "made in the EU", just learn to take them out the fridge the day before you need them, so that their flavour and smell returns to life,

there is nothing wrong with the supermarket, the E.U, genetics or DNA, the farmer or your tomatoes, (or not those red things anyway) it is just that you have forgotten how to store, prepare and eat them.

Don't store them in the the fridge!

(and please do stop moaning about life, the problems (and the lack of taste) are ony due to your (oops) ignorance.

Yum:)

  • 221.
  • At 04:36 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Michael Keohane wrote:

MarK
Delightful blog; perhaps when back at your post and, as you will be, you become fed up with politicians and bureaucrats, you might delight us again with a "special" on food.
Perhaps there is noone else to blame but ourselves, as many of the responses point out. We want good looking everything, and many have no developed sense of taste. What, indeed, have we done to the potato? Yet how many people have eaten good freshly dug potatoes of different varieties? How would they know what a potato is?
If that isn't bad enough, what have we done to the poor pig? Here in Toronto (I have lived here for over thirty years, but also in London and Ireland), supermarket pork is sold "seasoned", which means nothing more than that it is injected with salt water so as to provide moisture and flavour. It is the public, of course, which demanded the lean, fat free, and totally tastless animal which the farmers were only too pleased to breed in those mass production facilities (I can't call them farms) as a result. Try finding good tasting traditional type pork today at any price - what a struggle it is.
Thanks again, and more please.

  • 222.
  • At 05:07 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • kazeem koleoso wrote:

Having lived in Europe for a number of years, I can also give a testimony as to the taste (or lack thereof) of food there. I was in Norway, where strawberries have a short season (July-August). They taste divine. My brother visited me there from England in 2004, and I was with him recently. I asked hm if he taken any strawberries this year, and he said he was still savoring the taste from that year, adding that the TESCO strawberries were no good. That said it all for me. The chickens in Europe also taste like sawdust, compared to the ones I get home here in Nigeria (free-range types).

  • 223.
  • At 05:08 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

Tastless food? Who's to blame? Answer: Health & Safety, innit?

  • 224.
  • At 05:24 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • MeltemB wrote:

Thank you for the great article.
The Turkish coffee you are referring to is "Melengiç" or "Menengiç", which actually is not made of coffee beans but the berries of the "Terebinth" tree, which grows naturally in Turkey. It's scientific name is Pistacia terebinthus L., very commonly used in the Southeast. It is 100% natural, does not contain any chemicals. You could not find this coffee in other parts of Turkey, unless you visit restaurants serving food from SE Turkey. Regular Turkish coffee never has any other spice in it. When ordering, you only have to specify how sweet (no sugar=sade/little sugar=az şekerli/medium= orta şekerli/a lot= çok şekerli/no sugar but with a sugar cube on the side=yandan çarklı) you want your coffee.

  • 225.
  • At 05:26 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Murali wrote:

.. Well if you think European vegetables and fruits have gone downhill, you should try the North American varieties! We have many different fruits and vegetables, all sizeable with strong colors. Unfortunately they have no taste. Makes me fondly remember my (continental) European food.

  • 226.
  • At 05:30 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • brian delany wrote:

Lady from Canada doesn't know how good she has it. I'm come to Canada from Ireland. Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world but you cannot find good fruit & veg at any price. We suffer from all the same symptoms of the UK. I love the abundance of cheap seasonal fruit & veg in Canada but I fear this country may be headed in the way of the UK & Ireland. The Spanish won't buy tomatoes unless they taste good. It doesn't matter how good they look. Consumer is ultimately responsible.

Brian

  • 227.
  • At 05:47 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

When I moved from Latvia to France, I found the fresh fruit and veg there to be somewhat tasteless in comparison--and France is supposed to be known for its wonderful produce! When I moved from France to the United States, the produce was even worse. It tastes like cardboard. Now, I have a half share in a local CSA farm (community supported agriculture) and I have found taste again. Though I still miss my Latvian berries.

  • 228.
  • At 06:40 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Pete Porchos wrote:

In 1993 I ate a real tomato. It wasn't perfectly round, rather ridged in fact. And was flatter than you see them normally. It was also rather large. Where the stalk went into the fruit was really, really dark green.

And the flavour. I then knew what my father was talking about when he said he liked tomatoes how they used to be. It was soooooooo full of flavour.

I believe it came from Iraq.

I have tasted nothing similar since.

But at least I know what tomatoes are supposed to taste like.

  • 229.
  • At 06:51 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Elaine wrote:

It was fun and enlightening to read how important the taste of food is all over the world. Reading these comments, I am feeling increasingly fortunate. Here in the southeastern USA we have productive soils, a temperate climate and wonderful fresh produce. I write this while eating a toasted BLT (bacon, lettuce&tomato) sandwich...the tomato is still warm from my garden. We also have many people who plant their own gardens and SHARE the results. Sadly, here too are the giant supermarkets that sell the tasteless, bland "stuff" trucked in from all over. Although, one chain grocery store has made a commitment to feature as many products from our state as possible. A confession, I am one of the guilty ones who bought tomatoes in January and was of course disappointed. Learned a lesson, eating locally and in season is really the best way to go, gives me another reason to look forward to summer.
Several years ago, while home schooling my children we decided to learn the origins of our food, specifically eggs. Three laying hens joined our family and for a year laid eggs like crazy. As others in this blog have said, fresh eggs are nothing like ones from the store; their yolks are richer, darker and delicious. Adding to the fun was the search each day to find where the hens had hidden their treasure. All good things end and the hens Mable, Ozzie and Brownie joined the circle of life when raccoons made a visit one night. Even the cranky neighbor missed the "girls" and getting free fresh eggs.
One final thought, quickly scanning through the comments I did not see anyone mention groups of individuals contracting with local farmers, akin to a co-op. From my understanding, this practice started in Europe and is beginning to catch on here in the US. It works like this, a group of people contract with a local farmer to grow produce (some include meat and eggs) for them. The group prepays the farmer (dependable and advanced income and shared risk) and they all agree on a delivery system. It seems a win-win situation, especially since here like in other places we are losing too many small farmers.


  • 230.
  • At 06:52 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David wrote:

You can't blame the EU. I live in Canada and the vegetables are tasteless here too. You can't blame the supermarkets. I've tried organic food and that's just as bad, although you have the pleasure of paying over the odds for it.
Tropical fruit doesn't taste good here as it has to be picked and shipped before it's ripe. But even the local apples are poor quality. The best ones come from New Zealand.
On the other hand, we do have some good wines and bison is way better than beef. How about we start exporting these products to Europe?

  • 231.
  • At 07:05 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Rayner wrote:

we finished that Turkish meal with a coffee flavoured with a spice that I can’t place. It wasn’t cardamom, and I’ve now forgotten the Turkish name... was it Mel... or Mal-something?

Melange. You don't get it much in Britain because it's too wet here for the sandworms.

  • 232.
  • At 07:06 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Morgaine Bergman wrote:

Who's to blame...

GMO foods. Foods bred for size and colour rather than flavour. Foods injected with water to plump them out. Reliance on chemical fertilizers rather than truly rich soil... In other words, we are to blame for buying into "bigger is better" and "fast foods". For going packaged rather than eating whole foods. For giving up gardens, so that big business could snooker us into accepting poorer and poorer quality foods that are bred to travel well, not eat well.

The world is glad to sacrifice culture and "good taste" for convenience mainly because most of us HAVE already forgotten what we're missing.

I had a similar experience eating chicken in France. No one could make me believe that the meat I'd just bought off the rotisserie was the same creature I buy in the grocery store at home. And for all practical purposes, it's not. They may share the same species name, but the resemblance ends there. Grocery foods have neither the flavour nor the nutritional value that whole foods used to have because these are of least interest to producers and because we have ceased to demand quality in our goods.

Heck... some of no longer know what 'quality' is. The same unfavorable comparison can be made to all other areas of world culture: books and movies are "dumbed down" and plot and characterization is sacrificed to explosions and blaring soundtracks... This age should have offered so much promise culturally... What a shame that it's becoming such a Wasteland.

Thanks for reminding us of the world as it was meant to be...

  • 233.
  • At 07:28 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Carla Rotolo wrote:

The fault lies with agribusiness coupled with the pharma/chemical industry developed post-WWII. Small supermarkets were bought up by chains which determined distribution & in effect gradually put the small local producers out of business. Advertising helped create a consumer expectation of 'beautiful' food available around-the-clock all year long. Cheap production costs, cheap labor, exploitation of human & animal resources, impoverishment of soil (see Soilman's entry), creating non-food foods causing obesity & nutritional disorders on a planetary level.

Consumers make the choices. I have seen tremendous changes here in Sardinia where I now live. Finocchio, radicchio, oranges, cauliflower, seasonal fruits, etc ad infinitum are now seen in the markets all year round. The finocchio that used to have feathery green tops are now denuded (dirty, too much trouble, nobody wants it anymore. The cheese-sellers at the market tell me their relatives come from the continent & complain the chicken tastes too chickeny, the pork too porky, the lamb too lamby. By now, palates have altered & more & more young people in our industrialized world who are no longer exposed to 'taste' find it abhorrent often when they put some 'real' food in their mouths. They'd prefer the plastic diet they've been weaned on. This may be the biggest problem.

As for Turkey,Romania, etc - once they join the EU they too will experience enormous changes once the pressures of the 'market' are brought to bear. Viva slow food. support your local farmers. Eat seasonally. grow your own. & leave the junk on the shelves; eventually it will rot.


  • 234.
  • At 08:35 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • David Cowell wrote:

The special spice in the coffee is most likely the mahlep cherry pit.

  • 235.
  • At 09:14 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Robert Mitchell wrote:

Dear Sir, I really appreciate your addressing this issue as it looks like so few people have noticed it. The unfortunate answer is also very simple but the correction would rely on the honour of large corporations and we all know that this is no-existent. In a mad rush to maximize profit they use fertilizers to boost size and speed up the growth of ALL our foods. The side effect is depleted soil nutrients, time on the vine to ripen is not achieved because it gets picked early to preserve it for the shipping trip or, because it is force grown, the products internals has not gotten enough time to mature and transport the taste generating nutrients in enough quantities. This is a massive problem even here in the USA. Everything tastes like wet paper lightly flavoured with the product in discussion. Depressing.

  • 236.
  • At 09:28 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Nudd wrote:

1. picked before ripe
2. not fresh, days to get to market
3. covered in dangerous chemicals

  • 237.
  • At 09:42 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • karl wrote:

For many years, we have accepted the regular supermarket produce, gotten used to the friendly prices and it has become the standard which most of us have gotten used to. Recently, we have been offered an alternative in the form of "farmhouse produce", and those of us who can afford it, will enthuse about their heirloom tomatoes and the local produce delivered by a friendly farmer once a week. We haven't forgotten the taste, but we are now learning that it comes at a premium.

  • 238.
  • At 09:54 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Peter L. wrote:

Sadly, we can't grow our own lemons in northern Europe. When I lived in the UK, I grew my own veg for years. Variety is very important. Some modern varieties are very tasty and some traditional ones are awful. Use less fertiliser and water to get a lower yield with more flavour. It has absolutely nothing to do with growing organically. Glasshouse hydroponic tomato growers can increase flavour by changing the nutrient solution. They don't because the supermarkets will pay them for water.

The problem is that we, the consumers, cannot send a message back past the supermarket to the growers and plant breeders. When did you last see vegetables with the name of the grower and variety, so you could buy the same again? Local markets can convey that message (locally) but they are not common and are closed when most people leave work.

Here in Germany we do buy some veg from a market sometimes. I agree with another respondent that potatoes here are flavourless and usually waxy-textured. It must be what Germans like, I suppose. They can keep white asparagus (Spargel) too - give me green any day for flavour!

Have a good holiday!

  • 239.
  • At 09:59 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

I live in Southern California and i think we have some of the best produce in the country (USA). I truly am sorry for the people w/such a bad impression of CA produce. What i've learned is that you can't buy any fruit/veg from the large supermarkets. Everything is tasteless and rots quickly. I buy all of my produce from a local chain that essentially buys all of its produce from local farmers. Since shopping there i've actually enjoyed food again. I recommend looking for something similar, wherever you live and avoid the horrible, tasteless produce in the large corporate supermarkets.

BUY LOCAL!

Thank You Mark -- wonderful article. You've opened a great topic and the comments are helpful and took words out of my mouth.

Cheers!

  • 241.
  • At 10:20 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Sarah Wade Hutman wrote:

Delicious article! Being American, and therefore having long forgotten what really good fruits and vegetables could taste or should look like, I must confess that one very good reason for moving back to Europe was a quest for 'real, unprocessed, tasteful food' like the food I'd eaten living in Denmark '02-03. Carrots, greens and tomatoes tasted like those of my grandparents' garden... even cheese and meat and milk (all often organic for little more) were more flavorful. I ate and ate and ate and ... lost, and lost and lost weight, too! Upon return to the states, I realized the cost of industrialized farming wasn't just political and economical, but also also a tasteless coup! It pains me to hear that--and experience--that perhaps the EU is following in the footsteps of my industrial farming homeland by introducing lesser food restrictions on processing, etc. I now live in Switzerland where markets still exist, but so do the tasteless veggies and meats at outrageous prices. Proper storage will certainly help greenhouse tomatoes ripen, but nothing will ever beat smelling the earth and tasting real sun-kissed fruits and veggies. My advice: "Think global. Eat local." And if you're in the states, join a CSA and support your local farmers.

  • 242.
  • At 10:27 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Peadar wrote:

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the post. You are entirely justified in lamenting the current state of European agriculture - the European Commission, Parliament and Member State governments need to undertake a considerable reform of the Union's current agriculture model that exists in the form of the CAP. Not only do we fail to encourage small and medium-sized farms that cater for local communities, we oversubsidise certain crops that consumers are not even purchasing (wine, for instance). The policy-makers could do worse than take 'think global, act local' as a leitmotif.

In this regard, food sovereignty is perhaps a crude and 'loaded' expression that articulates a sound principle: the right of small, local, communities to define regional agriculture, rather than a globalised argicultural system subject to market forces.

THe problem, as I see it, is that the current tendency is toward cheap, competitive, bulk over-production of food produce. Under the WTO rules, global free trade encourages each country 'specialise' in the production of crops in such amounts as to be able to literally 'feed the world'. Therefore, if cereal crops in England cease to remain globally competitive due to poor summer weather conditions, production will shift elsewhere.

Unfortunately this 'competitive' system benefits mainly large industrial farmers and encourages the production of 'mono-crops' (e.g. huge expanses of territory dedicated to the cultivation of one single crop).

Not only is such practice bad news for Europe (our agricultural land pales in comparison to that of Brazil, Canada, the US, or certain African states), large-scale industrialisation of agriculture contributes to the alarming loss of biodiversity, soil erosion (hence loss of nutrients; increases in flooding); deforestation - in short, serious long-term damage to the ecosystem.

The well publicised 'journey of a kiwi' example illustrates this point - think of the carbon footprint of a kiwi that has to be cultivated, treated and transported from New Zealand to the European Union!

A reasonable balance has to be struck between the use of agriculture to develop poorer nations, whilst respecting the need for all regions to maintain agricultural land for the purposes of food sovereignty and environmental conservation.

  • 243.
  • At 10:39 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • The Master wrote:

There's plenty of those potatoes in Poland. I can post you some if you like :)

  • 244.
  • At 10:50 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • jonah wrote:

Presumably if we, the consumers, were to stop buying tasteless rubbish en masse, the supermarkets would soon stop stocking it when they realised it rotted on the shelves.

I for one refuse to buy any "fresh" produce unless it has an aroma consistent with the product. I grew sick of paying top prices for tasteless fruit and simply stopped buying.

If more people voted with their wallets instead of bleating about how they are somehow "forced" into paying for rubbish things might just change.

  • 245.
  • At 11:11 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Stephen Brown wrote:

It has been widely reported that the 'organic' and 'free trade' tags have been exploited by various companies to boost both prices and sales.
I have given up shopping in supermarkets and now I either buy direct from the farmer (meat, veggies) or I grow my own. We now also eat 'seasonally', that which is ready now is eaten now. The difference in the taste and enjoyment of all foodstuffs is amazing.
I buy my bacon from a butcher who makes his own (how rare is that?) and when I fry the nice thick slices from which I've trimmed the rind (the trimmings are great bird food) I don't end up with a frying pan full of watery white snot oozing from the meat. I get slightly crispy fat and very tasty meat. The smoked bacon (done over smouldering green oak chips) is a delight to eat after the pleasure derived from having smelled it being prepared. I purchase my lamb and mutton (a much deprecated meat) from a Sussex Downs farmer; he raises his stock on very old meadows which still have rafts of wild flowers and herb-type plants in profusion. The meat is superb.
Beef? I go and see a farmer who is entitled to slaughter a beast 'for his own consumption' without having to have the carcass inspected by an EU certified vet at vast expense in an abattoir nearly 70 miles away. He knows how to hang the carcass in just the right temperature for just the right amount of time in order to produce some fantastic beef. His trade with a near-by poultry farmer and the frequent fruits of his expeditions with his shot-gun give me access to a wide variety of birds of great quality.
The important thing my family and I have to remember is that these bounties are not available all year round, on demand. They are seasonal, just like the vegetables which I grow. We enjoy that which is available whilst it is available, and then we move on, just like the seasons.
And we love it.

HYLL, you're sooo wrong. Tomatoes should be left on the plants until they are red and ripe and juicy, and only picked when the table is laid and everyone is sitting down.

Dear, dear Mark

I think I hate you!

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe in food to a point of zealotry - my girth is testament to that!

But being currently imprisoned in the flavourless UK I find my self green with envy at the delights that you are wolfing down with such enjoyment.

Despite people being desperate to find differences between us and our European cousins, mostly we are very similar in so many ways. However, where we do often part company is over the issue of food.

Despite the valiant efforts of the likes of our man in Padstow or Keith Floyd and even young Oliver, we still see food in this country as a commodity rather than the essence of life.

Consequently we happily allow our supermarkets to sell us substandard items labelled as premium products, and truly tasteless fayre as day to day subsistence.

When the French criticise our general day to day food, what they are really criticising is that we seem to put up with stuff that is fit only for the pigs. What makes it even stranger is that our many fine restaurants prove that we can cook and be passionate over our platter with the best. But when we go home, we return to eating rubbish.

So, Mark, enjoy every morsel during your European adventure, and when you come home, tell the British public how we are being ripped off -NOT by Europe, but by our own homegrown companies.

And then, perhaps, Britons will start to really understand what Europe is and should be all about.

  • 248.
  • At 05:10 AM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • frederic parent wrote:

in most of the commemts -all of which were well expressed- only a few mentioned profit. I am surprized that in a capitalist profit driven economy and therefore ditto agriculture we have not figured out that things are made, grown, and sold for profit. If one has a garden or there are farmers' markets nearby there is a choice of normal -not organic- produce but usually the citizen of a big town has only a windowbox. The result is industrial and commervcial business. Get used to it !

  • 249.
  • At 09:49 AM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • florent wrote:

I have been reading lots of the comments (not all!) and of course I agree with most of them.

Back in Spain, it is quite amazing to see how poor is the offer in supermarkets (especially in diversity of products) for such a producer of vegetables. I see always the same standardized vegetables, and worst being packed in plastic. Sometimes appears a new product (lets say a black tomato), but usually for not too long. It seems customers doesn't appreciate that much novelty...

Another topic of interest, since many writers are chocked by the lack of flavours in modern strawberries. In Huelva (Spain), the second world producer of that fruit, there is a huge social impact of this mass production. Local busisnessmen employ the most fragile worker segments (womens, foreigners) and impose harsh work conditions, for EU standards.

So consuming tasteless food isn't just relying on insipid gastronomy but it has huge impacts on workers... you can imagine I don't eat strawberries anymore.

  • 250.
  • At 10:29 AM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Meryem Atasay wrote:

Maria Amadei, Armenian nationalism in an article about food, really? I am Turkish, and it really doesnot matter to me who invented which recipe first. We have been relatives over the thousand years since an ethnic handful of Turks arrived in Anatolia. There is Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, Arab, Turk and what have you in me and in Turkish food today. That's why the food is so wonderful! Have you not heard of diversity producing the best results? Nomadic Turkic food culture such as kebabs, yogurt and cheese mixed with the wonderful spicy recipes of Armenians and those great olive oil based recipes of Greeks. There you go: Today's poetic Turkish food. Why arguing about who made Feta or yogurt first? Can you really trace where imam bayildi ("priest fainted"-aubergine recipe)comes from? I had the same thought when I see "Greek" yoghurt in the supermarket shelves in the UK, when the word yoghurt is Turkish. But then I think this is richness that brings us together, nothing else. How wonderful that Anatolian/Aegean culture is on the UK shelves.

I once read on the BBC that an orange one ate in 1930s is the nutritional equivalent of 10 oranges today. Is this true? I am very worried for our kids' future if it is.

  • 251.
  • At 11:04 AM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Ana wrote:

HYLL(220) You clearly forgoten the taste of food or never had a chance to try one. It's true You shouldnt keep your vegies in a fridge, but that doesn't help much they still are tasteless, go to Portugal, Greece, or Croatia go to local market an see what is the real taste..

  • 252.
  • At 01:13 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Tim wrote:

I found a small punnet of cherry tomatoes in my fridge yesterday. They must have been there for over a month, yet they were only very slightly crinkly, not soft, and not mouldy. They didn't taste of much, but then again they didn't taste of much when I bought them, either. I found myself thinking, 'hang on... this can't be right'. When my grandfather grew his tomatoes with their distinctive cat-pee fragrance, they had to be eaten in a day or two at most, unless wrapped in brown paper and stored in the dark. So my fridge discovery, and this article, have really made me think... thankyou for raising this issue Mark.

  • 253.
  • At 01:37 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Montmoross wrote:

@Hello Mark,
Thanks for your 'grown yourself', which can be the best and surest way to get vegetables nowerdays, for the spring was so early and warm in Northern Europe, you may not find food anywhere. Try Raspberries ( remontantes) or ... Tomatoes (Noire de Crimée) with onions, no salt allowed, bread (See 'La Borne s'enflamme' - departement CHER ) or ...
Hope to HEAR you very soon on BBC, Dear Mark !

MONTMORENCY - of Course, not Montmoross

  • 254.
  • At 01:45 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Simon B. wrote:

Had the same experience and similar thoughts. Still, I wonder how many of us would agree on the desirability of taste in food. I know I would, but I also suspect that many wouldn't - though they might feel embarassed at disagreeing. G.Steinbeck touches on tastelessness in "Travels with Charley" on the occassion of eating a sausage that tastes like a sausage. He says that "we" (Americans) abhor an invasive strong taste and have grown to consider any taste above insipid as invasively strong. This phenomenon seems to have crossed the Atlantic - so it also applies to "we" Europeans. Let's not try to get a political dimension to this - there probably isn't any. So, whose fault is it? Probably our own collective one.

  • 255.
  • At 01:57 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Montmoross wrote:

Again, Hello Mark !
What about H5N1 ... Do you remember when i was writing on your previous blog that your 'precious island may be an overseas destination for birds too !'
In France:
first : 'Grown on your own' would be the best, then 'pick your own' ... then taste, or buy products by local growers or farmers - see the 'Bienvenue à la Ferme'net.

  • 256.
  • At 03:00 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Peter Drake wrote:

Wow, what a lot of responses! It’s obviously a big issue. So why did we let this tasteless food happen to us in the UK, USA, Canada? Is it fundamentally because we have a long history of boiling our vegetables to a tasteless pulp, then dowsing them, and our salads, with ready-made sauces?

Bisto gravy, brown sauce, ketchup, salad cream, Thousand Islands, Marie Rose, Tex-Mex salsa, curry sauce... a long list, and getting longer - just look at the supermarket shelves. Under that lot, you wouldn’t know whether your carrots or tomatoes tasted of anything or not.

  • 257.
  • At 04:14 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

As a UK ex-pat: Comté cheese bought in Germany tastes nothing like it does when bought in its Franche-Comté home in France. UK bought Spanish tomatoes taste nothing like Spanish tomatoes bought and eaten in Spain. Conclusion: regions tend to export produce of lower average quality than they like to eat themselves - but the exports quite legitimately have the same name and look the same. No surprise really, who would export the good stuff and eat the poorer stuff themselves? This isn't the EU's fault, it's human nature. Problem is much worse where the exporter produces the mediocre quality product in great bulk, swamping out local low level production of better tasting produce - Spanish tomatoes being a prime example. Just goes to show, you can't judge a fruit by its colour?! Or its country of origin label. Those most reliant on imports will inevitably suffer the most from this nuisance.

  • 258.
  • At 04:39 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Pete Porchos wrote:

I read somewhere a while ago that many tomatoes were artificially coloured by some additive in their food. I have never been sure if this is correct or not but the gist of the argument went that if they were artificually coloured then they could be picked unripe and thus still firm and able to withstand a journey of many hundreds of miles. And then be red on the supermarket shelves.

Ripe tomatoes are rather squishy and a deep red. They won't transport well.

Everything is picked before it has a chance to ripen for at least two reasons. One is the one given above, the second is that things are heavier before they ripen. As they ripen the water is drawn through the skin and the flavour thus intensifies.

Heavier fruit equals more money for everybody in the sales chain.

Bananas are an excellent case in point. I believe that a ripe banana has black spots on the skin, the skin is much thinner and the fruit inside much softer. They shrink dramatically as they ripen, and also lose their attractiveness.

Oh dear, what can we do?

  • 259.
  • At 04:59 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • MacTurk wrote:

Lived in Turkey for 9.5 years, going back soon to get married, lived in the US for 4.5 years. I now live in Czech Republic. I REALLY miss the fruit and vegetables in Turkey, also the milk and yogurt. My fiancee has been here three times and says that Czech yogurt is watery (ayran in fact). I love Turkish food, and found my head nodding in agreement with Mr Mardell.
I found it difficult to get tasty vegetables or fruit in the US, the bread was tasteless pap, and oh God the cheese was awful.Very safe, yes, but soft,wet and devoid of flavour. I found it impossible to get real fullfat yogurt. The rule in the US seemed to be "Bland is Beautiful".
Here in the Czech Republic, we have wonderful breads, and an amazing range of sausages and pork products. Mind you, before I came here I never understood the central role that saurkraut plays in Chinese cuisine! Also, it was a bit of a cultural shock to find mushrooms shelved in the "exotic foods" section. However, most people gather their own.
Finally, could I congratulate Mr Mardell on bringing Turkey, and its many positive aspects, to the notice of a broader audience. Turkish EU entry in the name of better European food? Not a bad idea!

  • 260.
  • At 05:41 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Anthony wrote:

There are many problems with food and agriculture in the western world, but I'll just focus on taste.

What is taste used for?

It tells us when things are ripe, and conversely, when they're not ripe.

Items harvested to go through a supermarket are picked before they are ripe because that gives them a longer life. Young things will outlast old things. The only way to give something a ripe taste is for them to be ripe.

You can however stop them from having an unripe taste. By simply removing all taste from them.

That's why supermarket stuff tastes like the plastic it's wrapped in. Because it's not ripe, and the supermarkets don't want you to know that. Their appearance can be changed, but their taste doesn't lie - so that must be silenced.

  • 261.
  • At 06:31 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Karen Barr wrote:

Wonderful article! I am sending an update from America. I was raised in a rural northern college town during the 1950s surrounded by rolling hills of wheat. Neighbors split the cost for a side of grass fed beef, summer fruits ripened in back yards, and families grew luxurious vegetable gardens to can and freeze. Friends shared regional bounty - fresh rainbow trout, wild huckleberries, venison, and pheasant.

Outside this tucked away paradise, our population exploded. In the 60s and 70s the Green Revolution developed new seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers to feed the world – sometimes costing American farmers more than their harvests returned. To keep food prices low a U.S. federal program was established to compensate our farmers with subsidy checks, encouraging corn and soybeans from fence row to fence row saturated with fertilizers. Rivers of corn and soy became syrups, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and hydrogenated oils to create frozen dinners, sweet cereals, and fizzy drinks. America’s grocery aisles grew fat and happy with "foods" invented by some of the world’s largest multi-national corporations.

Today we are discovering the hidden costs in all this abundant, cheap, and easy food. Not counting farm use, processed food manufacturing and transportation gulps down one fifth of America’s oil. Tasteless fruit and vegetable varieties have been developed to ship thousands of miles. And, according to a 2006 study by the United Nations, factory farm animal confinement and unnatural feeds today create more greenhouse gases than all our cars combined.

In fifty years America became a Human Feed Lot: digesting unintended chemicals, addicted to petroleum, growing obese, and polluting our water.

Change is in the wind! A grass roots alternative to this artificial food Matrix is the fastest growing U.S. food market: local, seasonal and organic. The food is full of flavor, right for the environment, and a vote for small farmers. Wherever you are, buy local and buy seasonal!

Best wishes from San Francisco -
Karen Barr


  • 262.
  • At 11:32 PM on 03 Aug 2007,
  • Ignace - lived long time in UK wrote:

Mr Mardell
what a nonsense to blame the EU for the poor taste of food. I realise that this tabloid-type article sells well with your Euro-skeptic audience, but please be honest, and admit that the industrialisation of agriculture is to blame here, industrialisation driven by the UK's economic vision of the EU.

  • 263.
  • At 08:27 AM on 04 Aug 2007,
  • Hithum wrote:

This is my second comment on Mr Mardell's Lemon Blog. At first, I thought that no one cared, and I held back in my comment, since there were no other comments posted. Less than 24 hours later, there are literally hundreds of people who have come forward to confess that they too are victims of this Global phenomenon.
I can still remember the sweet taste and smell of those Tomatoes that were grown in our garden, as a child of Five in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. A pinch of salt was all you needed for your enjoyment of this Fruit of the Gods.
Then there were those Apricots, Nectarines, Mangoes and Dates from my early Teen years growing up in Cairo. Not to mention those Heavenly Sweet Potatoes, that these vendors would sell you on the Streets of Cairo from these wooden Carts with a Crude oven mounted on top of it.
Well It's been almost three decades since those days by the Banks of the River Nile, but I am pleased to tell the World that those Sweet Potatoes on the Streets of Cairo are still Fantastic. Even here, in Southern California there has been a rapid decline in the taste and quality of Fruits and Vegetables. On that rare occasion, that you are lucky enough to come across the Real thing, like Mr Mardell did with that quarter Lemon, You have a party, and tell the World about it by posting it on the Internet.
The multiple causes of this most serious issue that afflicts us, have surely all been mentioned in these comments.
One Remedy that I can think of, is that every time you get a tasteless Fruit, take back that half-eaten Apple to the Store and demand your money back. If enough of us did that, then perhaps we can Force even the Wallmarts of this World to mend their ways. If it doesn't taste good, then the Supermarket should eat it.

  • 264.
  • At 07:22 PM on 04 Aug 2007,
  • Attila wrote:

Hi Mark, here's an article called "Gastrointestinal Nationalism" that was published in Time Out Istanbul that you might find amusing:

https://www.timeout.com.tr/yazi_goster.php?artID=677

  • 265.
  • At 10:19 PM on 04 Aug 2007,
  • Martha Hubbard wrote:

Your friend from Estonia is quite right about the potatoes. A fresh new potato, skin thin enough to need just a good scrubbing, boiled with a handful of dill pulled from beside the kitchen door and tossed with olive oil and good vinegar (the only non-Estonian touch) is one of the great summer pleasures here in the north Baltic. We need to take a stand against mass produced over shipped and processed foods.

  • 266.
  • At 08:15 AM on 05 Aug 2007,
  • andrea b. wrote:

While it's easy to fault the supermarkets and the mega producers, blame rests equally with the consumers. Why do people demand grapes in March, for instance, or products from far-away places? "Simple and fresh", as in the original article on food in Turkey, means locally produced and seasonally eaten. You simply cannot expect grapes from Chile or South Africa bought in Europe to taste the same as that which grows in the vineyards behind the house. You can't have it all. Either you go for the local products, blemishes and all, and each available only a for few weeks a year, or you behave like a globalised consumer, having your cherries and strawberries in December--but then don't go complaining about the supermarkets.... And then there is the enviroment: In Austria they are beginning to implement an interesting measure: each product will carry a label telling you where it was grown and how many kilometers it had to be shipped to appear on our table, giving you a pretty good idea of the pollution you have helped to cause with your purchase.

  • 267.
  • At 06:23 PM on 05 Aug 2007,
  • alison05@e-kolay.net wrote:

It's great to hear that Mark is not only able to fully appreciate Turkish cuisine, but seemingly able to appreciate the South East of Turkey as well. Living in that area as a British ex-pat, I think it is a very underrated part of Turkey. It is fascinating, historical, and full of really amazing places to visit. Of course, there are certain areas where caution could be sensibly exercised, but there is no reason why visisting this area should be so daunting to tourists. I have never encountered a problem, and I live in a village where 100% of the population is Kurdish.

Mark, great writing. Interesting, informative, and correct. I just wonder what someone like you does for their hols? Can't imagine you lying on a beach in Benidorm, or even Marmaris.

  • 268.
  • At 06:53 PM on 05 Aug 2007,
  • nadia sani wrote:

I live in Italy and I can positively affirm that in the last 15 years supermarkets have run family owned vegetable and fruit shops out of business. The government has helped them no end, what with the imposition of expensive weighing equipment and bureaucracy impossible to deal without a bevy of accountants by your side; the result is that the quality of fruits and vegetable has declined since they are now mass produced and not the local fresh-grown produce that was once delivered daily.
Mass distribution in Italy and I dare say Europe, entails picking/harvesting the produce when still green, well before the ripening process starts, expensive transportation then cold storage for months to be trotted out (in winter) when tomatoes and summer fruit cannot possibly be picked fresh. Often I have had the impression from the quality that it has been picked the previous year to be set out in the supermarkets early in the season labelled as "primizia".
I now hate summer what summer brings because the tomatoes are never ripe they go from green to putrefaction, they are tasteless as are the peaches, the pears, the plums and generally all fruit. Biodiversity is shot to pieces and now you can eat the same tasteless wares all over Euraope and the US (where things are worse).
The only tomatoes we find palatable are what we grow on our balcony, small but delicious. Alas too few.
Everything looks good but is insipid to taste. To think that European companies are going to the Asia and Africa to set up refrigeration plants and long stroage plants for fruits and vegetables to "improve" their quality!
Fiddlesticks! at least one part of the world eats food as it is meant to be eaten - fresh grown. Alas for those good old days! (Never thought I would say that..."

  • 269.
  • At 09:37 PM on 05 Aug 2007,
  • CanMed wrote:

Well although i agree that the standardising laws are somewhere to blame, i wouldn't however put all the weight there. With all due respect, if you come from the UK, the US or Canada, you're bound to find other people's food tastier for the simple reason that we -english, americans or canadians- don't really have a natioanl cuisine, or proper regional cooking. If you've ever been anywhere near the mediterranean, the middle east or asia i think you'll see the real difference not because their food is better, but because we don't have their traditional culinary skills.
Enjoy your holiday, and keep writing about food!

  • 270.
  • At 01:50 PM on 06 Aug 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

In case there's still time to comment:

I agree with those who say we have to blame ourselves, a bit. No point blaming supermarkets and pursuit of profit (posts 6, 68, 72, 248 for example). Profit is not a dirty word, and those who blame everything on profit should ask themselves why they go to work each day (or thank their lucky stars if they don't have to).

As some have said, if we didn't buy it, they wouldn't make profits. So why do we? Partly because we collectively don't care enough; but partly also because the market isn't working properly, because when in a shop or supermarket we can't try everything and don't know what's best so tend to buy the cheapest, since there's no guarantee that paying more gives better results. (Evan Davis' blog could explain this better than I can, but it's the imperfect information market failure or 'lemon syndrome'). The wine market is particularly prone to this problem, and second-hand cars, but fruit and veg and meat too.

So the answer is to seek out the good stuff, and when you find it, support it and spread the word.

I can't go along with the 'only local in season' line. Products like Kenyan green beans make a huge difference to those countries, and they're far from the worst offender in taste terms. Shipping a container round the ocean or even by air can also have a smaller carbon footprint per kilo than the farmers' markets (or so I've read in reputable sources). Hard and fast rules are always too simple!

  • 271.
  • At 06:27 PM on 06 Aug 2007,
  • Tony Louki wrote:

Yes, Mark, but where's the pig?

  • 272.
  • At 12:41 PM on 07 Aug 2007,
  • Elvan Özgen wrote:

To the comment 151 Terry:

I really wonder the main objecive of your comment. Why do you struggle to any positive comment for Turkey. I'm sure you haven't been even once to Turkey since your arguments look so groundless. We don't have any problems with Greeks. Of course Turkish cuisine is not invented on its own, we have all mixed Balkans, Greek, Middle East, Black Sea and Armenian food in our own way. Thanks to our climate, we have abundant and perfect quality of fruits, veg and also meat and fish. Although we are unlucky geographically in the politics, we are lucky in this case for our delicious cuisine.

  • 273.
  • At 04:42 PM on 07 Aug 2007,
  • Brad from Houston, TX wrote:

I had hated most fruits my entire life until I went to Turkey this summer. The country was great and the food astounding, their fruits are the best I've ever had.

  • 274.
  • At 10:39 PM on 07 Aug 2007,
  • C wrote:

My name is Carrie and I am from the U.S.A.I live in Chicago land ofthe infamous ridiculous froi gras ban , and you would think in the heart of the nation things would be better here,but they are not.
I recently spent 6 weeks in France and yes I am what some would call a "foodee": I love good food,I love to cook it and eat it, and I am very selective over my choices of ingredients.
I am also fit and healthy and steer clear of corporate fast food.
My trip started out in the Agen region and ended essentially living in Paris for a month in an apartment with a small kitchen.
I had never been to Europe before at all, so it was quite a treat to experience France in this way.
Of course, there is the beauty in the preservation of history ,the Art, the kindness of people , the sights and the sounds, but what I remember mostly is the food.
IT TASTED BETTER!
THERE WAS MORE VARIETY
CHANCES OF GETTING FRESH VEGITABLES WERE FAR GREATER THAN IN THE GOOD OLE U.S. OF A
I also noticed Europeans eat everything... I like that, and that makes sense.
Unless you are in a specialty shop in the U.S. you have very few choices in fresh meats. You can buy fish beef or chicken, turkey, maybe lamb if you are lucky. That's it. I found the most interesting cuts of all kinds of livestock eaten on a regular basis in France.
My boyfriend who was travelling with me had some issues with the beef but I feel he was ordering cuts that were not suitable to his tastes.
I found the beef and poultry to taste "real" "succulent" and "rich", I could litterally taste the iron and nutrients as the meat was in my mouth.
After a small meal I ALWAYS felt sustained.
Another thing I noticed,although I eat very healthy in the U.S. I am aways riddled with the occasional pimple or dry skin patch. In France , my skin cleared in a week and was clear until my return.
2 weeks after my return to the U.S. I am riddled with minor skin problems again.
I equate this with the fact that aside from better farming practices , France does not fluoridate the water. I think this has quite abit to do with bland vegitables as well.

Tracking back almost 15 years in the U.S. I remember when I noticed a change in the chicken.
I remember having to seek out "free range" chicken in the U.S. to aquire hint of what chicken tasted like when I was a child.
Back then in the U.S. "free range" "grass fed" and "organic" , were not the money raising key words they are today and you had to persue a "secret tip" to find a free range chicken.
All the other chickens tasted bland the texture was dry and paper-like.
About that same time i noticed the beef to be like cardboard and some times , it was very watery.
I blame this on large agri-buisiness...
I blame this on agri-companies stealing land from farm owners through lengthy and costly court cases .
I blame this on lawmakers not having better laws standards, and allowing farmers to be bullied in this way, sticking them in between a rock and a hard place,giving them very little protection.
I blame this on the fluoride and chlorine in the water.
I blame this on the lack of pride a country can have for its land and it's people.
I blame this on deals between companies whom manufacture chemicals , companies who pollute the water system and states and cities whom let them get way with it for the small price of contributions to funds or campaigns.
I still read of agri businesses and what the are doing to the soil , the farmers , and how they muscle farm owners into agricultural contracts that bind thier farming practices....
I read of how they will take cheap and effective over healthy and effective any day.
I think it is a shame.
It is an even bigger shame to learn that Europe is signing on to more of these American agri businesses this year.
One word.... DON'T!
My trip to France reminded me of being a child in America. We too had butchers, cheese shops, poultry shops. My grandparents ,being European taught me to shop that way, we even had outdoor markets, but those have all been replaced by the joyless supermarket.
At this point a trip to the nearest butcher would be a 40 minute trek through inner city traffic and a long search for parking. Nowhere where I could walk or take a train to.
Oh sure we have outdoor markets in my midwest city again, but they are presented in more of a way to market the label "organic" and it is far too costly for every day Americans to shop or enjoy. They also aren't as robust or effective as the markets in Paris.
At the outdoor marche' in Pairs , I could get everything I needed to make a meal,have desert eat breakfast and then some. I could even buy utensils, pans, coffee and get my knives sharpened. This was all in walking distance.
The outdoor markets here in Chicago are seen more as a novelty , not as a way of life as they were in Paris. Here,You can get a small variety of items from a small amout of vendors maybe 10... every booth has the same foods, organic yes in season yes, but overly high priced.
I am sure the items are overly high priced due to the cost of the booth space.
But there is no knife sharpener, no perfume lady, and no fresh butcher.
The city , and the supermarket businesses whom pay large property taxes here would rather there not be any fresh out door markets I feel.
Outside of my door in my Paris apartment , there was a marche' twice a week.
I found that regular non "bio" food in Paris tasted looked and smelled better than the U.S. organic!
Ofcourse the bio products would just blow your mind.
Through this i learned how differently europeans farm , even big farms , farm a little more ethically, just plain better.
I was told by neighbors that several of the vegitables and meats found at the marche' were the same as in the Paris supermarkets. I was also told that my marche' had a few more specialty items than most.
There was a butcher who had the best steak hache' that I had eaten while I was there , the "bio" lady always had some thing different and organic.
The eggs were rich and had density even the non bio eggs had better texture and color than in the U.S.
In the U.S. the yolks are a whitish yeallow , and are dry when cooked , in France , the yolks were golden orangish yellow and had flavour and texture....far supreme to even Americas "organic".
Also the whites were dense and never watery like in the U.S.
Just when i thought i found the end all and be all in the French eggs, I found the "Carrot Man."
He was tall and statuesque, stern but highly animated and he had the goods.
He had gold carrots, red carrots, white carrots, yellow carrots,orange carrots, purple dragon carrots , purple haze carrots. He had them in the shape of a carrot , in the shape of a ball and in the shape of a turnip. He also sold every herb you could imagine Including chive flowers, then there were beets, turnips onions of all shapes sorts and varieties, and parsnips.
You could tell there were minimal pesticides used as some of the carrots had signs of carrot flies in the very top of their tops... but it made no difference, cut the tops off and I swear you had the best carrot of your life no matter what color you chose.
he did not brandish the "bio" name , but once i over heard him, telling a patron that they were natural no chemicals from his farm.
Yes, he had quite a business plan, offer the best and most natural and people will like it.it was obvoius by the hordes of people around his booth that he was right.
Right about then I noticed he had some deals going on with business owners, restauranteurs, no doubt, so i watched...amidst every day people these restaraunt owners would run into his booth , they would whisper and the restaurant owners would have an envelope
They would leave, bags and bags stuffed with vegitables. I once saw 2 people leaving with atleast 4 bags in each hand, stuffed and over flowing. quite a racket this carrot man had. Yes indeed! How can you not love and respect that ???
These people at the marche', despite my American accent became very friendly , and shopping was a joy. :) It was no more or less time consuming as a drive to the supermarket would be and the plus was I could walk there!!!!
They sometimes MADE me sample different things. Out of my whole trip , the Marche' is what I miss most .
The day of my departure it was Marche' day.
I bought a purple haze carrot for the plane before I walked to the taxi stand....as I was crossing the street , I felt welled up in tears... and just then I heard my french butcher friend yell out .... "Lapin, cinq Euro!!!!" Wow I though , what a deal!
If I were staying that night , you bet I would have bought one.
Now I am home , I have found one Lapin in a freezer in a Polish market it has been frozen since May.

Not quite the same.


  • 275.
  • At 05:01 AM on 08 Aug 2007,
  • Lorenzo wrote:

I am an Italian living in Ghent (Belgium). I also had a recent epiphany concerning food, but it was a negative one. I saw nice very cheap tomatoes in the supermarket with clearly indicated Belgian origin, so I thought "finally something not travelling 2000 km to get here, it is summer so even here they should get something grown properly and harvested on time" but it was the most surprisingly tasteless food I ever met. Me and my wife (Croatian) are now, after this episode, seriously considering to move from here to a place where we can still get real food (and a nice job :-)). We actually are what we eat...
We am really suffering from that, especially after our holidays in May in Andalucia and in July in Croatia and Italy... it reminded us too much what eating used to mean...

The answer lies in the soil, and in seasonality.

In Japan, where food is intensely seasonal, there are allotments everywhere growing fruit, vegetables, rice and even tea. You buy your rice locally, or get a friend to send some from their local grower.

The EU has done great things for Europe, but the bureaucracy hasn't served food well. The disastrous common fisheries policy has resulted in Europe's seas being fished out in 20 years, having fed the continent for thousands of years. There's a plague of jellyfish all along the south of Europe at the moment, because the fish that would normally eat them are gone.

And the required certification of seed types has been too expensive for many heirloom varieties, resulting in an enormous loss of variety.

We're unable to cope with our waste, while our soils are starving and depleted from lack of replacement - why can't we municipally compost our food waste?

There's no question about the difference in flavour between industrially grown food and food grown in good soil and picked when ripe and in season. I have two bowls of cherry tomatoes on my windowsill - one from my own plants, the other from the supermarket. They might be from a different order of plant, the flavours are so remote from each other. Supermarket tomatoes: metallic woolly mush. Home tomatoes: peppery and sweet.

Well done, Mr Mardell - and all the commentators who have replied.

  • 277.
  • At 11:05 PM on 08 Aug 2007,
  • Dr A, Brussels wrote:

I find that fruit and veg are of particularly low quality in Belgium. I have a theory that of all the fruit & veg heading for north-western Europe, the French & Germans snaffle the best, Britain gets the next, and Belgium gets the leftovers rejected by everyone else, plus their own-grown winter veg.

Dr A, Brussels

  • 278.
  • At 11:17 PM on 08 Aug 2007,
  • Melih Calıkoglu wrote:

"The food you describe as "Turkish" -- not to offend anyone -- is the traditional cooking of the Armenians."

Not to offend you too Maria but you just don't know what Anatolia is. You are talking like that there were no other people living in Anatolian other than the Armenians before the arrival of Turkic tribes. Well, this is the lands where wheat is first produced more than 12.000 years ago. This is the crossroads of the human history and hundreds of cultures made their contribution to the land and the cousin as well.

Modern Turkish Cousin is the mixture of various local cousins and Armenian cousin is one of them. THere are Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Iranian, Balkan and Caucasian cousins as well as other Mediterranian flavours like the Italian and even the Russian.

By the way Armenians were not enslaved by the Turks. Actually they were given the right to establish their own church (not the building but the institution) independent from the Greek church as early as 1453 right after the invasion of Istanbul from the Byzantians.


  • 279.
  • At 07:26 AM on 09 Aug 2007,
  • John Waller wrote:

Hi Mark,
As a Swede who is living in Istanbul I can vouch for your views. Food in Turkey is great!

Sadly though, all those who wish to experience tasteful vegetables and fruits need to visit Turkey within the next year or two or the chance will be gone.... even here the "improved" veggies and fruits are spreading. It's even been covered on national news broadcasts actually, the big supermarkets are mostly selling these modified products. Why? Bigger profit, that's all.

If I happen to be a bit off the beaten path out in the countryside and come across a village market I always stop and buy some fresh fruits and veggies. Hehe, first time I did that was an eyeopener quite literally... I bought some green peppers and started eating one. Came as quite a shock when it felt like I had just taken a bite of volcanic lava, the peppers I can get from the supermarket don't even have a fraction of the potency that this pepper had.

I think we consumers need to vote with our wallets and take the extra trouble and expense to seek out the good stuff.... only way we'll ever see the tasty veggies back in the supermarkets is if they can't sell that tasteless rubbish anymore.

  • 280.
  • At 10:48 AM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • RobRome wrote:

Buy organic; buy what's in season locally; never go to supermarkets; never buy anything that is wrapped, waxed or frozen; only buy food that is in the same physical state as when it came off the plant or animal (ie non-transformed). I too have never eaten a vegtable in the USA that had any semblance of flavour. (Oh, and the curly vegetables are called puntarelle, and they are one of the many reasons why I could never go back to live in the UK.)

  • 281.
  • At 11:53 AM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • Francesca wrote:

I visited Turkey a few years ago and your article brought back fond memories of many divine meals. It reminded me of how Italy used to be till a few years ago - i.e., setting and price made no difference, one always ate extremely well. In very clean settings, with excellent service. I understand your Estonian colleague's comments - most of our (Malta's) potatoes are exported to Holland - and the imported ones taste of nothing next to them. I know it's for economic reasons but it rankles! It's the same with our lemons - it's getting harder and harder to find our lovely home grown lemons, instead one finds boxes and boxes of uniform looking waxed imported lemons - obviously it's impossible to use their rind, which contains the strongest flavour. I live in Spain, where a free range chicken tastes a great deal different to a caged one... maybe you were cheated....?
Thanks for the great articles.

  • 282.
  • At 11:11 PM on 13 Aug 2007,
  • Jeremy wrote:

A well-written article that was about local food culture as much as travel. You should do a companion piece on eating and shopping for food in France. Or explore the root of the problem and look at how food is transported and marketed in these cultures where food tastes so much better.

I grew up in Michigan and enjoyed fresh apples, strawberries and peaches as a kid from roadside stands and literally picked them from my own backyard, which used to be a farm, as a boy. When I moved away I couldn't believe the flavorlessness of supermarket fruits, usually from California. Peaches for example are picked when they're unripe and as hard as baseballs, have no smell and almost no taste.

All this could be part of the obesity epidemic because fruits and vegetables no longer taste appealing. When people eat real, fresh, ripe fruit and veggies, they prefer those foods.

Even meat has no taste nowadays. Where's the beef? No, where's the taste?

I see the origin of this is from food marketing and transport industries calling all the shots. When the industry put marketing over flavor, there was no counterbalance in the form of food appreciation like there is now with cooking shows and food awareness. We still need to do more like bring food appreciation and cooking into schools starting with pupils at an early age.

  • 283.
  • At 11:32 AM on 14 Aug 2007,
  • Roger Hayes wrote:

Is this a sign of the times that your food blog gets in excess of 269 contributions and the blog on Europe gets just 80 plus... or is it that everybody is on holiday filling their bellies having emptied their heads?

  • 284.
  • At 03:09 AM on 15 Aug 2007,
  • Bonita wrote:

Clearly, all of you who have posted lamenting the decline of flavour in fresh foods should seek out and watch the movie called "Soylent Green". Made in 1969, it was truly prophetic-ahead of its time.

PS: Flavours of "real" foods still exist aplenty in Spain. Viva Espana!

  • 285.
  • At 10:21 PM on 15 Aug 2007,
  • Barbara wrote:

Everyone loves to talk about food, eh?

Having moved back from Brussels to the U.S., I must admit that the fruit and vegetable selection in my native land is incredibly disappointing. What I wouldn't do for a Cavaillon melon, a strawberry from Wepion, or some white asparagus from Mechelen. Luckily, we have a growing farmer's market and local food movement here, so hopefully we can recover some of yesterday's flavors.

But alas, Las Vegas is becoming one of our most renowned food cities -- a place where nothing grows! Give me Turkey any day!

Thank you for the really enjoyable post.

  • 286.
  • At 08:24 AM on 16 Aug 2007,
  • Julie wrote:

To post 51 Mr Dave B Ward:
I live in France and love a good curry and also miss a lot of British foods like HP sauce! However, I now buy them on the internet:

https://www.britishcornershop.co.uk/
https://www.spicentice.com/

The prices for the BCS are a little dearer but worth it to me - until the recent baggage restrictions I used to bring many things back on my visits to the UK.
The spices from the other site are not bad at all and they also do European delivery (I actually came across them at a recent visit to the BBC Good Food Show).

I hope this is of help to any other expats out there!


  • 287.
  • At 11:53 AM on 18 Aug 2007,
  • Francisco wrote:

Hello Mark,
I'm writting you from Málaga (southern Spain). I don't think the EU is to blame (at least not only the EU).
I buy fruits and vegetables in markets, not in big supermarkets, their smell and taste are just great. The problem is that big supermarkets won buy "ugly products". When farmers try to make their products look great they kill the flavour. I prefer buying uglier, healthier products.

  • 288.
  • At 11:45 PM on 19 Aug 2007,
  • John wrote:

I live in Switzerland, where the quality of food is generally quite good. However, it is difficult to find a tomato worthy of the name.
Interestingly, the only place I have consistently been able to source delicious, full, juicy tomatoes, albeit at a price, was Tokyo.
I would be grateful if European farmers were able to even come close.

  • 289.
  • At 05:59 AM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Girl on the Go iNBAku wrote:

So many replies!

What an emotive issue.

I live in Azerbaijan, further east than Turkey, but influenced by Turkey, Iran (Persia, Russia and, of course, itself.

When I first arrived here from Scotland over three years ago I initially scoffed at the casual comments from local people that Azerbaijan has everything, that the food here is the best in the world, that, that everything good to eat came first from Azerbaijan.

Not now. I'm hooked. 9 out of the 11 climatic zones and they can grow anything. So many of the fruits and veg in the world have their ancestral 'roots' here. The flavours are wonderful.

Did you know that this area is the home of wine, that Chardonnay grapes originated in the Azerbaijan/Georgian wine growing valleys?

You might not have heard of Azerbaijan, but this country will soon be on every foodies list of places to eat.

We think we know it all in the 'west', but in reality we have much to learn.

Please world, stop exporting western ideas east, and go back to basics, and learn from the best.

No scary abbatoirs here. The sheep pretty much line themselves up.

Come and see for yourself.

I would like to complain about the post, no not the comments the blog itself.

The juicy and tangy flavor of the blog entry will cause me to go out or to put it more correctly pig out, again.

Its unhealthy, probably a health risk, but i love it anyway.

Kill all those who eat to sustain themselves and love those who enjoy their meals. Its not the destination but the path...

  • 291.
  • At 09:18 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

I get kind of irritated from the way people are complaining about bad food, and still go out and buy it.

Why on earth do you pay for something that you think is not worth the price?
Why not buy something else instead that you DO think is good? It is there, just look for it.

It seems like lots of people try to blame everyone else for the bad things they buy, and dont realise they themselves make the decision of what to buy and eat.

Why do you buy tomotoes from a country with a climate that is completely unsuited to grow them?

It seems lots of people here expect to get the real thing, anywhere, anytime, for very cheap.
Now that is exactly the reason you can NOT have it.

Just stop compaining about your own stupid choices!

Richard.
(Holland ;)

  • 292.
  • At 08:55 AM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • David wrote:

Thanks for an excellent read. Maybe it should serve to remind us that Europeans are a lot less similar than we think. Compare for example a large UK supermarket with its French equivalent. For the most part the French still care about flavour and quality which is reflected in the range of fresh (and often local) produce. In the UK we are content to marvel at 'Celebrity Cheffery', invest in glossy recipe books then purchase an off-the-shelf dinner.

  • 293.
  • At 12:48 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Val wrote:

It's all about demand. Out here in Russia, food is very seasonal - but not completely. Right now markets and shops are flooded with fresh produce (and thanks to some garden owner friends, so is my fridge) but come winter, prices go up and produce appears in shrink-wrapped "grown in x" packages.

Fortunately, people still appreciate their "real" food and if nothing else, it provides income and cheap food for many. However, as the supermarkets increase and people become more demanding, I fear this will change. Which is a pity.

While back in the UK I was shocked to see how much a mere melon cost - and even more shocked at how green, flavourless and dry it was inside. Only days before I had bought a much cheaper, larger melon from my local "melon seller" (yes, in summer every street has a melon stand in Moscow) which was so wonderful and juicy we ate the whole lot in one afternoon.

And people ask why I stay in Russia? It's the food :)

  • 294.
  • At 01:33 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Andrew Evans wrote:

I think Mr Mardell has never eaten in any proper Greek restaurants!

  • 295.
  • At 10:00 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

I am a British twentysomething who went to live in France as a kid. Whenever I go back to England, be it London or the countryside, I am shocked by the horrible food on display in supermarkets and yes, even most surviving grocery stores.

I always buy from farmers' markets - things might look a bit iffy and off, but the taste is vastly better than the stuff you can find in any supermarket (wherever). Same goes for East Asia; I've lived there for a year, and the fruit you bought on the side of the road was orgasmic, but Seven-11 apples taste like sawdust. Ah, civilization and its many advantages.

  • 296.
  • At 09:12 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

Several things that occur to me: first - that much of the problem (and it's true for climate change as well) goes back to gross overpopulation of all parts of the world, combined with increased longevity. As a guideline, it is debateable whether Britain in the Middle Ages, say around A.D.1500 had a total population even 5 million people. If you want everyone to have vegetables and fruit (especially out of season!) then you are going to put an increasing strain on the soil and water resources available to produce the necessary food. This leads to soil that is low in nutrients, and so has to be topped up chemically. Second, because of progressive urbanization, most people are now far removed from the old system under which much of the food they ate was grown in their gardens. As a consequence, they are ignorant of what they are eating, as well as tied to the supermarkets that make available what they once would have grown for themselves. Third, gardens have almost certainly shifted in significance over the past century, from being part of a household's economy, to being part of its leisure. Fewer fruit and vegetables, more flowers (and gnomes!). Fourth, the last two generations have grown up more ignorant of the countryside than ever before. Most people have trouble recognizing different trees, let alone herbs or edible plants. Skills like pickling, preserving, making jam/jelly have simply vanished as the supermarkets took over. The result of all these changes is a population that does not know what it has lost, or what it could still have.

  • 297.
  • At 08:19 AM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • shande wrote:

Whenever and wherever you have the opportunity to taste Turkish food, try it :) It rocks!

  • 298.
  • At 07:03 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • markland wrote:

Turkish? Armenian? Well, if the food you sampled was in Diyarbakir, then it was Kurdish cuisine you were sampling. If you're in the UK (especially London) there are lots of places (often keenly priced) where you can experience this type of cooking.

  • 299.
  • At 04:54 PM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • G.Warner wrote:

Yumm yumm yumm! I dream about Turkey and its food everyday and I can't wait to go back, maybe even live there. Last time we visited Izmir in Oct 2006, it seemed like just a culinary trip, not to see our friends and lounge on the beach. I love everything about Turkish food, especially since I am from a neighbouring country: Romania. In the U.S right now nothing has taste. Can't have the "salads" or the dressings or almost anything, I just can't get used to the lack of taste. Sure, everything LOOKS good but why, of why are they sprinkling water all over the produce in the supermarkets? I remember studying in school back home that leaving the dirt on the fruits and vegetables and only washing them before eating or cooking preserved them and kept them fresh, while water would only foster bacteria. And here I am in the U.S, buying produce on Monday to only find it gross in the fridge on Friday. I guess this is just one more way to make us spend money more and get less value, because with work, school and family who has the time to shop everyday? Not here in the U.S. And God, how I miss Turkish and Romanian food!!

  • 300.
  • At 09:09 AM on 30 Aug 2007,
  • stephen Deaves wrote:

I am sure Turkish food and produce is without equal. I have eaten in a number of Turkish eating houses in London and found the food and service excellent. One thing I did notice was the distinct middle eastern flavour of the food. That being so why does the BBC continually assert that Turkey is in europe when it is clearly in the middle east? I know Istanbul is in europe but the rest about 97% of the country is clearly in the middle east.

  • 301.
  • At 06:47 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • stinky wrote:

My partner and myself live near bournemouth uk,we have all our fruit and veg delivered weekly from an organic farm in cornwall,they do not grow for presentations sake and after a year we have no complaints what so ever, also the prices are very competative+they have an almost endless list of other than f,veg products,if for any reason their own crop of a particular item is not for some reason available they will source elsewhere still keeping up high standards,if people shop in supermarkets and are not satisfied but still continue to do so then wey hey.Also because of supermarkets demand for perfect looking fruit and veg they are responsible for a huge quantity of pure wastage due to policy of rejecting produce for purely cosmetic reasons.

I am an American living in noisy Rio de Janeiro for the past 3 years. Brazil obviously embraces agribusiness because even at the farmers markets and best produce stores the fruits a vegetables tast like those in the US. They only thing different here is that the bananas and pineapples taste supremely good, Everything els, watered down!!

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.