Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Growing for Flavour

So we have an excellent group of chefs at the hotel but what do we do in the vegetable garden to maximise the flavour of what we grow and serve?

The varieties we plant
Probably the most important factor which influences in the flavour of the crop we grow is the variety we choose to plant. You must have come a cross a rock hard tomato in a supermarket which tastes like cardboard. This is because originally these varieties of tomato were bred to travel long distances and sit in the supermarket shelves for weeks. When the plant breeders produced these long shelf life varieties they had no consideration of flavour, but after the introduction of these tasteless tomatoes the overall sales of tomatoes actually started to decrease. That’s when plant breeders started to select for flavour and now there is a wide range of modern and heirloom varieties available which taste good.

The very tasty tomato Suncherry Premium grwoing in our greenhouse
At the hotel we plant the tomato variety Suncherry Premium in our greenhouse which I must say has outstanding flavour, not only is it sweet but it has an excellent sugar acid ratio. The fruits are slightly larger than a cherry tomato and the plants are easy to grow. If you’re after flavour I really would recommend giving it a try. Another tomato variety we sometimes grow is Sun Gold its claimed to be the sweetest tomato there is (and probably is) but lacks a little bit of acid and so flavour isn’t quite as good as Suncherry Premium.

Top tasting fruit varieties
Strawberries are another example of a fruit where breeding for shelf life came in detriment to flavour. How many times have you come across giant firm red strawberries which look great but are such a disappointment to eat? Well there is now an excellent variety called Albion available especially recommended for organic growers it’s easy to grow and tastes sublime. We managed to get hold of some plants a few years ago and since then we have replaced all our strawberry beds with this tastier variety and boy do you notice the difference.

We are also trialing some new blackberry varieties and again flavour is one of the major attributes we are looking for.

The flavour of leafy crops and root crops are also greatly influenced by the variety you grow. Little gem and Batavia lettuce are the best flavoured lettuce, Mona Lisa is an excellent tasting potato, the list of tasty varieties goes on…

The superb flavoursome potato we grow; Mona Lisa

If you’re interested in flavour before buying your seeds or plants try and find out a bit about the eating qualities of the different varieties, internet is an amazing source of information.

The length of time and conditions between harvest and cooking
However good a fruit or vegetable tastes when freshly picked from the plant once picked, its flavour will start to decrease. This is because once picked the sugars the fruit contains will slowly start to turn to tasteless starch and many of the other flavour components will start to break down into simpler less flavourful molecules.

Freshly picked vegetables to be prepared staright away.

Here at the hotel we normally harvest in the early afternoon and the cooks start preparing the food a couple of hours later. So our fresh organic food as well being healthy for you tastes incredible good.

The amount of sunlight they receive whilst growing
The more sunlight a plant receives the more sugars it can make and potentially have more flavour. There is not much we can do about the amount of sun we get but in general for flavourful food its best to have your vegetable garden in full sun and avoid shady areas.

Our vegetable garden in full sun 

The amount of water and type of fertiliser the plants receive whist growing
The amount of water and the availability of certain salts (or more correctly cations such as sodium, potassium and magnesium) influence on flavour. Plants grown with an excess of water tend to have larger more watery fruits with less flavour where as plants grown with more “salts” tend to have smaller fruits, lower yields but more flavour. When I worked with tomatoes many years ago in the south of Spain there was a time when Marks and Spencers actually asked the growers to irrigate their crops with a mixture of sea water to help increase the flavour of the fruit

Strawberries cope well with dry conditions and it makes them taste even better

Care needs to be taken as you can easily kill or weaken a crop if you use too little water or too much fertiliser, particularly if you have a clayey soil. But a practical tip for increased flavour is mulch with leaf mould as it is high in potassium and has none of the detrimental effect an inorganic potassium fertiliser might have. So start saving all you leaf falls this autumn.

Finally careful control on watering can improve flavour; don’t over water but at the same time make sure you water enough to maintain a healthy plant as a weak unhealthy plant will never taste as good as a healthy plant.

So as you can see the chefs play a huge role in the preparing the flavour of the food, but so does the gardener!

Our salad buffet; grown and cooked for flavour!

Happy eating.

1 comment:

Ian Hicken said...

The gardener is often overlooked and his/role under-valued (or so you keep mentioning... ;-) ) All looking great by the way.


Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.