One of the many fascinating things about food is that there are so many ingredients and combinations in the world. As long as we are able to access them, the adventure never ends. You’re sure to find something to excite you in this round-up of speciality food product reviews.
Trying out new foods and products is one of the joys of being a food blogger. Here are some of the food products that have landed on the Tin and Thyme kitchen counter in recent months. They’re an eclectic mix, but include alternatives to meals as we know them, spices, savoury biscuits, divine butter and dessert wine.
We start off with some healthy and ethical powders, find a bit of controversy along the way, then wrap up with a few sweet treats.
Aduna Baobab & Moringa Powders
I’ve got the smoothie bug. I like to start my day on a healthy note, even if I can’t keep it up. Smoothies offer a great way of combining lots of healthy ingredients into a tasty drink or even bowl, as in this red berry coconut smoothie bowl. I was thus delighted to make contact with the good people of Aduna who are working with women in countries such as Ghana and Senegal.
Aduna are empowering them to create better livelihoods for themselves and their families by producing superfood powders from African trees. Africa has many extraordinary natural resources that are under utilised; baobab and moringa are two of these and creating a demand for them will help African smallholders get a fair price for their work.
Do take a look at the Aduna website to read more about how they are helping people in some of the poorest parts of the world.
The packaging is bright and cheerful and definitely reminiscent of the bright dresses worn by many African women. The logo is a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol called Owia Kokroko, which stands for vitality, renewal and the power of the sun.
An 80g tub of Baobab costs £7.99 and a 100g tub of moringa is the same price. The two can be bought together for £14.50 and larger quantitates work out cheaper still. As well as the powders you can also buy both products online in the form of energy bars.
This is a project well worth supporting. It’s a win-win situation: we get to enjoy the riches of Africa and in so doing can help create dignified and sustainable employment for Africans.
Baobab Superfruit Powder
This is a pale yellow powder which is slightly sweet and slightly tart with citrussy notes. It reminds me a little of amchoor (dry mango powder). It comes from the fruit of the iconic baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) which grows wild in thirty two countries across Africa and is known as The Tree of Life. The powder is very high in antioxidants as well as vitamin C and soluble fibre.
I’ve used it several times and find it goes particularly well in fruit smoothies. Watch out for an upcoming baobab smoothie recipe. A sudden flash of inspiration had me using it in the pancake batter I made yesterday (see top picture). It gave a subtle but distinct lift to the pancakes which both CT and I really liked. An experiment that I will repeat.
Moringa Superleaf Powder
The moringa powder is dark green and tastes, well, leafy! It is, however, one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. The leaves come from the moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) also known as the Miracle Tree. With a name like this, it is perhaps not surprising that it is able to grow in drought smitten Africa and every part of the tree can be used.
A natural multivitamin, it is high in antioxidants and is surprisingly high in protein, almost 25%. It has 24 times the iron of spinach and 21 times the calcium of milk. It is also organic. I use mine in various green power smoothies, but the only recipe I have at the moment is for this cucumber and celery smoothie.
Moose Maple Butter
As soon as I heard the name of this wondrous product, I knew I was going to like it. And I did. Moose Maple Butter is not only delicious, but unlike many spreads you can buy, it’s not full of refined sugars and other nasties. Pure Canada no 1 maple syrup whipped into British butter with a dash of sea salt, what’s not to like?
There’s nothing quite like the taste of pure maple syrup and I find it really exciting to have it in such a simple, tasty and versatile form. I’ve enjoyed it on pancakes (see top picture) on waffles, (will be posting about that at some future date), but actually most of all on crumpets.
The sweet salty butter melting down into the crumpet holes is simply the best. And just in case anyone’s worried, we are assured that “absolutely no MOOSE were harmed during the making of this delicious product.
Made by Farrah who came up with the concept whilst she was not very successfully trying to eat maple syrup on buttered toast, this is a unique product that I really hope gets more attention. It is currently only available in selected outlets, but there is a planned UK wide launch later this year. Look out for it.
Spices have always played a big part in my cooking life. I was introduced to spicy exotica at a young age by my mother who fell in love with curries when she was living in Edinburgh in her youth. This was followed by a number of Middle Eastern connections which increased the range of spices used by our family.
At a time when the British palate was decidedly conservative and most people hadn’t even heard of cardamoms, our rural Cornish kitchen had a well stocked spice cupboard.
Luckily the British taste for spices has grown exponentially and it is now possible to get hold of good quality fresh spices with relative ease. Spice Kitchen provide fragrant freshly ground spices via their online shop. The spices are ‘sold with love’ from Birmingham based mother and son team, Shashi & Sanjay Aggarwal. They source their spices from around the world, then blend, roast and grind them by hand.
When I received a parcel of spice blends in the post, I could smell them emanating from the box before ever I opened it. It took me straight back to living in the Balti heartlands of the Midlands. When I unwrapped it the sweet spicy fragrance leapt out in a way that just doesn’t happen with a supermarket spice jar that’s probably been hanging around in warehouses for far too long. These mixes were worth having for the olfactory hit alone.
The resealable packets came in a silken bag which added an oriental charm. I’ve made a number of dishes so far including cauliflower rice with jerk sweet potatoes in coconut. When spices are this fresh, a little goes a long way. I only needed a teaspoon of the Mexican Spice Blend for a large stew I made recently. It had no other seasoning, except for salt and it was hot, spicy and delicious.
The eight International Spice Blend Kit retails at £9.95 and consists of the following:
- Chinese Spice Blend
- Garam Masala
- Jerk Seasoning
- Mexican Spice Blend
- Panch Pooran
- Ras el Hanout
- Sri Lankan Spice Mix
Stag Seaweed Biscuits
From way up north on Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, come some very tasty, almost addictive savoury biscuits. Seaweed is one of those foods that is seeing a renaissance here in the UK. It’s recognised as being good for gut health and high in vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium, iron, calcium and B vitamins. Surrounded by sea on all sides, this largest island of the Outer Hebrides, has a good supply of both sea salt and seaweed.
Stag Bakeries has been a feature of Stornaway life since 1885 and although much bigger now, it’s still a family run business which prides itself on artisanal craft and good food. If these biscuits are anything to go by, they’re fulfilling their promise. They have a real taste of the sea and just like offerings from that other maritime nation, Japan, there is that delicious umami flavour that enhances all that accompanies it.
The seaweed is a blend of red, green and brown varieties and is sustainably harvested. The biscuits are diminutive, making them ideal for canapés and come in 125g packs of 30. They are now available at Marks and Spencers and retail at £3 a pack.
CT is a big fan of oatcakes. When he spotted the pack of Seaweed Oatcakes, I was hard pressed to stop him demolishing the contents right away. The seaweed makes these biscuits even tastier than normal, so much so, they are good eaten just as they are. However, I did find they were even better with some cheese and a slice of radish.
The trouble is, CT now wants seaweed in all of his oatcakes. Containing no dairy products, these biscuits are suitable for vegans. They do contain palm oil, but I have been assured that although it doesn’t say it on the pack, it is sustainably sourced..
Much as I enjoyed the oatcakes, these water biscuits were my favourite. As they have also won a Great Taste Award, I’m guessing it’s not just me. Crisp, light and tasty, they were particularly good with a dollop of my garden pesto. As they contain milk powder, they are not suitable for vegans or those who are lactose intolerant.
Thomas J Fudges
I do like a good savoury biscuit, so I was delighted to receive a pack of Many-Shaped Miscellany of Biscuits for Cheese from Thomas J Fudge’s remarkable bakery. Not quite as old as Stag’s, this famous Dorset bakery has been going since 1916. It specialises in biscuits and has an innovative range of both sweet and savoury. Products can be purchased directly from their online shop, but the range is also available from selected Waitrose, Tesco, Booths and Ocado stores as well as some farm shops and delis.
These savoury biscuits are tasty and the packaging is fun. Each of the four varieties come in a their own serving box with an appropriate statement such as “For those that know their Stinking Bishop from their Stilton”. I particularly liked the deep black charcoal hearts which I ate with cream cheese and chives as well as the crunchy & rustic fruit & nut crackers which contained almonds, hazelnuts and cranberries. The crisp & clean water biscuits were also good, but I found the wholesome malted wheat rounds a little too sweet for me. Needless to say, CT was happy to help out. This 300g box would be fantastic for dinner parties, providing a cracker to suit different palates and different cheeses. It retails at around £4.50
I also got to try some Marvellous Milk Chocolate Flapjacks. I’m a big fan of anything oaty and flapjacks are one of my favourite sweet treats. These ones were very sweet, but they were also sticky, chewy and tasty with crunchy almonds and a hint of ginger. The milk chocolate made them extra special and I would not be at all averse to trying them all over again. A box of eight flapjacks retails at £3.25
This product is probably the most controversial in this particular round-up of speciality food reviews. Huel has been in the press quite a lot recently. Is powdered food that you just add water to really the future? As an open minded sceptic, it was certainly worth a try.
Even before opening the packet a wave of vanilla hits the senses and makes the rather undistinguished looking powder seem instantly more appetising. The instructions were to just add water and use a blender, shaker or whisk to mix to a smooth consistency, so I bunged it in my Optiumum 9200 Next Generation* blender.
I heard the discussion with founder Julian Hearn on Radio 4’s You and Yours a few weeks ago and found it interesting, but I was sceptical. So now I’ve tried it, what is my verdict?
Both CT and I really liked it. It has a pleasant oaty flavour which reminds me of Ready Brek, a childhood treat I only ever experienced away from home; it wasn’t wholesome enough for our household. It also has a roasted nutty wholesome quality about it.
One slight downside is that Huel is sweetened with sucralose, a calorie free sweetener derived from sucrose. As a result, I find Huel a little too sweet for me and it leaves a slightly peculiar aftertaste.
But as a permeant replacement to food as we know it? I’m not so sure. Food is so much more than just fuelling our bodies and I’m also not convinced that we would obtain all the nutrients we currently get from a varied diet. However, as an occasional fill-in for a meal when time is short, I can see nothing wrong with it.
Huel is marketed as a complete food, it contains no dairy, soy, nuts or animal products and is made up of 30% protein, 40% carbohydrates and %30% fats. The main ingredients are oats, peas, brown rice, sunflower seeds, flaxseed and coconut. You can find out much more about Huel on their website. One week’s supply costs £45.
Established in 1842, Tanners are a British independent family run wine merchant based in Shrewsbury. They offer a range of good quality wines and have a whole swathe of awards and accolades to their name. With my sweet tooth, I find a good dessert wine hard to resist. So when I was offered the opportunity to pick a wine of my choice to review, it was this bottle of French Sauternes that I went for. The wine is shrouded in mystery; it has an appellation Sauternes controllée, but the Sauvignon and Semillon grapes are grown in a top secret vineyard somewhere in Bordeaux. It’s definitely a sweet wine and quite strong too (13.5%), but with a refreshing fruity flavour; there are notes of raisins and honey. Super taster CT, reckoned it was also rather pruney with an undertow of liquorice. Either way, it’s very nice to drink and I reckon this would work well in supporting one of my fruit puddings – I’m thinking apple crumble. Here’s to autumn. Cheers.
A 50cl bottle costs £12.95 and is available at various outlets around the country as well as on the Tanners’ website.
Bettys Christmas Gugelhupf
Yorkshire is not a county I know that well, but even in my Cornish backwater I have heard of the famous Bettys tea rooms which first opened its doors in Harrogate in 1919. There are now six branches dotted around Yorkshire. When I knew I was headed to York on a work trip last year, there was one establishment I was determined to visit, no matter what.
Yorkshire Curd Tart
With only a few minutes to spare before my train departed, I managed to locate the tea rooms, heave a few lingering sighs over the array of delights surrounding me, ask for a Yorkshire curd tart and run.
I’d heard a lot about Yorkshire curd tarts from an expat colleague who was always bemoaning the fact she couldn’t get them down in the South West. After savouring it on the train home, I understood what she had been mithering on about. It really was delicious.
I recently had a go at making a chocolate version and although it was very tasty, it didn’t quite have the impact of that first one I tried from Bettys.
All of this is a rather long winded way of saying that when Betty’s asked if I’d like to review their Christmas Gugelhupf, back in 2012, I was not going to say no.
What is a Gugelhupf
So whilst I waited for it to be delivered, I had ample opportunity to ponder on what exactly a Gugelhupf was?
Pronounced google-hoopf, it’s the precursor to the American bundt type of cake. Originating from Southern Germany, Vienna, Switzerland and Alsace, the Gugelhupf is a fermented ring cake, dusted with sugar or covered in a chocolate glaze and eaten with a cup of coffee.
The story goes that the three kings, travelling to or from Bethlehem, stopped off in Alsace. The residents there were so delighted, that they baked a cake in the shape of the the King’s turbans to honour the visit. Today, it is more common to make Gugelhupfs with baking powder rather than yeast and Bettys is one of these.
For a more authentic yeast version, I’ve subsequently made Strasbourg kouglof, which is gugelhupf by any other name.
The cake came well wrapped, in fact within the cardboard box it looked, to all intents and purposes, as though it was wearing a coat of golden chain mail. It was surprisingly heavy for the size (a good sign in my opinion) and when I unwrapped it, I realised why, it weighs in at 730g.
After admiring its luxurious elegance and inhaling the heady chocolatey aroma, the first thing I did was look at the ingredients. I am always concerned that shop bought cakes will have far too many ingredients of which I’m likely to disapprove. I needn’t have worried. Betty’s is a high quality brand and as such doesn’t use junk ingredients. In supporting my case, I happily noted that butter was the first ingredient listed.
Ingredients: butter, sugar, egg, flour, hazelnuts, dark chocolate (65% cocoa solids), invert sugar syrup, maize starch, vanilla, raising agents, milk chocolate (38% cocoa solids) and white chocolate (36% cocoa butter).
We both really enjoyed this cake and if I had baked one this good, I would have been truly proud. The texture was firm, dense, but moist. The chocolate coating was nice and crunchy and offset the sweetness of the cake, which actually wasn’t overly sweet anyway. Although it was very well finished, it tasted homemade.
The flavour, which was chocolate and hazelnut, was excellent. CT waxed even more lyrical than usual. Talking with his mouth full, he offered up these comments: “The chocolate has a smell you can taste before you put it in your mouth – it’s that strong. It tingles on the tongue and has a slightly caramelly Christmas taste and is utterly buttery. I wish I could eat more than a couple of slices, but it’s just too filling. Loved the hazelnut hit. Can you make one of these for my birthday?”
My mother, who is extremely fussy about cake in general and highly suspicious of bought cake in particular was very impressed. So all in all, I can only say that this cake scored very highly.
Now, I really think it’s time I acquired a bundt mould. Which I duly did and here are all my bundt cake recipes to prove it.
Kallo Milk Chocolate Corn Cakes
Milk chocolate (27%), corn, sea salt
I’ve been a regular consumer of Kallo’s rice cakes for years, but had no idea they had branched out into chocolate covered ones nor that quinoa cakes and corn cakes were also in their repertoire. As it happens, I was a little bit dubious about tasting these as I wasn’t sure that puffed corn and chocolate sounded like a good combination. How wrong I was. The corn, strangely did not have either the taste or the texture of popcorn, which was what I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I like popcorn, but this tasted more like a childhood cereal, puffed wheat, only better cos they got chocolate on ’em, innit? The cakes were delightfully crunchy, without having any of the hard bits often found in popcorn – I took a filling out with some last year.
The layer of sweet milk chocolate on top is a perfect foil for the slightly salted corn and is a match that could become rather addictive. The cocoa content of the chocolate was not high, but it was real chocolate. As regular readers will know, I have a sweet tooth, but don’t like thing to be overly sugared. I find much of our British confectionary too sweet, which is a real shame as we are quite innovative in that department. However, these were a perfect balance of sweet, savoury and salty and quite frankly had me reaching for more. One cake will set you back 78 calories and contains 3.4g fat and 4.5g of sugar. So as long as you can stop at one, or maybe two, these are a very nice treat indeed with the added bonus, they are gluten free.
These are now available in Waitrose and Asda and retail at £1.59.
Miss Millar’s Marshmallows
As a vegetarian, marshmallows are not something I should really eat, but whilst I would never use gelatine in any of my recipes or buy products containing it, I do find a good marshmallow hard to resist if it’s offered to me. These Raspberry Eton Mess Mallows were definitely good ones and totally irresistible.
Not only did these clouds of fluffy delight gently flavoured with raspberry taste good and have the perfect mallowy texture, but they looked beautiful too. The ingredient list is short, no additives or preservatives are used and raspberry is not just a flavouring but is the real deal, raspberry purée.
The marshmallows came with a scattering of meringue on top which gave a good contrast in texture. I found, rather naughtily, that they made a wonderful topping for hot chocolate.
Miss Millar’s marvellous marshmallows, as proclaimed on the box, are handcrafted from start to finish. They may not yet be vegetarian, but a vegan version is being worked on and they are gluten free. They come in 15 different flavours of which I particularly like the sound of: apple blackberry crumble, mango meringue and toasted coconut and lime.
A box of 8 large mallows costs £4.50 and is available via the Miss Millar’s website.
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you try any of these speciality food products featured in this review, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on your preferred social media site and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
If you’d like more speciality food product reviews follow the link and you’ll find I have quite a lot of them.
Post updated Feb 2021
Thanks to Spice Kitchen, Stag, Thomas J Fudge’s, Moose Maple Butter and Aduna for the samples. I was not required to write positive reviews and as always, all opinions are my own.
* The Optimum 9200 is an affiliate link. If you buy one through this link, it will not cost you any more, but I will get a small commission.