1. Taro Root
This tuber mostly grows in Asia, the Pacific Islands and tropical areas. Round and slightly elongated, it’s covered in a dark brown skin that’s as thin as that of cassava. The flesh is cream-coloured and sprinkled with purple dots. Subtly sweet, its taste is reminiscent of sweet potato. Use it a little like a potato: roasted, fried and even as chips. Rich in starch, it makes a very sticky mash.
Have you seen that intensely violet ice cream on Tik Tok and Pinterest? It probably was ube ice cream. Ube is a root vegetable from the Philippines that’s mostly used to colour desserts, even if its slightly sweet taste goes just as well with savoury dishes, like bread or bao buns (steamed buns). You can find it at Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets in the exotic fruits and vegetables area.
3. Black Sesame Paste
As its name implies, this condiment is made of crushed black sesame, creating a paste whose texture is reminiscent of peanut butter. A staple of Japanese cuisine, this paste offers a strong sesame taste that’s slightly lighter than that of sesame oil. It’s used to season desserts, like creams or panna cottas, or to flavour mayonnaise. You’ll find it in Asian grocery stores and health food stores.
4. Finger Lime
Also known as “caviar lime,” this citrus owes its name to its elongated shape. It also comes in a variety of shades, from yellow to green. Under its skin, you’ll find thousands of tiny translucent beads that burst in the mouth when you bite into them, a little like fish eggs. Its acidic taste falls somewhere between lemon and lime. Finger lime is used as a garnish on tartares, fish and salads.
5. Black Garlic
Black garlic is not a new variety, but a new way of processing garlic. Garlic bulbs are placed in a steamer with controlled temperature and humidity for 3 to 4 weeks. A natural reaction occurs between the sugars and proteins (the Maillard reaction) that creates colourful, sweet and fragrant components. The concentrated taste of black garlic evokes that of confit garlic mixed with molasses, soy sauce, black licorice and balsamic vinegar. It’s used in the same way as roasted garlic. Quebec is a producer of black garlic. You’ll find it mostly in public markets and some specialty stores, as well as at RICARDO boutiques and on the menu of Café RICARDO restaurants.
6. Butterfly Pea Flower
Sold in dried format, this flower has the property of colouring liquids and food preparations a bright blue. It’s used to make infusions for latte beverages or cocktail syrups. Its relatively neutral taste blends naturally well with a whole gamut of flavours. And when added to acidic foods, such as lemon, its vivid colour turns to purple.
7. Haskap Berry
More popular than ever, this tiny berry has been produced in Quebec for about 20 years. Haskap berries look like elongated blueberries and their taste is similar to that of blueberries as well, but also to blackcurrants and raspberries. As they must be consumed very quickly after being picked, they’re always sold frozen at the grocery store. You can use them in the same way as any other type of small berries.
JAM AND SWEET SPREADS
8. Tonka Bean
Considered an exotic spice, the tonka bean is the seed of the fruit of a native South American tree, grown both for its wood and for its aromatic seeds. Its singular and intoxicating fragrance is reminiscent of almond and vanilla extract, with notes of caramel and warm spices, such as cinnamon, clove and aniseed. It takes very little to season a dish. You can finely grate it, as you would with nutmeg, to add directly to desserts.