July 26, 2019 8:13 am Leave your thoughts
We’ve got a runaway bestseller at Naturally Good Food: barberries (also known as ‘berberis’ or ‘zereshk’). These small, dried, red berries, from Iran, are supplied to us by Infinity Foods. We sell them in handy 125g packs. And they’re flying off our shelves. Why?
Could it be their taste? Sweet, yet sharp, rather like cranberries, but much more citrussy, barberries bring a piquant tang to your cooking. They lift both savoury and sweet dishes to a whole new level and many people can’t get enough of them!
Or perhaps it’s their health properties? Barberries are rich in vitamin C, which is essential for the growth and repair of tissues in our bodies. This vitamin helps our bodies manufacture collagen, which in its turn, makes skin, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels. Vitamin C also repairs our wounds and keeps our bones and teeth healthy.
Or possibly their visual effect? These wonderfully bright little jewels look fantastic dotted through a pilaf or bowl of couscous. They’re real ‘special occasion’ additions.
To cook with?
Nowadays, barberries are most often associated with Iranian and other Middle Eastern dishes. Generally soaked for about 10 minutes before use, they’re then added to dishes like zereshk polow (a fairly simple rice and barberry mix), or tahcheen-zereshk, a meal made of rice and barberries, with yoghurt and chicken. Both of these dishes traditionally incorporate saffron too – another beautiful, highly flavoured ingredient that grows in the same region.
But barberries are actually grown all round the world and can be found wild in Europe as well as in Asia. They were once a pretty popular ingredient in British cooking, used much as citrus peel is today. Clearly, the tide is turning back in their favour! They’re being incorporated into curries and stews all over Europe once more and are also often enjoyed with the South American grain quinoa. We’ve seen some mouthwatering ideas for using them online: in a stuffing mix with chopped almonds, spiced cooked rice and onions; dotted over a chicken mayonnaise salad; rubbed over roast lamb or pork; thrown into a trail mix with nuts and seeds; mixed into plain yoghurt; added to homemade mincemeat – and even cooked with Brussels sprouts!
To make jam with?
Barberries were once known as ‘pipperages’ by English cooks (who grew them in their kitchen gardens) and were widely used to make jams and jellies. Not only did they bring colour and tartness to these, but being high in pectin, they were a useful setting agent. They’re still used this way to make candies in the Middle East, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t revive the tradition in the UK too!
Or for other reasons?
Barberries, in powdered form, are sometimes used in herbal medicine. They have certain antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties and some people take them to ease stomach and bowel issues.
Perhaps most interestingly, they’re an important ingredient in various Iranian wedding dishes. Their tartness and sudden brightness is designed to indicate that even in the happiest of marriages, there will be surprises and difficulties to overcome!
Can’t get barberries? You can use cranberries as a replacement, or dried sour cherries, or currants soaked for a time in lemon juice. If you’re cooking with lamb, apricots make a good option too. And our organic mixed orange and lemon peel is a great way to bring a fragrant, citrussy brightness to a dish.
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This post was written by Yzanne