Howdy dudhi! UK shoppers create soaring demand for exotic vegetables

Not so long ago they were still considered exotic vegetables that could only be bought in a handful of stores and market stalls dotted around the UK.

But now the likes of the dudhi, chayote, cassava, and other vegetables from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean are becoming mainstream with demand rocketing at Tesco stores across the UK.

And their popularity is not restricted to major inner city stores either with sales soaring in wider towns across the country.

Among the most popular in the last 12 months are the:

  • Dudhi – demand up by 25 per cent
  • Chayote – up by nearly 80 per cent
  • Cassava – up by more than 40 per cent
  • Purple sweet potatoes – up by nearly 125 per cent
  • Fresh turmeric – up by 80 per cent
  • Plantains – up by more than 60 per cent
  • Okra – up by 24 per cent
  • Sivri chillies – up by nearly 500 per cent.

Tesco exotic vegetable buyer Katie Frost said: 

“These wonderful exotic fruit and vegetable varieties may be new to some shoppers but are a mainstay of Caribbean, Asian and African cuisine.

“Demand for them is soaring as a direct result of a new adventurism and passion that is sweeping through home cooking, inspired by celebrity chef TV food shows.

“Programmes such as Rick Stein’s India and recipes by other celebrity chefs such as The Hairy Bikers and Jamie Oliver have inspired people who love cooking to try new ingredients.” 

Chef Derek Sarno, Tesco’s Director of Plant-Based Innovation said that the vegan food revolution has also created a spirit of adventurism with more shoppers prepared to try out new vegetables.

Derek said: 

Being easily able to find these world fruit and vegetables in local supermarkets has helped drive demand.  

These days more and more shoppers are picking up plantains, fresh turmeric or purple sweet potatoes with their carrots or broccoli.

Among the top selling exotic vegetables at Tesco are:

Dudhi, from Asia – Similar to a courgette and great in stir-fries, added to curry dishes, or tossed into salads.

Plantain, from the Caribbean – Looks like a large banana but less sweet and is used like a potato in Caribbean cooking. Delicious added to stews or casseroles, grilled or baked.

Okra, from Africa and Asia – Delicious chopped and added to a curry, with vegetables or meat.

Chayote, from Latin America – similar in taste to a courgette with pale green, cucumber like flesh. Popular as a side dish when mixed with potato to create a chayote squash.

Cassava, from South America – A root vegetable with an earthy, nutty, and slightly sweet taste that can be boiled and mashed to be eaten as a tasty side dish.

Purple Sweet Potato, originally from Japan but now grown in North America – Richer tasting member of the sweet potato family

Sivri Chilli, from Turkey – the long, green medium-heat chillis that are commonly found in take-away kebabs.

Fresh Turmeric, from the Indian Sub-Continent – The root vegetable which has a mild, peppery flavour has become extremely popular as a key ingredient in healthy smoothies, curries and soups.


Note to editors:

Top American plant-based food chef Derek Sarno has exclusively created a couple of recipes including a couple of these exotic vegetables.

Recipe 1

Easy Grill Roasted Purple Sweets with Basil-Mint Sesame Pesto

1 or 2 packages of purple sweet potatoes, washed, sliced in half, skin on.

4 garlic cloves

1 TBS chopped ginger, peeled

4 TBS sesame oil

Light oil, to blend

100g pumpkin seeds

Salt and black pepper to taste

25g basil (two handfuls) (tough stems removed)

10g mint, leaves 

60g baby spinach

1tbs nutritional yeast

For Purple Sweet Potatoes:

Grilling option:  slice purple potatoes in half, lightly brush with sesame oil and grill to mark on indoor grill pan.

Heat oven to 180 (fan).  Place potatoes on baking paper lined baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes.  Check for doneness when a skewer/knife can piece easily through.

Remove from oven, lightly brush with more sesame if needed and serve with dip or as a side dish.

For Pesto Sauce Dip:

Light the heat under a pan on the stove.

Chop ginger and garlic, add to the pan with 3-4 TBS light olive oil.

Heat to fry for 1 min until starts to brown, shut off heat and remove.

Into Food processor: Add baby spinach, basil, mint and pumpkin seeds with pinch of salt and black pepper. Add fried garlic, ginger in oil. Blitz and slowly add more light olive oil to loosen to desired consistency (roughly between 100 - 200 ML). At the end add sesame oil to finish. Store in closed container in cooler. Will last 7 - 10 days.

Recipe 2

Turmeric-Brown Sugar BBQ Cone Cabbage Heads

1 - 2 whole cone head cabbages, cut into quarters

1 TBSP turmeric, fresh and chopped

1 large TBSP miso 

1 handful brown sugar, to taste

Pinch black pepper

3 TBSP sesame oil

Preheat oven to 180 (Fan)

Brush cabbage open face lightly with sesame oil, salt and pepper.

On indoor or outdoor grill, grill to mark face down on hot surface.  Dip or brush with turmeric BBQ sauce and add to baking sheet lined baking tray.  Roast for 20-30 minutes basting 2-3 times until tender and caramelized.  Remove from oven and serve with extra sauce.

BBQ Recipe:

In high speed blender blitz turmeric, miso, brown sugar. black pepper, salt and 2 TBS sesame to thickish consistency.  Thin with little hot water if needed.  Store in covered container in cooler for up to 5-7 days.  

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