For a nation of food lovers, us Brits are decidedly fussy eaters. In 2012 the Fussy Food Nation Report named and shamed the UK as the country most likely to leave food on its plates, with many European delicacies such as snails, oysters, olives and kidneys ranking highest on our list of most hated foods.
This may not be particularly surprising, but what’s concerning is the significant negative impact such fussiness was found to have on the health of those who took part. It’s well known that a Mediterranean diet is linked to a longer lifespan and healthier heart and in 2013 researchers discovered that those who stuck to a Mediterranean diet and supplemented their food with extra-virgin olive oil had a 30% lower risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s a convincing argument for broadening our taste buds and, thanks to Dorset-based company Olives et Al, it’s never been easier to branch out.
Way back in 1992, soon-to-be husband and wife Annie and Giles Henschel set off on motorbikes for a year-long adventure across the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa, kick-starting a lifelong passion for the food they ate along the way. They are the ‘original British olive artisans’ and today, with their trusted team of ‘Oliveers’, they are doing a pretty good job of getting people to fall in love with one of the country’s most despised foods.
‘Personally, we don’t like the term expert – it implies you know all there is to know which just ain’t possible… No two methods of preparing olives can ever be the same… From my perspective I reckon we’re still original, still genuine and still working on the perfect olive.’ – Olives et Al
Experts or not, these guys have won Great Taste awards every year they’ve entered, and (just in case you had any doubts) they’ve even got a bunch of olive Agony Aunt’s to help answer any nervy newcomers questions and offer tips, recommendations and facts for your burgeoning love of olives.
It’s all far too obliging to ignore, and with products such as Egyptian Style Spiced Dukkah, Chipotle Smoked Chilli Nuts and Proper Genovese Basil & Pine Nut Pesto, even your resilient olive-hater will have trouble resisting what’s on offer. Oils, sauces, balsamics, marinades, dressings – they’ve got it covered, and then there’s the olives themselves.
Classic flavours like chilli and garlic sit alongside lemon, coriander, cumin and rosemary in 250g jars of plump, juicy olives infused with full-bodied flavour. This week I sampled their latest addition: Smoky Chipotle Chilli Olives (£4). Infused with smoke dried jalapeños, these whole Amphissa olives have a warmth and surprising freshness that’s so, so much better than your average supermarket buy it’s no wonder so many of us are ignorant to the olives potential.
Drenched in extra-virgin olive oil, it really is worth paying more for these as the oil can be reserved for cooking up one of their many menu ideas, or experimenting with recipes of your own. I had a half-hearted a go at making their Chipotle Hummus and the left-over chipotle oil gave such a depth of flavour to what was essentially blended chickpeas that I almost considered bottling it up and selling it on myself.
Also new to the table is Chilli, Garlic & Ginger Jelly, Red Chilli Harissa, and Mojo Pink Grapefruit Dressing & Marinade. I’m always nervy around grapefruit (that bitter taste difficult to stomach at the best of times), and so the idea of slathering it over fish or chicken was admittedly a little deterring. However, while I couldn’t say I’d definitely buy it again, there was certainly no furry-mouth feeling I feared and it did give a pleasant fruity taste to the cod fillet I tested it on. Far better was the Jelly. A smooth and silky one-upmanship on chutney, this unique jelly-relish has a ‘powerful ginger and garlic kick’ perfect for livening up meats, noodles and dressings. It’s a sort of Asian ketchup for the gourmet cook and, at a more costly £4 a jar, works annoyingly well with everything from spreading on a sandwich to a full-on oriental feast.
£4 seems to be the going price for ingredients from Olives et Al, and (also at this price) is the North African Style Chilli Harissa. It’s often difficult to get the balance right with such strong, aromatic flavours, but this harissa is a lot softer than many others I have tried with a pleasing, gradual depth to its spicing. I particularly like the fact that once opened, the jar will keep for three weeks (chilled), so there’s no rush to smother it on everything. Although, saying that, two days in and it’s already made appearances on potato wedges, chicken breast, and my own take on the ‘sort of rice, lentil and pasta dish’ that caused Olives et Al to originally fall in love with it.
Taste-aside, what’s great about Olives et Al is their quiet focus on gluten-free products. Whereas other free-from companies use this as their selling point, with Olives et Al creating gluten-free and vegetarian ingredients is simply an additional tick to what’s already a great tasting product. Flavour is at the forefront of what they do, but there’s no leaving out anyone who might want to give it a try. Bon appetit.