Britain-grown samphire could be on the menu year-round after a start-up said it had cracked the delicacy’s indoor farming formula.
Samphire, which has grown in popularity over the past decade as an accompaniment to fish dishes, is grown in the summer months when it also grows wild on Norfolk’s salt marshes.
But during the winter months, the UK relies on imports from Morocco, Israel and Mexico to supply top restaurants and supermarkets.
Because of its unique growing environment, which combines estuarine mud and salt water, the vegetable is difficult to grow in a hydroponic system, which involves growing crops in enriched water without using soil.
Russell Sharp, a plant scientist, says he has now developed the perfect technique for growing the vegetable all year round in his hydroponic farms in Daventry.
“This is the biggest challenge in agriculture,” said Sharp. “People say wasabi is the hardest plant in the world to grow. But wasabi is easy compared to samphire.”
“We basically spent six months trying to change every variable and not relying on conventional wisdom about how to grow plants indoors. Because you have to add salt to the crop, many of the things you would normally just rule it out,” he said. “So it’s been a long learning curve.”
Reduces the ecological footprint
One of the benefits of year-round hydroponic growing is its reliable quality, compared to some imported products that customers say have a “woody” flavor or texture, Sharp said.
Indoor growing reduces the carbon footprint of imports, according to an assessment by Mr. Sharp’s company, Eutrema. The company has calculated that the emissions of 1 kg of its samphire are less than the transport emissions of an Israeli version.
Eutrema also hopes to move its energy supply, which currently comes from the grid, to a renewable source.
Mr Sharp says samphire grown indoors also has the advantage of being relatively clean compared to seawater cultivation, making it safer to eat raw.
“It’s often shallow fried for three minutes, which makes it limp, while mine is crispy and fresh,” he said.
The samphire is already on the menu at Michelin-starred White Swan in Shawell, Leicestershire, and the company is also in talks with a major retailer.