U.K.: Samphire was the seaside's 'best kept secret'...until now
But, thanks to endorsements from celebrity chefs, its popularity is growing and commercial production is bigger than ever in the U.K.
The plant traditionally grows in estuary waters and is now being commercially harvested for Tesco in the Worcestershire region of England, an area noted for producing high quality asparagus.
The U.K.’s biggest producer of edible sea plants, Westlands, started growing samphire in 2009, initially producing just two metric tons (MT) per year.
Demand is now so strong that this year’s commercial volumes look set to reach 240MT.
"While the British season lasts from mid-May to until October, estuary grown samphire has a notoriously short window of being at its very best, which is about two to three weeks from late June to early July after which it becomes too stringy," says Westlands general manager Peter Taylor.
"We grow samphire in glasshouses because we can perfectly replicate coastal temperatures and growing conditions.
"The extra hand harvesting care also produces a wonderful tasting crop. It doesn’t need to grow in water, it likes to be moist. We only use the glasshouse to enhance and lengthen the natural growing days and season."
Tesco stocks samphire
Samphire is also known as 'sea asparagus' because of its likeness to the spear-shaped vegetable, is best prepared by lightly steaming or sautéing, has a distinctively salty flavor and is rich in vitamin C.
It has vibrant green stalks with a crisp texture and succulent tender tips.
"For centuries, samphire was the seaside’s best kept secret, a little know sea plant that is a wonderful accompaniment to fish because of its wonderfully succulent taste and distinctive salty flavor," says Tesco vegetable buyer Bart Vangorp.
"Until about five years ago samphire was still only really known by foodies but thanks to being championed by celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver it is becoming a mainstream delicacy.
"Unless you lived near the sea it was quite hard to find which is why we decided to stock it to make it easier for our customers to buy."
Tesco samphire will be available in store from this month to October and costs £2 (US$2.98) for a 115g (4oz) pack.