Grown in an old air raid shelter where Londoners used to take refuge from Nazi war plane bombings during the Blitz, the Marks & Spencer micro herb range has had a very interesting journey from seed to shelf.
Now in stores across the capital, the micro herb line is cultivated 108 feet below Clapham High Street in London in a disused World War II bunker transformed by startup, Growing Underground.
Using state-of-the-art hydroponic technology and low-energy LED lighting, crops including Thai basil, rocket, mustard leaf, pea shoots, watercress, radish and more, are grown year-round regardless of weather conditions.
Back by celebrity and Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr, entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring first unveiled their central London carbon neutral farm in 2015.
The idea is to supply the local market with home-grown herbs and salad that come from a pesticide-free urban farm that has zero impact on the environment, uses 70% less water than traditional methods and reduces food miles.
Subterranean salad deal
The micro herbs are traditionally used in fine dining and this is the first time they will be available on the high street. The in-house development chefs at M&S have created four herb mixes based on different cuisines.
The flavour of each herb builds at a different time so the mixes have been created with this in mind, with flavours developing to complement each other, according to the high-end grocer.
“We love the idea of urban farming and making the most of the spaces we have in our cities. The herbs are harvested when only a few centimetres in height, meaning the taste is concentrated within the tiny leaves and the flavours are incredible,” says Charlotte Curtis, M&S agronomist.
“They really pack a punch and even a little sprinkle can make a real difference to a dish. My favourite is the Indian mix which is lovely added to a warm naan bread with chicken, minted yoghurt, a few red chillies and some mango chutney.”
The micro herb mixes include: British Mix Micro Salad with pea shoots, broccoli shoots, salad rocket, pink stem radish; Indian Mix Micro Salad with pea shoots, coriander, garlic chives, purple radish; Italian Mix Micro Salad with pea shoots, fennel, garlic chives, red mustard and Japanese Mix Micro Salad with pea shoots, wasabi mustard, garlic chives and purple radish.