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Food & Health

Salsify: The long-forgotten Victorian vegetable returns to 100 Waitrose stores

The demand for traditional produce shows that the roots of cultural nostalgia are also deeply ingrained in the kitchen

A selection of root vegetables (1862), featuring salsify (bottom right).

You’ve probably never heard of it but the Italian etymology of the Victorian root vegetable, salsify, long vacant from supermarket shelves, certainly piques the interest. And thus, salsify, a staple of 19th century British cooking, is enjoying a renaissance. Waitrose is rolling salsify out across 100 stores, as the chain hopes to ride the rising wave of traditional cooking sweeping the nation.

Salsify is being supplied by Albert Bartlett, the Scotland-based potato company. It will be available until the spring, with both the black and white strains hitting the shelves this winter. The root vegetable is known for its subtle but versatile flavour, with its taste being compared to everything from oysters to liquorice. The return of salsify has most likely been caused by an increased demand for traditional ingredients. As well as salsify, Waitrose have also introduced Fenland celery to selected stores.

Although forgotten here in Britain, salsify continues to be used widely in France and Italy where it has been grown since the mid-17th century. But as Brits grow more and more culinarily curious, it’s unsurprising to see unknown produce breaking through into popular food culture. More than just intriguing flavours of old, we are quick to attach ourselves to produce with a persevering tale. As previously mentioned, salsify has endured as a staple of French and Italian diets but has also spread to America, known across the Atlantic as the oyster plant.

Salsify’s appearance is that of an almost elderly parsnip, with its straggly, facial hair-like roots earning it the nickname ‘goat’s beard’. The vegetable is not as colourful or visually appealing as some of its more photogenic peers which in theory could deter customers in the age of Instagram meal perfection. However, with the rise of unsightly, wonky veg, salsify could yet become a repugnant poster child for alternative veg.

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