Why most of wild foods are not sold in the supermarket

Wild mushroom market
Have you ever noticed the absence of wild berries, mushrooms, and other foraged foods in your local supermarket?

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Have you ever wondered why you can’t find wild berries, mushrooms, or other foraged foods in your local supermarket? While supermarkets offer a wide variety of produce from around the world, the selection of wild foods is typically limited or non-existent.

We’ll explore the reasons why most wild foods are not sold in supermarkets, and delve into the challenges of selling foraged foods in the shops.

What makes wild food unique?

Supermarkets need to make food sales profitable, so they often choose crops that can last long periods, have a uniform size and weight, and look visually appealing, which can come at the expense of flavour and nutrient content.

To achieve this uniformity, large scale farming relies on herbicides and pesticides, which harm beneficial insects, earthworms, and vital organisms in the soil. These chemicals also damage soil, leading to an overreliance on artificial fertilizers to produce crops.

In contrast, wild plants are naturally resilient, adapting to harsh conditions, competing with other plants and protecting themselves from herbivores. This often leads to higher nutrient content and bolder flavours, such as sour, salty, bitter or pungent.

Why some wild foods are not viable economically?

Shelf life is not long enough

Food must withstand long-distance transportation and storage to arrive fresh and in good condition. This often means that delicate and smaller berries, like wild strawberries, bilberries, and mulberries, are not economically viable.

Similarly, wild herbs and salads like wild garlic, sorrel, and dandelion leaves have short shelf-lives and are hard to transport long distances, making them unsuitable for large-scale farming.

Foraging is therefore the best option for those who want to enjoy the taste and health benefits of these delicate berries, herbs, and salads.

Some varieties are favoured against others

While wild fruit may not always have the size and appearance of their cultivated counterparts, they make up for it in flavour and diversity.

In fact, there are hundreds of unique varieties of apples, pears, plums, and other fruits that don’t make it into supermarkets, each with its own distinct flavour influenced by its unique growing conditions and environment.

By incorporating wild fruit into our diets, we can not only enjoy new and exciting tastes, but also help to preserve these diverse genetic resources for future generations.

Our culture is not accustomed to some flavour profiles

Most people in Western societies have become accustomed to the neutral and sweet flavours of cultivated crops. In contrast, many of those plants growing wild have bold and distinct flavours, such as sour, bitter, salty, or pungent.

For example, a good number of wild leaves, such as dandelion and chicory, are naturally bitter. While there is certain preference toward these flavours in Mediterranean countries, other cultures may not be as fond of bitterness, other than beer or coffee.

Similarly, Middle Eastern countries grew to embrace the tartness of sour cherries, while some European countries tend to prefer sweeter varieties.

Invasive species cannot be propagated

Invasive species of non-native wild plants can pose a threat to the native ecosystem and are often targeted for removal.

Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam are two examples of such plants that have the potential to cause ecological damage if allowed to propagate unchecked.

By harvesting these invasive species, you can help control their spread and reduce their impact on native ecosystems.

Since these plants are often abundant and grow quickly, they can provide a reliable source of food or material without putting additional strain on native ecosystems.

Mushrooms are difficult to cultivate

Some wild foods cannot be cultivated due to their specific growing conditions and requirements. Mushrooms are notoriously difficult to grow and there is only a reduced number of species that can be cultivated.

Certain mushrooms such as morels, chanterelles and parasols need specific soil types, moisture levels, and symbiotic relationships with tree roots to grow. Trying to cultivate these mushrooms would be impractical and likely result in low yields.

This is why foraging for wild mushrooms can be a great alternative to buying them from the supermarket. Not only you get to enjoy the unique and delicious flavours of these mushrooms, but you also get to experience the thrill of the hunt.

Final thoughts

Foraging presents an alternative way for individuals to access fresh, locally sourced produce that cannot be found in supermarkets.

The advantages of foraging extend beyond the gastronomic sphere and into the promotion of a sustainable food system, making it an excellent pursuit for those seeking to broaden their culinary horizons while supporting environmentally-friendly practices.

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Picture of Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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