Coriander, Marmite, liquorice: how culinary powers are reinventing divisive dishes

These dishes are known for polarising opinion but is it possible for those who detest them to change their mind?

Coriander lovers will garnish all manner of foods with the leafy herb, while loathers can't stand its 'soapy' flavour profile. Photo: Pixabay
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Some foods are almost universally loved — ice cream, chocolate, pizza, warm-from-the-oven fresh bread. Others, not so much. Foods such as liquorice, Marmite and Brussels sprouts are well known for polarising opinion, but is it possible — or even desirable — to reinvent these often maligned foods and convert the haters? We take a closer look.

For the love of liquorice

Chocolate and coffee-flavoured liquorice from Lakrids by Bulow, available at The Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina Mall and Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

Always a top contender when it comes to controversial foods, liquorice is an opinion-divider if ever there were one. The liquorice plant gets its distinctive flavour from glycyrrhizin, a compound that’s some 40 times sweeter than sucrose (which explains the intensely sweet taste of liquorice in its purest form).

Those who love liquorice tend to be absolutely mad for the stuff, devouring the chewy, aniseed-heavy, sweet-sour pellets or boot laces with zeal, while simultaneously wondering why everyone doesn’t share their obsession.

Which brings us to Lakrids by Bulow, a Denmark luxury liquorice company founded in 2007 by Johan Bulow, a man with serious entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for the black stuff. Fifteen years on and the brand is regarded as the standard-bearer when it comes to premium-tasting craft liquorice. It sells its range (in flavours such as passion fruit, salt and caramel, coffee and a bestselling chocolate-coated number) around the globe, including in the UAE, from its outlets in The Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina Mall and Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai.

Not only is the company intent on keeping the liquorice lovers of the world well stocked with top-quality confectionery, but it is also on a mission to make everyone fall for the stuff.

So convinced are the team of their ability to convert doubters to devotees, they’ve launched a global marketing campaign to do just that. The “Share it with a Hater” movement works on the premise that Lakrids will send liquorice lovers a pack of the chocolate-coated treat for free, provided the recipients share it with someone who doesn’t currently like liquorice.

Danish brand Lakrids by Bulow has launched a Share it with a Hater campaign to promote liquorice

A bold move, but one they've based on statistics. According to the brand’s calculations, “by gifting a sample of chocolate-coated liquorice to every single person across the globe, 84 per cent of the world will love liquorice in 412 years and 292 days”.

So far the call-to-action Share it with a Hater video has been viewed more than 5.5 million times and liquorice fiends from 100 countries have signed up. If you’re keen to join the revolution, head to wemaketheworldloveliquorice.com and you’ll be added to the waiting list to receive your free pack — just make sure you stick to the deal and share the love.

Conclusion: can a liquorice loather be converted into a hater? Only time will tell.

Bring on the Brussels sprouts

Crispy Brussels sprouts with a lemon, honey and soy glaze at BB Social Dining

For years, the Brussels sprout was regarded as the dud offering on every Christmas dinner plate (it’s hard to shine when jostling for space next to a crisp and golden roast potato, after all). Of late, though, the vegetable has undergone a transformation of seismic proportions to become the leafy green darling of the culinary world.

So how did the once-derided veg jettison its way into the limelight and steal the crown as the most-loved vegetable of 2020, according to a survey from UK supermarket Waitrose? Reinvention is the answer.

That and the realisation that plain boiled Brussels are never going to turn heads. Slather the sprouts with tasty ingredients, sear them over a hot heat, deep-fry them to crunchy perfection or chiffonade the leaves into wafer-thin strips, though, and things start to get interesting.

The chefs of the UAE agree. Dubai favourite BB Social Dining’s Brussels sprouts offering has the vegetable separated into individual leaves, fried until crisp, brushed with a lemon, honey and soy glaze, and finished with chilli. The result is a hype dish sensation that executive chef Alexander Stumpf says turns a preconceived idea about the vegetable on its head, to hugely popular effect.

“Our Brussels sprouts have a lightly nutty flavour, with a nice acidity from the lemon and a delicate sweetness from the honey, which counters the vegetable’s initial bitterness. It’s like popcorn, once you pop, you can't stop.”

Other Brussels dishes of note in the UAE include The Maine Street Food Eatery’s sticky, salty charred Brussels sprouts side, Shakespeare & Co’s recently launched European shakshuka (a medley of good-for-you ingredients including kale, broccoli, Brussels, beef bacon and coriander served with mozzarella, fried eggs and sriracha) and Katsuya by Starck’s balsamic and soy tossed Brussels topped with toasted almonds.

Conclusion: can a Brussels hater be converted into a lover? The revolution is real, so a resounding yes.

More power to Marmite

Toast with Marmite is the ultimate breakfast for lovers of the spread made of yeast extract. Reuters

“You either love it or hate it”: the famous tagline says it all, as Marmite’s marketing campaigns deliberately plays on the idea and the word itself is so embedded in everyday language that it’s used to describe anyone or anything or that polarises opinion (“He’s a bit Marmite”). And yet while the Marmite brand has built an empire based on dividing opinion, that’s not to say that the team don’t keep plugging away at tempting the unconvinced over to the dark and sticky side.

While the limited-edition Marmite Chilli and the super-strength Marmite XO might be firmly aimed at the converted, products such as toast-topper hybrid Marmite Peanut Butter Crunchy are firmly intended to widen the product’s appeal, and seem to do so effectively. Brand owner Unilever says that Marmite Peanut Butter Crunchy has “contributed significantly” to driving the growth in sales of its spreads category.

Meanwhile, a recent Veganuary-focused campaign proclaimed: “You’re going to need it”, positioning the product not only as a nice-to-have, but as a necessary one for vegans wanting to maintain their vitamin B levels (one serving of Marmite is said to provide 76 per cent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin B12).

While the lovers will keep on loving and the haters may well keep on turning their noses up, chances are, we might all be consuming the spread without even realising it. Marmite has long been considered a secret-weapon ingredient for chefs looking to imbue dishes with richness, saltiness and shine, and is regularly used in stocks, sauces, glazes and gravy. It’s also no stranger to appearing as a star on restaurant menus.

Jasmine rice with Marmite and courgette at folly

The special-request-only Marmite fried chicken at Noodle Bowl in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City is the stuff of local legend, while British gastropub The Duck Hook in Dubai is the proud purveyor of a clutch of Marmite-forward dishes, including a smoked turkey and cheddar Marmite melt, and Marmite roast potatoes.

At Madinat-favourite folly, one of the archive dishes includes a combination of aerated Jasmine rice “porridge”, Marmite-glazed crispy job’s tears (Chinese pearl barley) and pickled courgette strips. Chef patron Nick Alvis says the inspiration for the dish came from his childhood. “As a kid, I was given Marmite on buttered toast, so the taste is always a little nostalgic and it works so well with many other ingredients. It’s common knowledge that I am a Marmite fan; family and friends often bring over Marmite-related gifts for me when they visit — I love the stuff.”

Conclusion: can a Marmite hater be converted into a lover? All that’s needed is an open mind.

Coriander curries few favours

Shakespeare & Co’s European shakshuka with kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beef bacon and coriander, served with mozzarella, fried eggs and sriracha

Last month, celebrity chef and restaurateur Ranveer Brar launched a petition on Instagram to make coriander India’s national herb. Coriander love is rampant among desi cooks, who use every part of the herb. The stems and leaves can be used as everything from a flavourful garnish to a coriander-inspired curry, while the dried and powdered seeds are used liberally in stews, pickles and masala mixes. Coriander is also considered a healthy ingredient, with a high antioxidant level and diuretic properties, and it is also used in Middle Eastern, Thai and Mexican cuisines.

While Brar’s post has been liked by close to 20,000 people, coriander-hate remains a real thing, too. Some may not be able to get enough of the stuff, but others can detect its “soapy” flavour in a dish featuring myriad other ingredients. If you’re a real coriander-phobe, you’re not alone — Samuel L Jackson is famed for loathing the herb, February 24 is international I Hate Coriander day and the Facebook group of the same name has more than a quarter of a million followers.

There could in fact be a genetic reason for a lack of love for the leafy herb: those who inherit the OR6A2 cluster of genes are said to be extra-sensitive to its taste.

Conclusion: can a coriander hater be converted into a lover? Science says no.

Updated: April 23, 2022, 4:33 AM