Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
Let’s face it, we tend to get obsessed with certain seasonal ingredients. Every year, it’s pumpkin-spiced everything in Autumn, and rhubarb season always sends the food world into a bit of a frenzy.
But this spring, the world’s infatuation with wild garlic seems to be nothing short of… well, wild.
Just type the words ‘wild garlic’ into Instagram and you can expect to be bombarded with pictures and videos of people out picking the stuff, everywhere from the English countryside to the east coast of America.
Most of them have never foraged for a thing in their lives, and yet you can bet they’re out there on their hands and knees, rifling through bushes until they catch a whiff of this super-hyped ingredient.
Then, there’s the limitless snaps of people adding it to every dish imaginable. We’ve seen it all, from wild garlic burgers, to pizzas, and even avo on toast. No everyday recipe is safe.
Everything must contain this rather mild flowering plant. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.
We should add we have nothing against wild garlic. It’s tasty: mellow, and sometimes a little sweet. In fact, we’ve even made our own wild garlic dip over on Twisted Green. Put simply, when the flavours work, they work, but there really is no need to chuck it in *everything*.
Whilst we’re all for living more sustainably and making the most out of the resources on our doorstep (god knows, we need to), we can’t help but find the scale of the annual furore about one or two seasonal ingredients a little disproportionate.
Keen to get to the bottom of what all the fuss is all about, we decided to do some digging (and not for herbs, for facts).
Speaking to Twisted, foraging expert Dave Hamilton confirms his courses, in which he teaches people to find the herb in Frome and Bath, are getting more uptake than ever before.
“I think I’ve been picking wild garlic for over 25 years – it’s a long time – and I’m definitely seeing more people doing it,” he says.
But he adds that more interestingly, his clientele is changing, too.
“The biggest difference is the variety of people foraging now when it used to be quite fringe,” explains Dave. “Back when I started, it was definitely seen as something quite odd, but now it has become more trendy.
“Nowadays, as well as the usual, sort of, ‘Geography teacher crowd’, there’s a new ‘Shoreditch crowd’ that’s come in, and are really into it”.
The reasons for this are “multilayered”.
“For one, I think lockdown shifted things. It got people thinking about the outdoors a bit more; took everyone out of their comfort zones and forced them to really make the most of the places close to them, when in the past they might have gone abroad,” the expert tells us.
“We all learnt to live a little more locally, meaning people have noticed things like wild garlic and other sort of well known foraging foods across the UK. I think that really escalated the trend”.
Another reason Dave thinks we’ve all jumped on the wild garlic train is as an escape from the stresses of daily life.
“What we’ve seen is the more scary the world gets, the more people like to retreat to something they see a little bit more simple,” he goes on.
Plus, there’s the increased concern for the environment, and the fact that our cost of living is changing.
“Especially at the moment, this is causing a lot of interest in foraging, and wild garlic season fell right as the cost of living crisis started escalating,” he says. “So, there are lot of reasons it’s growing in popularity, really”.
Whilst all of this reasoning is very valid, the simple fact is that a small minority of the so-called ‘Shoreditch crowd’ are starting to ruin wild garlic for everyone else.
The herb has been co-opted by influencers and social media chefs. It’s got too trendy, and now all the genuine reasons to love it have somewhat been overshadowed by something more insincere and vacuous.
As a self-confessed fan of the herb, Twisted director, Tom Jackson says: “What I love most about seasonal ingredient bursts in the modern food media, everyone’s-a-creator age is the CONTENT.
“Every man, woman and their dog (and their phone) are sniffing out the most fervent batches to plaster all over their feeds in a variety of different formats.
“Of course, there’s a romanticism around cooks eating what’s good for now. It does rally against the lack of real seasonality in supermarket fruit and veg aisles. That’s a good thing. That’s nice.
“But let’s face it, for the vast majority of us it’s nothing more than culinary virtue signalling.
“‘I’m a forager now! Actually I’ve always been at one with the planet!’ Nah – you just love free food, likes, views and follows.”
Tom has a point, and it’s made all the more bleak when you think that unless you live near an area of woodland, you often have to head to Britain’s churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds to find wild garlic.
Just follow your nose, and that sweet, garlicky whiff on the April air… until you reach the graves of our loved ones?!
We mean, the image is quite spectacular. ‘Sorry grandma, can I just PERCH ON YOUR HEADSTONE whilst I get this high-res pic of my bounty?’
Explaining this phenomenon a little further, clinical psychologist and host of Aspiring Psychologist Podcast, Dr Marianne Trent, says the reason we’re all going nuts for the stuff is because of a “fear of missing out” and looking behind the curve – especially in an age of performative social media.
“As humans, we can predict and plan for our meal times in a way that other species can’t,” she says. “Our brains have the ability to mull over thoughts related to a fear of missing out and also an ability to consider what others might say [if we don’t jump on a hyped seasonal ingredient].”
The expert adds that food media and brands themselves jump on this fear, jamming the month’s ‘it’ ingredient in everything from pesto to humous. Hell, they’d even pump it into the goddamn air around us and charge us for it, if they could.
“Marketers come up with complicated food and flavour combinations to keep us coming back for more, and it can feel exciting to be [consuming] something new and different,” she says.
Of course, obsessing over a seasonal ingredient is no bad thing, really – some might even argue it’s ultimately good – but the irony is that half of us will go back to using Lazy Garlic as soon as the seasons change.
It’s time to accept that whilst wild garlic is tasty, we have all lost our green, leafy marbles.
See you for more chaos in tomato season…