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Where To Source Unusual IngRedients In The UK

Published by: Scarlett Soodhoo • Updated: January 24, 2024 • Checked By: Chef Matty Riedel

Unusual ingredients refer to any foods that sit beyond the norm of ingredients we use in everyday cooking. The term covers all weird and wonderful ingredients, from ostrich eggs to sea cucumber. It can offer an exciting way to spruce traditional recipes by adding a unique taste, smell and texture.

As well as providing a sensory twist for those lucky enough to enjoy your cooking, unusual ingredients often come with additional health benefits. Sumac, for example, is a Middle Eastern spice that can zest up your culinary creations whilst providing a rich source of antioxidants, all at the same time! 

Read on for inspiration next time you’re looking at a pressure cooker recipe which calls for some strange ingredients

Where Can I Source Unusual Ingredients In The UK?

Unusual ingredients can present themselves in all sorts of foodie situations. Perhaps you stumbled across a unique ingredient on a recent trip, heard it mentioned on your favourite cooking show, or even came across it whilst flicking through an old cookbook. Though sounding exotic, remember that unusual isn’t necessarily hard to find. There are a number of places across the UK where you can source unusual ingredients, and lucky for you, I’ve done the digging to compile this go-to list of locations to get you started… 

International Supermarkets 

Most of us have stumbled across a life-changing dish on holiday that we are desperate to replicate at home. The secret is often an unusual ingredient. Tucked away on a narrow side street of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, hides the Mini Banana Hostel, where I enjoyed a life-changing Massaman curry. The chef revealed to me her secret weapon ingredient: Mae Ploy curry paste. Typically produced in Thailand, I was keen to get my hands on a tub back home! After investigating, I found it stocked in the Asian supermarket chain ‘Wing Yip’. There are plenty of international supermarkets and communities across the country where you can get your hands on unusual ingredients from the big wide world.   

The International Aisle Of Your Local Supermarket 

If you cannot find or travel to an international supermarket that is convenient to where you live, you can often find unusual ingredients in the international food aisle of your local supermarket. These aisles grow each year as people become more adventurous and eager to excite their taste buds. Whether you know what you’re looking for or not, these aisles are a great and convenient way to browse for an unusual ingredient that could add another layer to your dishes. Green raisins, for example, are a staple in Indian cooking. They can add a dash of sweetness to a dish and can be found in the World Food Aisle of most Sainsbury’s supermarkets.  

Farm Shops And Markets 

You might be surprised to know that we grow many unusual ingredients on UK soil!

Visiting farms and their farm shops is a great way to enjoy fresh produce from the source (it can also make for a pretty fun day out!). You might have tried wasabi paste in your favourite sushi restaurant, but have you ever tried it fresh? Grating fresh wasabi into your sauces is an easy way to add an aromatic kick of flavour. Though it is fun to visit the farms in person, you can also order directly from most farms online. Many farms, such as Herbs Unlimited, also sell products like their beautiful edible flowers via health shops and farmers markets, so it’s worth checking these out for some inspiration! 

Restaurant Shops  

Does your favourite restaurant serve an unexplainably tasty dish? This is often down to unusual ingredients that make the dish stand out. The ingredient could have been influenced by a resident chef or be linked to the restaurant’s heritage; either way, how do you get your hands on it?! Many restaurants across the UK now offer their own in-house shops. These might be grocery shops, delicatessens or butchers, and they often sell unusual ingredients used by the restaurants.

For example, the Quality Chop House in London sells its scrumptious Burnt Apple Puree, used to garnish its pork terrine starter. As a result of the pandemic, restaurants have become more accessible online, selling things like ingredients and meal kits to make at home.    

Online: Amazon And Beyond 

There are a number of ways to source unusual ingredients online. This is particularly useful for dry-store cupboard products like herbs and spices as they have a longer shelf life. Amazon sells a wide range of unusual ingredients that arrive in your kitchen in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Alternatively, use Google to find online retailers that sell unusual ingredients. There are plenty of websites selling everything from dried insects to activated charcoal. Get creative and experiment with your new purchases, or find a recipe online that does all the work for you! 

Activated Charcoal

Your Local Shop  

As well as sourcing unusual ingredients, there are many ways to use everyday ingredients in unusual ways. This week, coffee in hand, I enjoyed a Sunday morning episode of ‘Nigel Slater’s Simple Cooking’ where he made a savoury apple crumble, topping it with grated parmesan cheese. Though this may seem interesting, it shows how you can shake up traditional recipes by using ingredients you already have in unusual ways. This is a delicious and fun way to use leftovers in the kitchen!  

Sourcing Unusual Ingredients In the UK: Summing Up  

As you can see, there are unusual ingredients in abundance throughout the UK! The next time you’re about to whip up one of your classic recipes, why not shake things up by incorporating an unusual ingredient? Whether you know exactly what concoction you want to make or you’re looking for inspiration, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your tastebuds from any of our recommended sources! 

Scarlett Soodhoo
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