Food

Fancy Restaurants Now Serving... Dirt?

Tasty, packed with minerals and dirt-cheap, soil may soon be popping up on menus.

America's newest food trend may be dirt-cheap: dirt.

On a recent prix-fixe menu, Chef Ilan Hall of Brooklyn's the Gorbals, created a menu based on the elements, starting off with a beet salad in Great Neck soil vinaigrette. The chef traveled all the way to his hometown to dig up the rich soil, no small feat on a frozen New York day. Why? "It's pure terroir, he said.

"Vegetables, grapes, wine—these all have different flavor components based on the soil they are grown in." So why not just eat the source of our food's most natural seasoning? 

Pica, a condition which make humans crave crumbly, dry elements like clay and soil isn't at play here. Dirt really can be tasty. Hall used Long Island soil to accentuate the flavor of the beets with the soil they were grown in. 

Because soil is made from decomposed organic matter, soil from different regions and near specific plants holds different nutrients and heartiness. 

Canadian chef Justin Cournoye has been using ingredients like moss and soil in his dishes for years. His Toronto restaurant, Actinolite, was named one of the most essential places to eat in Ontario by Globe and Mail and it's not because Cournoye does traditional dishes well. His current tasting menu uses unusual ingredients like tamarack, nasturtium and camelina.

At Toqué in Montreal, chefs have been known to use steeped soil for earthy flavor in their caramel syrup and cook eggs in branches and soil for a "campfire" effect. 

Dirt, plants and trees local to a restaurant's area only make sense (economically and ecologically) to serve on the menu. Hey, can't a good chef make anything taste good?

In terms of cooking dirt at home, it's popular sentiment to often rid store-bought produce of any soil. This, in fact, is true. But most soil can be sanitized with a pressure cooker, which Chef Hall uses at his restaurants, and be used to create mellow, earthy flavors in pretty much any dish.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer in New York City who writes about food and culture for First We Feast, Thrillist, Elite Daily, Edible, and other publications. 

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