When Josiah Meldrum, Nick Saltmarsh and William Hudson sat around a kitchen table just over a decade ago, packaging up a tonne of British-grown split fava beans for distributing tolocal shops and community groups, little did they know how much the business would grow. Today they're at the forefront of a revolution to put more British pulses and grains on our plates.
Working with farmers in East Anglia (and beyond) Hodmedod’s sells products from sustainable, often organic, sources. Products that research is showing have benefits not just for the environment, but for our own microbiomes and gut health.
Q: Josiah, you started out with fava beans...and they seem to be something you really like to shout about. What is it that makes them so special?
A: Beans have been grown here for over 5,000 years and the fava bean is really a variety of broad bean. It’s one of the first things we worked with because we thought it was crazy in this country that fava beans were just being grown for animal feed and to export over to the Middle East where they’re a huge part of the diet.
We should be eating more of our native beans in this country. They contain lots of resistant starch, are a really good source of fibre, carbs and protein, and all those micro-nutrients we need. Thankfully in the UK in the last 15 years, a few people are showing the public how to use things like fava beans – Ottolenghi, for example, and Sam Clarke at Moro.
Q: Do you think there might be a pulse revolution as more people switch, at least part of the time, to a plant-based diet?
A: I hope so. At Hodmedod’s we focus on ‘how do we put pulse crops at the centre of agricultural rotation?’, but also ‘how can we get them on more plates?’. When we go out to restaurants, everyone asks where the meat or vegetables come from. But if we order a stew with lentils in or have a lentil or chickpea curry side dish, no one gives those ingredients a second thought.
Things like rice have a whole load of social issues and rice fields have a huge carbon footprint. If we can substitute high impact cereal crops for things that are grown here, like ‘naked oats’ which have a high ‘good fat’ content and are nutritionally useful, that would be fantastic.
Q: How would you compare ‘naked oats’ to rice?
A: They’ve got a nice mouthfeel. A bit of a creamy texture and cook quicker than rice. They’re not like a polished white rice, but if you’re looking for a straight swap from wholegrain basmati, they’re ideal.
Q: Not many people know we grow lentils in the UK do they?
A: No. The public open up a can of baked beans and don’t give it any more thought - ‘how much more British can you get?’
But we are growing good amounts of lentils here. They’re often thought of as a ‘hot crop’. However we have several fields of them in East Anglia, working with small farms like Wakelyns Agroforestry, up to bigger farms in Cambridgeshire.
Q: And what about your rare beans? There are some cracking names – Eye of Goat, Gogmagog, Mayocoba, Good Mother Stallard...
A: Those are largely from gardeners growing fresh beans that they dry off in small quantities for us. They are delicious but impossible to grow at the moment on a larger scale. The range changes every year and you can use them all in a similar way to how you might use something like a borlotti bean. Gogmegogs are actually runner bean seeds. We’re quite unique in the UK because we only tend to eat runners as a green bean, whereas the rest of the world has them dried. They are so tasty. Really creamy.
If you’ve been on holiday and had a dish made with those giant beans, or if you’ve bought a jar of them, the likelihood is they are actually dried runner beans.
Q: Tell us about your ‘hero products’
A: That has to be the Black Badger and Red Fox carlin peas. They grow here really well and have a fantastic cultural history. They really do fit into that ‘superfood’ category. Their pigmentation means they carry a lot of nutrients, and they also look beautiful when they’re growing. The pinky-purple flowers look more like sweet peas than anything else.
You can use them in any recipe in place of chickpeas.
We also sell flamingo peas whole, or split.
The Swedes love whole peas and have a traditional dish called artsoppa that’s usually made every Thursday. It’s delicious. And the Dutch have something similar made with ham hock.
Our split flamingo peas are great for daals and are filled with carotenoids which give themthat wonderful colour. Because theydon’t yield very well, plant breeders aren’t that interested in them, but we can live with a slightly lower yield if the finished product has a higher nutrient density. We took a risk with these peas, letting our customers name them!
Q: Quinoa is often thought of as a ‘far away’ crop. Have you had success growing it here?
A: We sell British quinoa and smoked British quinoa. Usually quinoa has a seed coating to stop birds eating it, and that has to be rinsed or polished away. Ours doesn’t have that coating so we can sell it as a wholegrain. We were inspired to grow quinoa after walking into a field pre-Hodmedod's. We were supposed to be looking at cabbages but saw fat hen growing in abundance (which is related to quinoa and grows so well here) and thought ‘why can’t we grow quinoa then?’.
We contacted Peter, who was growing it for bird seed, and asked whether he’d thought about growing for human consumption. He had, back in the 80s, but the markets weren’t really ready back then. In 2013 we sold our first few tonnes of UK-grown quinoa and the selection he’s grown since on the farm is really delicious...and good for you. Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids we can’t make in our bodies!
Q: Tell us more about the unusual range of flours you sell
A: We should be really proud of the flour we grow in East Anglia – especially the YQ Population wheat from Wakelyns, developed with help from the John Innes Centre. It’s essential to try and growgrains that are more climate resistant and resilient, and that’s what they’ve achieved. That diversity in the fields is as important as the diversity in our guts.
The YQ wheat can be used to make breads, biscuits and cakes. And we have some older cereal varieties which have a different protein profile and can be good for people who struggle to eat modern wheat – they include emmer, spelt and einkorn. Those older cereals are good in cakes and pancakes but can prove a bit tricky for bread, though you can make a 100% emmer flour loaf that’s more like a European rye bread.
People are also enjoying our specialist botanical flours which are a blend of 14 grains, seeds, pulses and flowers that reflect the diversity of plants you might find in and around a field.
Q: Why is diversity in farming so important?
A: Since WWII farmers have been driven primarily by yield and not other metrics such as nutrition. That push from the government was understandable – they didn’t want people to go hungry – but it came at a high cost to the environment and health.
Moving away from that monoculture doesn’t have to be complicated and it will do a lot of good in terms of our health and diet, but also in making farming more resilient in the face of climate change.
You can find Hodmedod’s products in farm shops and independent food stores across the east. The full range is also available online at hodmedods.co.uk where you’ll find dried and tinned pulses, interesting flours, pastas, spices, and meal solutions, such as tasty tins of baked British beans and their spicy vada dhal.