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Hot dipping

"The demand for dips in the European food industry is high. In 2019 research agency Euromonitor showed that sauces, dressings and condiments represent a market value of no less than USD 132.4 billion." Euroma

Like wow! US$132.4 billion - plus all the home-made ones. Eventually I found a figure for Australia AU$350.9 million - well it is a much smaller market. Still a lot of money which does not include all the dips that we all now knock up at home as a matter of course in our food processors. It does include sauces and condiments though. It would be interesting to know what proportion is dips.

This post actually began with Muhammara which seemed to be popping up everywhere I looked, the most recent being this version from Woolworths. So I was just going to do a quick note on it in one of my oddments posts. But then I thought to look for Muhammara as a trend and eventually came across the article on the Euroma website which is quoted at the top of the page, so I thought I could expand a bit.

I was intrigued and got sidelined into looking at the company - who they were, where they came from, what they did. I'm fascinated by some of the stories behind companies big and small, so here's a very brief overview of Euroma - as shown in their history timeline of photos below.

It's a Dutch company, which, when you think about it is not surprising. After all the Dutch East India Company was a major player in the world of spices back in the early seventeenth century onwards. Indeed it is believed by some to have been the largest company of all time. But that's for another day.

Euroma's story begins with this man Antonij ten Doesschate who, in 1899, set up a business selling spices, herbs and pharmaceuticals. The firm traded and expanded until in 1969 the company was sold to Beatrice Foods of Chicago. Around 1990 the spices and herbs business was spun off to become Euroma ten Doesschate, which is an interesting acknowledgment of the founder's name. In 1998 the management bought it out and it became Euroma and back in Dutch hands. Since then there have been various acquisitions and a new headquarters and I believe it is now the third biggest supplier of herbs and spices in Europe. Its website home page declares that:

"Euroma is Europe's foremost partner of taste, providing food business with a total range of spice-based solutions"

They also, like many European companies make a big play about sustainability and environmental concern.

They have written a paper called Diving into Dips, which I would have loved to have been able to read, but not being a company I have no access to it. However, they did have some interesting observations to make as to why dips have become such a big thing today. You will have noticed that the dips section in your supermarket now takes up a considerable section of the dairy aisle.

Here are a few of their points with a few comments of my own, because I have every now and then pondered on the popularity of dips.

"Dips complement other foods; they enhance taste and give texture. Therefore these condiments bring great variety. Especially because the tradition of dipping is part of many cuisines. Each has its own variation. This offers a palette of worldly flavours that consumers love to discover."

This is very true, although at the moment the emphasis would appear to be on dips from the Middle-East and North Africa - well Mediterranean I suppose. But then when I think about it I am, of course, completely wrong. There are lots of Mexican and Latin American dips that are very hot - in every sense of the word - and let's not forget all the wonderful Indian raitas and chutneys. Indeed every country in the world has dips. Even England where perhaps they may take more of the form of spreads - like a kipper paste or a cheese dip. China too when you start to think about it has things like plum sauce. No it seems that we all have dips of one kind or another. Even back in ancient times we liked to flavour our food with spices and herbs. Which in itself is interesting. Food is not just a biological necessity, it's a cultural pleasure as well.

"The fact that dips are hot is a combination of factors. There are numerous food trends that come together in the phenomenon of dipping. Think of consumers' search for surprising, multi-sensory experiences and the growing demand for convenience products. Add to this the fact that the boundary between snacks and meals is blurring. Traditional meals are increasingly being replaced by more smaller meals, spread over the day."

Like this platter of char-grilled vegetables and a dip from Woolworths. In fact the latest Woolworths magazine had a lot of dips spread here and there throughout the publication. Well it's spring and increasingly we are allowed to picnic and dips are perfect picnic food.

Then there are things like Ottolenghi's, probably now famous, Hot charred cherry tomatoes in cold yoghurt, where the yoghurt is flavoured, but cold and spread on a plate and a base for the hot tomatoes. I keep meaning to try this and my foodie friend Monika has and gave it her tick of approval. So simple and so sensational.

And certainly when it comes to convenience products dips are up there with the most popular. Just think of the size of the dips section in your local supermarket. It seems to be spreading more and more.

I guess the meal/snack thing is partly due to lack of time, and the availability of all those dips and things to dip into them. A progression from bread and cheese or bruschetta in a way. And even if you do want to be good and make your own it's still only a few seconds to throw together a hummus. Now it might be a hummus that doesn't meet the high standards of the connoisseurs because you will be using a can of chickpeas, but it will be pretty impressive none the less. I know my late sister-in-law couldn't quite believe how quick and delicious it was, when I made some for her once. The worst thing is washing up the food processor bits.

"Dips offer consumers the ultimate freedom to mix and match. For instance, the spicy Moroccan Harissa dip is in favour because hot, spicy flavours are an important food trend."

This is somebody's version of a harissa dip but there are heaps of them around.

Which brings me back to the ubiquity of Muhammara. Muhammara has four basic ingredients, roasted red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate molasses and breadcrumbs, but of course various cooks have additional extras the spices and chilli in particular.

"There are endless versions of muhammara – some include tahini or yoghurt cheese, while others omit the roasted peppers to make a nuttier, more densely textured relish." Greg/Lucy Malouf

Interestingly it doesn't quite fit into the current craze for hot and super spicy, although many add the also super trendy Aleppo chilli flakes, that we still don't seem to be able to get here. It comes from Aleppo, that sadly bombed and ruined town in Syria, which the Maloufs - Greg and Lucy put down to the Armenian influence in the town. Maybe one of the most authentic recipes is indeed from Greg Malouf but you could also try these from Bon Appétit, Jill Dupleix and from Yotam Ottolenghi. They all look simply stunning. But then it's pretty easy to make a dip look good.

"The strong focus on health also explains why 100% vegetable dips such as hummus are popular." Euroma

This is also crucial today when there is such huge emphasis on eating healthily and eating plants rather than meat. Meat doesn't often come into the equation when it comes to dips. Although that said I guess if you turn the dip into a sauce for some kind of grilled or roasted meat or fish then meat can come into the picture. Actually I think I need to take back my statement that meat doesn't come into the equation because sausages, for one thing, are often dipped into all manner of things and probably a spicy dip would be one of them. And there is a bit of a blurry boundary between some dips and some sauces - like chimichurri for example. But yes, the dips themselves are almost always vegetable - not those English fish pastes though, or taramasalata or other fishy dips. And here I take back that statement too - no meat or fish in dips - because there are chorizo dips aplenty just for starters. Can you claim liverwurst as a dip?

It's a blurry world, the world of dips isn't it? When is a dip a dip and when is it a sauce, a spread or an entire meal? I tried very hard to find out when dips became such a thing in the modern world, but failed. After all when I was a child we did indeed have fish pastes, but we spread them on bread and toast. We didn't dip things in them. Nowadays you would just loosen them up a bit with something like yoghurt or cream or lemon juice and dip.

I'm guessing that the dip came into Australia anyway with the wave of Greek immigrants after the war. And was broadened with the slightly later wave of Middle-Eastern immigrants. Then there are the cookbook writers like Claudia Roden and Greg Malouf, and Yotam Ottolenghi, although I suspect that he is merely enhancing the trend with his inspired variations and general chutzpah, rather than creating the trend in the first place. Maybe, like almost everything else, it's an Instagram thing. I think I need a consultant on Instagram with an account, because I have no intention of taking one out myself, although deep down I think that if I am to have any credibility as a foodie then I should.

A last word on dips and dipping from the market survey people - this one was from an American firm who broke the dip market into dips and the things that got dipped into them - the potato chips, flatbreads, etc. The money went to the things you dipped with - the dips themselves represented a small part of that market - I'm going to say roughly a third, although this is from my very questionable memory. It was a lot more to the unhealthy side of the market anyway. The Euroma figure is purely for the dips. A Canstar survey here in Australia also found that:

"Aussies are more likely to eat dips with unhealthy snack choices, (79%) like potato chips, than they are to eat with healthy options like carrot sticks or celery."

So goodbye to the health argument.

A ramble. Dips I love them. Hot seems to be the current thing but hummus is still probably top of the charts when it comes to dips.

And I have just realised that I did not even mention sweet dips and how they are moving over into the savoury arena. Well I can do that another day. Now that is definitely not a health trend.


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