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Monday, 10 February 2014

Authentic Greek products

There's a lot of talk these days about the labelling of food, especially concerning fake labels on processed food. This hardly worries me, ever: telling people that they are often eating 'fake' food (ie not what's on the label) has not made them better cooks, nor has it made them stop buying these foods. Processed food is part of the global pro-urban lifestyle; cooking from scratch is a luxury or some kind of hobby, rather than a reality under such circumstances.

As a Greek living in Greece (there are other types of Greek people too), what I'd be really concerned about in terms of mislabelled food is local products that are labelled as 'authentic'. Even before the crisis, we have always had a taste for Cretan mizithra, Santorinian fava, Karpenisi sausage, Prespes giant beans, central mainland feta, among many other  products, and many people can tell the difference between dishes cooked with products grown/raised in a certain area, and more generic products grown outside the traditional area of the genuine product.
Elefantes beans from Prespes, with Karpenisi sausage (Vrekos brand)
Terms like 'genuine' and 'authentic' can sound elitist, but you also pay more for such products. So it's not just a case of being a connoisseur - it's a simple case of economics. The more you pay for a label, the more you expect from it.
Elefantes baked beans
Just last weekend, I cooked gigandes, the Greek version of baked beans, made with Prespes elefantes beans, Phaseolus coccineus. These beans are slightly more expensive than the commonly known giant bean, which are butter beans or lima beans, Phaseolus lunatus. The two species look so alike that it was easy to switch them and label them all Prespes beans. But the two species cook so differently: the coccineus beans cook more evenly need less cooking time than the lunatus beans.
Santorinian fava
About a month ago, I used genuine Santorinian fava, Lathyrus clymenumas opposed to the generic yellow split pea, Lathyrus spp, to make the popular Greek fava dish. Again, just like the Phasoleus species, the Santorinian fava needs less cooking time and it has a sweeter taste. The cost of Santorinian fava is more than three times (yes, that is correct!) than the regular fava. So you can see why Greeks are concerned with labelling in a different sort of way; we pay good money for the genuine product to cook a meal from scratch, which has nothing to do with fake labels on processed food.
PDO fava and PGI elefantes
When you've tasted the difference, you will probably not be able to go back to the imitation product, and it won't seem all Greek to you after that.

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