The farm-to-table movement, which started in the restaurant industry and has now snowballed into the cocktail segment, has fueled the need for fresh, locally — and in some cases, even ethically — sourced ingredients.
“Farm-to-table means freshness. Local food is by definition fresher because it’s not transported on a truck or plane to get to you. Growing yourself is as local as it can get. There’s a huge difference between just-cut produce and something that’s been shipped across the country. Once you try ultra-fresh herbs, you’ll want them everywhere in your food. So growing your own food is a great way to support farm-to-table, and the best way to have the freshest cooking,” says Robert Liang, CEO of Farm.One, which is a technology-powered urban vertical farm located in New York, NY.
To this effect, it is becoming a trend to cultivate home gardens that will allow for the growth of herbs — and even botanicals — in a small space, inside and year-round. Interest around these growth pods and mini-gardens has been more than piqued, as Farmer’s Markets shut down in the cool winter months, but the demand for fresh flavors does not go dormant.
“The scent of fresh-cut herbs straight from your windowsill is intoxicating,” Liang says, adding that those who are really getting into the homegrown game are going above and beyond the universal herbs we all know and love.
“Most diners are familiar with the basic flavors of basil, parsley, rosemary and cilantro. But growing them yourself opens up hundreds of new herbal possibilities,” he says.
Additionally, said Liang, the grow-your-own trend has become more than just something to keep in the kitchen. He notes that home entertainers are growing their own herbals in-house and then use them as edible centerpieces for gathering events.
“People have been providing an edible centerpiece for guests by cutting the stems of fresh herbs and standing them in water. A best practice would be to encourage people to grab and tear as this releases the volatile compounds, making the room smell amazing,” he explains.
This, he says, not only allows dinner guests to season their food as preferred, but also to try new complementary flavors they may not be familiar with. Cocktails, too, are a blank slate for herbs and botanicals, turning an ordinary vodka soda into a treat on both the nose and the palate.
“Anise hyssop has sweetness and licorice notes perfect with berries and desserts, and dark purple basil has all the flavors of regular varieties with a stunning appearance. People will be amazed at the new flavors,” he says.
Liang also notes that being versed in basic herbal maintenance is also a must when mixing at home.
“Learn how to harvest herbs for healthy growth. For example, with basil, cut just above the node — where the stem branches — so that the plant can regenerate and create a strong branching structure. This will ensure your plant thrives,” he says.