clockwise from top left corner: green lentils, mace, dried mango, green split peas, goji berries, organic cacao nibs, Ombar raw chocolate, black eye beans

Back in January I had had enough with the inconsistency and limitations of French supermarkets. Things that were easy enough to find in the UK, such as mace and black eye beans, seemed nonexistent in French supermarkets (even the most upmarket of the lot, the Monoprix. Perhaps I would have had more luck at one of France’s chains of organic supermarkets – but more of that in another post.). I therefore got online to a company called Healthy Supplies, who were able to not only supply things I needed (see above) but also things I liked (such as dried mango) and things I wanted to try (such as goji berries and raw chocolate) at reasonable prices. Huzzah!

The package took about 4 days to arrive, which seemed a bit long at the time (especially given the £13.99 delivery charge) but with hindsight seems reasonable (especially given the combined crappiness of both La Poste and ParcelFarce). As you can see, when it did arrive, I was so happy with the glory it contained that the first thing it occurred to me to do was to assemble it all on my kitchen table and take a picture of it. Awww.

So what’s the verdict? The beans and lentils are of course as you would expect. You soak them overnight and then cook them the next day. Job done. Split peas are even easier, not requiring overnight soaking. But what of the other ingredients?

Mace is basically just a very very strong form of nutmeg, for those of you who are unaware. It has a devil of a smell to it, so you know you don’t need too much of it at a time, and while it has the same warm smell as nutmeg, it also comes with a slightly lemony and almost dangerous piquancy with it. I like the taste of it in dishes, but my main issue with the mace is the blade shapes in which it comes, which are difficult to grate and would possibly cause you anaphylactic shock if only chopped into small pieces. So what’s required here? A pestle and mortar? Or just dropping a blade into the food at the start of cooking, allowing the flavour to infuse, and then getting rid of the blade before serving?

The organic dried mango bag was reasonably priced at £1.99 for 100g, and while Healthy Supplies is undercut by similar suppliers (Holos Foods, for instance, offers the same bag for £1.78), it is cheaper by a long way than equivalent products sold by Holland & Barrett, as well as certain brands sold at Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. The price also drops by 10p per pack if you buy 3 packs at once. The mango did not disappoint in any way, apart from the fact that I had not bought more of it – it was packed with natural flavour, which I’m sure was helped by the fact that it contains no added sugar or preservatives.  Tropical Wholefoods, I salute you. What a fabulous sat-fat-free snack 🙂

Goji berries were new territory for me, however; I’ll be honest, Tropical Wholefoods were already preaching to the choir with their dried mango. The berries are small and chewy without being too hard, and while there is what I can only describe as a slight yeasty taste at the beginning, this soon develops into a deeper, fruitier taste that is really quite addictive. 125g of these little fellas goes a long way nevertheless, and the price was right too at £1.79 a bag. I’ll definitely be back for more.

The cacao nibs were a different story, however. These are the very basis for what we know and love as chocolate; they are essentially bits of cacao bean shell, which I had heard spoken of as a delicious and healthy snack when chocolate cravings hit. It was not to be, though: I found the taste really very bitter and to have more in common with coffee beans than chocolate (although, to be honest, they’re not even as nice as coffee beans). So, I thought, what can I do with them, since I’m stuck with them either way? They only cost £1.94 for a 125g bag, but still. So I went searching and found help from The Hungry Mouse, who recommended making hot chocolate with them (click her name for directions on how to do so). In short, she recommends using a coffee grinder to turn the nibs into a fine powder with which you can then make hot chocolate. Having now got myself an old one (thanks to the collaborative efforts of Mum and Moulinex), I intend to give this a go, having already had one unsuccessful shot at it using my Braun mixer (which The Hungry Mouse had already warned wouldn’t work). Stay tuned for the results of that one.

Finalemente, one of the nicest (and sadly most expensive parts) of this order: the Ombar raw chocolate. At £1.99 for a mere 38g (read: a fun size bar), it’s eye-wateringly expensive. It’s also 100% natural and organic, and is sweetened with the low-GI coconut blossom sugar; the only other ingredients alongside this and the cocoa mass are coconut butter and the friendly bacterium lactobacillus rhamnosus. It tastes amazingly good to boot, with there being no comparison with ‘normal’ chocolate. Sadly, in spite of this there are still 194 calories and 14.6g of saturated fat in this tiny bar, so it’s definitely not advisable to eat it all at once. As a treat, then, I might stick with the dried mango, which runs less of a risk of ruining my waistline.