Superfoods like acai berries, coconut oil and chia seeds may be all the rage these days, but many of the old-fashioned foods we ate when we were children are just as virtuous.
Whether it's down to their acquired taste or association with wartime, poverty or horrendously bad school dinners, these health-enhancing treats are nonetheless decidedly unfashionable or hard to get hold of nowadays.
Good old-fashioned British superfoods
If you cast your mind back to your school days, you may recall wincing over this classic dessert and calling it frogspawn, fish eyes or eyeball pudding. Not the most palatable-looking of treats by a long shot, tapioca pudding hasn't been dubbed 'Britain's most hated school pudding' for nothing. Be that as it may, it may be time for a full-scale tapioca revival, as a health food at least. Gluten-free and low in fat, tapioca contains an impressive array of healthy carbs, proteins and essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, calcium and selenium.
Learn more about the vitamins and minerals that affect our health
The craze for coating almost every conceivable foodstuff in aspic jelly Fanny Cradock-style was at its height in the 60s and 70s. At that time, savoury jellied creations were a common sight in restaurants and at dinner parties. We may turn our nose up at those ghastly gelatin-covered dishes these days and wonder why they were so popular, but aspic jelly is quite the health food. Its high gelatin content – the wonder ingredient in today's trendy bone broths – may help support the digestive system, boost collagen levels in the skin, strengthen hair and nails, and improve joint health.
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The generously-sized marrow has been eclipsed by the more fashionable and manageable courgette in recent years. Though still popular with some people, marrows have been on the receiving end of some seriously bad press, and are commonly thought of as bland, stodgy and sometimes bitter. Prepared correctly however, they are delicious and bursting with nutrients, from beta-carotene and vitamin C to iron and fibre. Try them stuffed or fried gently in rapeseed oil and garnished with fresh herbs.
A common fixture of the 'cold collation' buffet or the main component of a hearty sandwich in days gone by, sliced ox tongue is much less popular in the 21st century. Whether it's the idea of eating an animal's tongue that puts people off is anyone's guess, but ox tongue isn't the go-to cold cut it once was – which is a shame. Protein-packed tongue is a particularly rich source of essential minerals like iron and zinc, which many of us lack in our modern diets, not to mention immune system-boosting choline and folate (vitamin B12).
Pot au feu - a French recipe which includes tongue
Sprats and the smaller whitebait, which are eaten whole, bones and all, were a once-a-week treat for many Brits way back when. These little fish fell out of favour during the late 20th century and became harder to source as stocks diminished. Stocks have since recovered in the North Sea, and sprats have recently been added to the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) list of sustainable fish. An oily fish, the sprat is rich in high quality protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Plus by eating the bones, you get a hit of calcium to support the health of your joints.
Healthy eating - Victorian style
Synonymous with Oliver Twist, grinding poverty and the dreaded workhouse, gruel is in dire need of an image overhaul. Very few people these days would even contemplate serving up a tasty bowl of gruel, perish the thought, but gruel is simply watered-down porridge. Oatmeal can most definitely be classed as a superfood and being slow GI and bursting with beta-glucan soluble fibre, it helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and may reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Just don't call it gruel.
Making the perfect porridge
These tart apple-like fruits are extremely bitter just after picking and need to be 'bletted' or left to ripen to the verge of rotting to make them edible raw. A variety of fruit that wasn't that unusual to come across at one time, medlars were used in jam and pies, as well as eaten raw, and appreciated for their high vitamin and mineral content. Given their unique ripening method, medlars have to be eaten at the precise moment they are about to turn bad, and for this reason, they are rarely found on sale these days in greengrocers or farmers' markets.
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Organ meats may be back in vogue among the hipster crowd thanks to the paleo diet trend, but many people these days wouldn't dream of touching offal, preferring lean prime cuts instead. Sweetbreads, which include the thymus and pancreas of the animal are a no-no for even the most committed of carnivores nowadays. Though they are fairly high in cholesterol, sweetbreads are an excellent source of top quality protein and are jam-packed with minerals such as selenium and zinc.
Are these foods really bad for you?
Once fairly commonly found in greengrocers up and down the country during the colder months of the year, winter purslane aka 'miner's lettuce' was an important source of vitamin C in winter. Rich in a wide variety of other essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, this healthy green is extremely hard to find on sale these days, and bar the odd farmers' market or specialist greengrocer, it's virtually impossible to get hold of. Similar in taste and texture to spinach, the leaves are yummy raw in salads or can be wilted and served warm.
Jellied eels are of course a cockney classic and, once upon a time, East-enders couldn't get enough of the delicacy. Now considered an acquired taste, the jellied eel is far less popular in 2016 and many people are squeamish at the very idea of munching away on a piece of eel covered in savoury jelly. They really shouldn't be. Jellied eels can be very tasty and healthy, too. Eels are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin A, plus the jelly is an excellent source of joint and skin-friendly collagen.