A global concept
The key rationale underpinning the Supersec concept is the following principle: a dried product (mushrooms for example) is not merely a desperate stopgap measure for dealing with the fresh product, but rather an enhanced version of that product. It’s not less, but more.
This notion gave rise to a whole spectrum of good ideas that today combine to form the global concept, “Supersec”.
The mushroom that hides the forest
From our point of view, let’s say a market gardener’s stall in Brussels, the range of wild or natural products on offer is rather limited, and actually, when you think about it, even in wholesale markets, the variety of mushrooms available, and often their quality too, is in marked decline (in contrast to their price over the last decade), a fact presumably attributable to the joint effects of pollution and the sometimes questionable management of forest areas. One of the indirect effects of this increasing scarcity is the growth and development of mushroom cultivation. This is an essentially positive, but inadequate, course of action.
Nowadays we understand that there is a direct link between nature’s productiveness and its biodiversity level. We therefore sought (or rather found) Super-sites where this biodiversity level is clear to see, and established local contacts to implement the technical means of exploiting this productiveness and natural diversity without weakening them. We agreed to harvest a portion, sharing nature’s provision with the bear, the hare, the tortoise, the shepherd and his flock and the pickers and gatherers from the various villages.
Good for eating, good for thinking
Our mushrooms therefore come from very specific, unpolluted locations that are productive because they are protected, maintained and nurtured by activity that is local, food-sensitive and beneficial. This raises a paradox, also apparent at the Lilia-Plougerneau site. Our partners farm abalone in the open sea, that is to say, in their natural environment. This is a first, since abalone is usually reared, from hatching to full maturity, in tanks. In the open sea, the care given to the healthy growth and development of the animals, especially through the regular supply of quality seaweeds (dulse seaweed from organic outlets near Ouessant - no skimping!), fosters the proliferation of endemic species in these “recreated” biotopes. In this case, it’s not only abalone that is harvested and dried, but also prawns, squat lobster, seaweeds, etc. Removing something wild from nature in order to ensure its sustainability, that is to say the continued existence of the species, by “making it available” in a confined environment, is discredited by the utterly stupid idea that maintaining a natural environment such as a garden, re-establishing an acceptable biodiversity, is a suitable way of fostering “sustainable” productiveness. That seems common sense but it had to be done.
Some like it dry
Despite all these attractive opportunities, we never envisaged trading in fresh mushrooms. Mushrooms are almost 95% water. If I transport 100 kg of fresh mushrooms from Greece to Brussels, 95 kg of water will travel 3,000 km. Some people will think that absurd, and I agree.
Drying happens to be the most economical and the most widespread among age-old storage techniques. The drying process uses wind, sun, or, more recently, the electric oven. After a few trials, we established that an electric oven, run at low temperature, provides very stable thermal conditions and so gives the best results. It removes water without impairing the flavour and nutritional qualities of the dried product. Drying retains the nutritional potential of foodstuffs, while at the same time avoiding inevitable cell oxidation, any deterioration in flavour, smell and colour, and the destruction of nutrients during transportation and storage.
“I'm interested in the future (…) because that's where I intend to spend the next few years.” Woody Allen
So, as you see, the Supersec system retains everything of the fresh product, apart from the water.
One of my trains of thought started from a Pierre Desproges joke about how nature is so well made: Eskimos are very fond of seals, while inhabitants of the Ivory Coast love pineapples. Just as well, since if it were the other way round, things would be a real shambles!
Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the Ivory Coast love cocaine, and the Eskimos, Russian vodka.
All of which serves to remind us that it’s unthinkable to continue supporting the demands and dictates of the fresh and the exotic (including out-of-season foods), without also offering alternative solutions - solutions based on the fundamental notion, among others, of providing more effective foodstuffs.
By substantially decreasing the weight of foodstuffs, drying reduces the environmental footprint associated with their transportation.
Drying offers an effective way of storing very seasonal and fragile produce, thus optimising nature’s productiveness.
Along the same lines, drying enables the marketing of produce that is otherwise too fragile to market in its fresh state (mountain crocus, coprinus mushrooms, squat lobster). Drying is a process that concentrates substances, and so flavours and nutrients are concentrated too. The nutrient content of foodstuffs is always expressed in relation to dry weight. In fresh produce, these nutrients, when their quality is not impaired, are largely diluted with water. In the dried product, they are concentrated and become more effective.
Let’s pursue this idea and consider the interest shown by nutritional and medical sciences in the properties of certain foods, such as mushrooms, seaweeds and seafood. They have a unique value because they contain the following ingredients: proteins, mineral salts, trace elements (seaweeds), immunostimulants (agaricus blazei, wild mushrooms), anti-virals (velvet foot collybia), anti-oxidants (reishi, shrimps). These ingredients all remain active in the dried product. Of course they don’t have any therapeutic value, but they give meaning to the neologism « nutraceutical », a dietary product that plays a preventive role in maintaining good health among consumers. Many dietary supplements sold by pharmaceutical companies contain nothing other than what Supersec is offering. Although the powdered version in a gelatine capsule is less appealing than whole dried mushrooms or shrimps that are ready to enjoy.
Let’s get cooking
We have deliberately chosen to present our products by putting the focus on cooking. Drying concentrates flavour and alters texture, thus offering a completely new and original gastronomic experience. Hence, a large part of our work involves introducing our customers to this experience by producing recipe cards, providing information on our website and instructions for use on the boxes. The “Cafe des Spores” experience and the publication of the books, “UNE INITIATION A LA CUISINE DU CHAMPIGNON”, an introduction to cooking mushrooms, (Marabout, 2011), and “COQUILLAGES ET CRUSTACES”, shellfish and crustaceans, (Marabout, 2012), have also lent us a certain legitimacy. Amateur and professional cooks alike soon understand that, under their intimidating exterior, dried products are fun to cook with and easy to use because of the very fact that they do not contain any water.
Our blind box packaging is made of rigid, recyclable cardboard to guarantee the integrity and quality of the mushrooms inside. This in itself is new, since mushrooms are usually packaged in transparent plastic bags. Each box features the biotope, species and preparation instructions (sufficient for 4 people). Each box also contains a collector recipe card which changes each season. We envisage about twenty species annually, although not all available at the same time (due to seasonality) and including some rare and exclusive species. Our website will provide purchasers with detailed information on how to prepare each mushroom variety, and additional information on the ecology of the species concerned.
Supersec boxes are made in such a way that a lovely new surprise is revealed at each stage of opening. It’s the “WOW” effect.