A concept by Philippe Emanuelli
We edit dried products. These are fresh products with their water content removed, an improvement both in terms of conservation and energy usage. Equal or even superior in taste and nutritional value, products without water — which makes them fragile — undergo a 60 to 90% reduction in weight; this considerably reduces their ecological footprint during transportation from sites where they are produced to places they are most consumed.
To edit products is to choose. Their taste, nutritional value, story, dynamic within an ecosystem, heritage and sustainability are all criteria in the selection process. They respond to new issues driving the world in general, and our nutrition in particular; today, more than ever, good food must also be good food for thought.
Less is more
The key rationale underpinning Supersec’s concept is this: dried products aren’t mere second-rate replacement for their fresh counterparts, but improvements— not less, but more.
This notion gave rise to a whole spectrum of great ideas, which today combine to form the global concept “Supersec”.
A mushroom hiding in the forest
From our point of view — a market stall in Brussels, let’s say — the range of wild or natural products on offer is rather limited. When you think about it, even the variety and quality of mushrooms in wholesale markets has seen a marked decline over the last decade (in contrast to their price). This is 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, an essentially positive but inadequate course of action.
Nowadays, we understand that there is a direct link between nature’s productivity and its level of biodiversity. We therefore sought (or rather found) Super-sites where this level is clear to for all to see, establishing local contacts to implement the technical means of exploiting their productivity and natural diversity without exhausting them. We agreed to harvest a portion, sharing nature’s provisions with the bear, the hare, the tortoise, the shepherd, his flock and pickers and gatherers from various villages.
Good eating, good thinking
Our mushrooms, fruits and seaweeds come from very specific unpolluted locations, productive because they are protected, maintained and nurtured by local, food-sensitive and beneficial activities. This raises a paradox; the care given to the healthy growth of these products fosters the proliferation of endemic species in “recreated” biotopes. 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 and re-establishing an acceptable biodiversity are suitable ways of fostering “sustainable” productivity. It seems like common sense, but it had to be done.
Some like it dry
We never envisaged trading in fresh mushrooms. They are almost 95% water; if I transport 100 kilos of fresh mushrooms from Greece to Brussels, 95 kilos of water will travel 3,000 kilometres. Some people will think this absurd. I agree.
Drying happens to be the most economical and widespread among age-old storage techniques. The drying process uses wind, the sun, and more recently the electric oven; after a few trials, we established that the latter, run at a low temperature, provides very stable thermal conditions and yields the best results. It removes water without impairing the flavour and nutritional qualities of the product. Drying retains the nutritional potential of foodstuffs while simultaneously avoiding inevitable cell oxidation, the deterioration in flavour, smell and colour or 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
As you can see, the Supersec system retains everything of the fresh product — except water.
One of my ideas was born 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 things would be a mess the other way round!
All of this serves to remind us that it is unthinkable to continue supporting the demands and dictates of fresh and exotic (including out-of-season) foods without offering alternative solutions — solutions based on the fundamental notion, among others, of providing more effective products.
By substantially decreasing the weight of foodstuffs, drying reduces the environmental footprint associated with their transportation.
It offers an effective way of storing seasonal and fragile produce, thus optimising nature’s productivity.
Along the same lines, drying enables us to market products that are otherwise too fragile to sell fresh: mountain crocus, coprinus mushrooms, squat lobster. Drying is a process that concentrates substances, and so concentrates flavours. The nutritional 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; they are concentrated in a dried product, and therefore more effective. Let’s pursue this idea, and consider the medical and nutritional sciences’ interest in the properties of certain foods like mushrooms or fruits; they have a unique value because they contain proteins, mineral salts, trace elements (seaweeds), immunostimulants (Boletus Edulis, wild mushrooms) and anti-oxidants (dark fruits). These ingredients remain active in the dried product. While they have no medical value, they give meaning to the neologism “nutraceutical”: a dietary product that plays a preventive role in the maintenance of good health. Many dietary supplements contain nothing more than what Supersec offers, and a gelatine capsule is far less appealing than whole dried mushrooms or shrimp.
Let’s get cooking
We’ve deliberately chosen to present our products by focusing on cooking. Drying concentrates flavour and alters texture, thus offering a completely new and original gastronomic experience. A large part of our work therefore involves introducing our customers to this experience by providing recipe cards, information via our website and instructions on our boxes. The “Cafe des Spores” experience and our books Une initiation à la cuisine du champignon (An Introduction to Cooking Mushrooms, Marabout, 2011) and Coquillages et Crustacés (Shellfish and Crustaceans, Marabout, 2012) have also lent us a certain legitimacy. Amateur and professional cooks alike will soon understand that dried products, beneath their intimidating exterior, are both fun and easy to cook precisely because they contain no water. At the start of 2020, the Ar Men Du restaurant in Névez, where I work as a chef, received a green star from the famous Michelin guide. This award confirms our daily demands and choices; the qualitative selection of ingredients for prepared meals, the aesthetics of our dishes and, of course, our shared passion for taste.