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Pic: Arna Runarsdottir
Farmers have had it tough this year. Waterlogged acres have meant that even hardy potatoes, beetroot and parsnips have been difficult to harvest. We need to continue to support Irish growers, but we also need to ensure we have a balanced diet. This week I had a look at bagged salads in the hope that I would find produce bursting with life and health-giving vitamins. Green vegetables and leaves are a good source of vitamin C, so they are worth investigating. However, there have been some problems with bagged salad leaves which, washed and are labeled as ready to eat, can harbour bacteria. In the UK bagged salads last year were linked to a food poisoning outbreak caused by the water born parasite Cryptosporidium.
While the bags are filled with nitrogen and carbon dioxide to prolong life, leaves will still deteriorate in quality and also in nutritional value. In addition, separating and cutting leaves means a further reduction in nutrients. I recommend that washed and bagged leaves are washed again at home to reduce chemicals which can be used during growth, and to get rid of chlorine which may be in the water used for washing to reduce bacteria. Washing at home may also help to wash away any bacteria which collect in the curly types of leaves, especially curly endive (chicory). If leaves look a little past their best, snip the discoloured bits off and use in a soup or add to stir fries. Even with reduced vitamin content, their fibre has a value.
Aldi baby gem lettuce, 200g 99c
Produced in Dublin, two good tight lettuce heads were in good shape at two weeks to sell-by date. They are not washed, but look clean. It took no time at all to separate the leaves and wash them. The small heads of lettuce had little wastage and were lively and with a slightly bitter edge to the flavour. Braise whole leaves to warm them up in cold weather. A few toasted pine or walnuts on top are delicious. Fair price for this time of year.
Tesco crunchy salad, 230g €1.29
Escarole, radicchio and frisée are types of chicory and are mixed with white cabbage and carrot to make a substantial bagful produced in Ireland. With four days to go on the use-by date, the leaves were still quite substantial with a little discoloration on the cut edges. Fair value, and ideal for a hot dressing of vinegar and olive oil with a few toasted walnuts for lunch or light supper with grilled fish or meat.
Supervalu Italian style salad, 170g €1.49
With five days to go to use by date, this escarole (chicory variety), red chard and red and green leaves blend, were starting to discolour at the cut edges. They were still edible, but not at their best. As the escarole is quite tough, this mix is best added to stir-fries.
Marks & Spencer Organic Italian style, 100g €2.99
With three days to go to the use-by date, the cut edges of the lettuce, wild rocket, spinach had deteriorated and the leaves were limp. There was still plenty of flavour so best used in a soup at this stage. Produce of more than one country, packed in UK, the journey was not worth it, especially not at this price for such a small quantity.
Florette Mixed salad, 200g €2.19
This a mix of radicchio, iceberg and frisée leaves came from Spain. With six days to sell-by date, the mix looked crisp and lively. However, there was quite a chemical (perhaps chlorine) smell from the bag which was still there after a few minutes, and we detected a slightly unnatural taste from the leaves too. Definitely benefited from being washed.
Dunnes Butterleaf salad 150g €1.99
A mix of red salanova (a hybrid leaf), lamb’s lettuce, spinach leaves, with three days to use by date the cut edges were deteriorating. Quite a nice mix, so worth watching for a later use-by date, perhaps. At this stage best used in soup. Expensive for the quality.
Lidl Oaklands babyleaf spinach, 250g €1.49
This was the only bagged leaf product in Lidl on the day we bought and there is plenty of it for the price. The label states it is unwashed so there are no droplets on the packaging and a better sense of freshness. The origin is Spain. The 01/13 on the pack refers to week 13 (25th to 31st March). 01 refers to day 1 of week 13. ie packed on 25 March. Without this explanation which I got from Lidl, this labeling is not helpful to consumers. There is no requirement for a use by date on a fresh unwashed product. Babyleaf spinach is good as a warm salad with a hot dressing, fried bacon pieces and hardboiled egg to make a decent lunch.
Dunnes Store soup mix, 320g €1.79
Produced in Tyrone, this is a good way to use bagged vegetables and requires just some stock and boiling for 15 minutes to make a quick soup. While not a salad selection, in times of low availability of vegetables, it’s a good source of vitamins and gets over the dangers of bacteria in uncooked leaves. 47% carrot, 45% leek, 5% parsley and 3% celery is a good blend. With a use-by date six days from our purchase, the vegetables were in good condition. A fair price for convenience.