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Popularity of Portuguese food in the UK on the rise

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Portuguese cuisine has gained some popularity in the UK in recent years, and there are now numerous Portuguese restaurants and cafes across the country. While it may not be as prevalent as some other international cuisines, Portuguese food has earned itself a place in the UK food scene.

The success can be attributed to several factors. The sizeable Portuguese community in the UK, particularly in cities like London and Manchester, have contributed to the demand for authentic Portuguese cuisine and have helped establish and sustain Portuguese restaurants. The vibrant food scene in Stockwell contributed to the area becoming known as "Little Portugal”.
Portuguese cuisine offers a unique blend of flavours and dishes that appeal to a wide range of palates. The use of fresh ingredients, seafood, olive oil and traditional spices adds to the appeal and makes it distinctly healthy. The seasoning is influenced by the country's history of exploration and it pairs perfectly with the superb wines produced in the nation's terroirs.
This has led to some Portuguese restaurants in the UK receiving critical acclaim. Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes' new eatery Lisboeta in London has been designated "One to Watch" at the National Restaurant Awards 2022. The growing chain Casa do Frango has been decorated with several awards for its piri piri chicken, including ‘Emerging Concept’ at the Retailers' Retailer Awards 2023. Joia, by two Michelin starred Henrique Sá Pessoa, and Bar Douro are others that stand out.
The boom of Portuguese cookery is probably a result of a growing influence of Portuguese culture and tourism. In the last decade, Portugal won numerous travel gongs such as Best Tourist Destination in Europe, the European Football Championship, the Futsal World Cup and, last but not least, the Eurovision.
This success is not one sided, as it is a result of the enthusiasm of British diners to explore new culinary experiences and are open to trying different cuisines, including the Portuguese. Their steady quest has led to chefs and restaurateurs striving to offer quality and variety.
Dishes such as bacalhau (salted cod), grilled sardines, bifana or octopus are staples in any small tavern or terrace in Portugal. But these aren’t always widely available or a first choice by British diners. The most famous Portuguese food in the UK is arguably piri piri chicken. This combination of grilled chicken marinated in a spicy sauce made with piri piri peppers, garlic and herbs, and then grilled through, keeping the meat moist and skin crispy, is now common in any high street.
The success of the piri piri chicken is not unrelated to the universality of the pastel de nata in the UK. Both are favourites. Maybe the sweet and creamy custard helps to balance out the heat of the piri-piri chicken. They may not be traditionally served as a combined dish, there's no strict rule against enjoying them side by side. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding what to serve as a main course or a dessert. There are no rules when it comes to culinary creativity!


Flaky or fake: The misconception about palm oil in pastries

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The question about palm oil in the baking industry

Running an industrial bakery is a delicate balance between producing beloved baked goods on a large scale while maintaining the artisanal quality customers crave. Cost efficiency is often achieved by purchasing premium ingredients like flour, sugar, and butter in bulk for value. Using large, automated machines rather than mixing in batches allows for larger volumes to be produced efficiently. Big ovens allow high-volume baking, saving time and costs. And freezing fully baked products facilitates storage and distribution.

For large commercial bakeries, choosing the right fats and oils is an important decision impacting both production efficiency and end product quality. Many have opted to use palm oil which offers versatility and practical advantages. Arguably, palm oil lacks the rich flavours of fats like butter or lard traditionally used in baked items, but its neutral flavour and range of fractions can serve diverse baking applications from puff pastries to cookies to cakes.

Palm oil is widely used in packaged baked goods because it contains no trans fats, which are linked to heart disease. It also provides some antioxidants and vitamins. Palm oil's resistance to oxidation also increases shelf life of products - useful for commercial bakeries trying to maximize volume and efficiency.

Sourcing sustainable certified palm oil aims to mitigate environmental impacts. Irresponsible production has contributed to deforestation, habitat loss, and biodiversity decline. But certifications like RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) set standards to halt deforestation, protect wildlife, and support smallholder farmers.

Sustainability certifications have already brought meaningful improvements in responsible production, including reducing rainforest degradation and protecting vulnerable peatlands while also upholding labor rights, resolving land disputes, and enabling traceability. To achieve RSPO certification, producers must meet strict sustainable criteria. The scheme has worked to train smallholder farmers to improve yields sustainably while sharing palm oil profits. Growing demand for supply chain transparency is pushing companies to disclose palm oil supplier details, allowing full traceability.

As major corporations commit to 100% certified sustainable palm oil, this incentivizes more producers to pursue certification, expanding sustainability across the sector and catalysing impactful changes on the ground. Boycotting palm oil could hurt livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries who depend on it. While progress has been made, continued effort by all stakeholders is needed to drive ongoing improvement.

Many beloved pastries use palm oil for different and often the right reasons. Quality assurance and food safety are top priorities, but the human touch still rules our baking. In the end, creating joy through baked goods is an art - one we've proudly perfected at scale while preserving the essence of craft that makes everything taste so amazing.


The Pastel de Nata is versatile, and that’s good for business

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The Pastel de Nata classic version is iconic and widely appreciated. It has gained international popularity, and it is enjoyed by people with diverse cultural backgrounds. Its appeal to a broad audience showcases its versatility in terms of global acceptance.

Introducing new toppings and flavours offers several benefits that can enhance the overall culinary experience and drive customer satisfaction and business growth. This is an exercise that requires mastering the science of pairing taste and aroma.

The Pastel de Nata has already some popular variations. Some recipes add lemon zest, cinnamon, or vanilla to the filling. Recently, some ingredients have been incorporated into the custard, such as berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries) and chocolate. More daring bakers experimented with specific local items such as biscuits or chestnuts.

In certain settings, restaurants have found a way to enhance the flavour and texture by serving with accompaniments such as fresh fruit, a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream to create a more elaborate dessert presentation.

Some pastry chefs already experiment with alternative flours, dairy-free options, or alternative sweeteners to create some healthier variations. It can also be paired with a variety of beverages, namely coffee, tea, or even a glass of wine, depending on the time of day and context.

Understanding the key trends in the sweet pastry trade and analysing case studies can help to conceive new ideas and unique twists. The innovation has no limits. And while these additions can elevate the Pastel de Nata's profile, they can also boost the appeal to a broader audience and increase the customer base among key consumer audiences, such as the Millennials and Gen Z.

The Pastel de Nata can be adapted to fit seasonal themes or special occasions, combining with seasonal fruit or spiced seasonings for Halloween or Christmas. Or it can be a foundation for an exercise of fusion cuisine, combining elements of the Portuguese pastry with flavours and ingredients from other cultures.

Limited-time flavours or decorative touches can create excitement and anticipation. Launching new toppings and flavours creates opportunities for marketing and publicity. Media coverage, social media buzz, and positive customer reviews can promote the business and attract new customers.

Adapting ingredients to cater to dietary preferences and restrictions, such as vegan options, can attract a growing market segment and show that the business is inclusive and accommodating. Premium or specialty flavours and toppings can justify higher price points, potentially increasing revenue, and profit margins.

Experimenting allows businesses to set them apart from competitors and keep customers interested in trying something new. It can help establish a unique brand identity by offering a distinct flavour or topping that become a signature offering associated with the business.  Ultimately, this exercise also allows businesses to gather customer feedback and data, which can guide to menu optimisation and marketing strategies.

Food trends evolve, and consumer tastes change. Staying current and adapting to these changes by introducing new flavours can help a business remain relevant and appealing to modern consumers. And by diversifying into complementary products, businesses can increase overall income, contributing to higher trade and turnover.


Pastel de Nata is the perfect food to go

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The pastries takeaway market in the UK is showing a significant business potential. The UK bakery market is valued at £5 billion, and the takeaway market has been growing rapidly since the covid-19 pandemic. Currently, the pastries takeaway market in the UK is still a niche segment, but it has become a lifeline for high street and craft bakers.

This has been helped by changing of attitudes, especially by Millennials and Gen Z consumers. Research has indicated that around 60% of 16-34 year olds have ordered a takeaway dessert. Other studies suggests bakeries could boost their sales with click-and-collect or local deliveries. But if proof was needed about the trend, look at the success of the so called Britain’s favourite baker.

There are a number of factors driving the growth of the pastries takeaway market in the UK. One is the increasing flurry of people's lives. People are more likely to be on the go, so they are looking for convenient and affordable food options. They seek grab-and-go options for breakfast, snacks, and even casual meals.

Pastries are a popular choice because they are quick and easy to eat, and they are available in a variety of flavours to suit different palates.  Bakeries are well-positioned to capitalize on this growth of the takeaway market. Three of the main factors are location, location, location. Choosing the right spot, whether in high-footfall urban areas, near office complexes, or close to tourist attractions, can significantly impact the success of a takeaway business. But it also means that the shop will best placed to capitalise from an online delivery and collection service.  Promoting the pastries takeaway service is imperative, either through social media and other marketing channels. And, as pastries are often popular choices for events, parties, and special occasions, collaborating with event planners or offering catering services can open up additional revenue streams. Seasonal flavours or limited-time offers can create additional excitement and urgency, encouraging repeat business and attracting new clients. It’s also essential to make it easy for customers to order and pay for their pastries, as it’s likely they’re on a rush.

Alongside quality, shops need to draw customers. In the current cost of living crisis, everyone is looking for ways to cut their outgoings. Offering competitive prices and options to save by ordering online or rewarding loyal customers are some alternatives.  But crucial to all this is to make sure pastries are fresh and of high quality and to offer a wide range to suit all tastes and dietary needs. Choosing tried and trusted suppliers is essential to a successful enterprise. This is what Maria Nata is all about, helping partners to grow and develop their businesses.


The Rising Trend: Frozen Alternatives Transforming the UK's Food Landscape

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In a post-covid world, the UK is now facing a cost-of-living crisis. A trend has emerged recently among British consumers, who are turning to frozen alternatives as a more affordable option.

Quick to react, the specialty sector has been increasing the offer of a wide range of artisanal frozen meal solutions. These products not only meet the demand for affordable and sustainable options, but also satisfy the desire for delicious culinary experiences.

The frozen food market has been growing in the UK for a number of years. Euromonitor research estimated that the UK market for frozen food was worth £7.8 billion in 2021 and would grow 3.8% annually until 2025. This includes bread, pastries, dessert mixes, frozen baked goods and cakes, but it gives a clear idea of the dynamism in the segment.

It’s not a surprise then that deep-frozen bakery specialist Bridor made a little incursion to the International Food & Drink Event (IFE) in London in March. The highlight was the new Panidor range where the Pastel de Nata shines. The frozen bakery-viennese pastries manufacturer based in Portugal was acquired only last year to reinforce the French group offering.

Frozen pastries have had a transformative effect, making it easier for bakeries, cafes, delicatessens, hotels or catering businesses to offer high-quality products while also reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Fresh pastries may have a different texture, but they also require more time, space and skill to make. Frozen pastries are convenient and can last longer.

Bakeries can store frozen pastries until they are needed, which helps to reduce waste and increase productivity. It also offers consistent quality, as frozen pastries are manufactured in a controlled environment, which ensures consistent quality and flavour. Quality helps to enhance the service reputation and customer loyalty.

Flexibility is also a benefit. Frozen pastries come in different shapes, sizes, flavours and fillings, which can cater to different customer preferences and occasions. Bakeries can also resort to the frozen variety and test new snacks to diversify their menu without investing in expensive equipment or additional staff.

They are healthier than people think. Frozen pastries can be made with wholesome ingredients such as whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds, which can provide fibre, antioxidants and other nutrients. Because they’re ultra-frozen, the freshness of nutriments is locked in. They can also be lower in saturated fat than traditional pastries if they use unsaturated fat spreads instead of butter or lard.

Crucially, it allows cost savings, not only because frozen pastries can be purchased in bulk, require less labor and ingredient. Not to mention the reduced waste and environmental impact.

It terms of logistics, frozen pastries can be shipped and stored easily, making them accessible in establishments in remote locations or with limited resources and space. This provides businesses to offer a wider variety of baked goods, helping to keep track of stock better, meet consumer demand and increase revenue.

Frozen pastries are a particularly smart choice for urban businesses that want to offer delicious, nutritious and satisfying products to their customers while saving time, money and resources.


David Gomes speaks about the dough process

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An epic exploration to the intricate art of pastel de nata

The origins of the pastel de nata can be traced back to centuries ago, says David Gomes, as we join Maria Nata's Technical Consultant,  on a journey through history and the intricate baking process.

In the annals of culinary history, a tantalising record emerges from the 17th century, a time when "pasteis de leite" or milk pasties made their debut in the cooking manual of Infanta D. Maria. Then, in the 19th century, nun's recipe records from the Odivelas Monastery whispered secrets of the delectable pastel de nata we know today. Though references can be found in various books and records, information about the intricate folding of the dough is scarce. Yet, this very process is what lends the pastry its unique characteristics.

The ingredients are the foundation upon which this culinary masterpiece is built, emphasises Gomes. Start by mixing a kilo of flour, 500 millilitres of filtered water, 14 grams of salt, and no more than 500 grams of fat. This should yield two kilos of puff pastry.

The choice of flour holds great significance. Avoid starch-laden varieties, for they produce a dough that is thick, hard, and devoid of elasticity. The optimum flour possesses a generous dose of gluten, reminiscent of bread flour, or even higher. Water, too, plays a crucial role. It should be filtered, so that the limescale doesn’t thicken and break the dough. Acidic waters can also harm the gluten chains.

The salt should ideally be unrefined sea salt. A few grams, can work wonders. It enhances the flavor of the puff pastry, encourages the fusion of water and flour, lending stability to the dough. Resting will transform the humble mixture into a pliable, mouldable creation. A cool resting place, like a fridge, can expedite this magical metamorphosis.

Now, let's turn our attention to the glorious fats. After butter, lard and margarine were also adopted as alternatives. Today, professionals favor specialised butters and margarines. Divided into portions, they become the layers that weave their way through the dough. Some bakeries choose a traditional two-layer approach, while others opt for three or four, each with its own nuances. The distribution of fat, the meticulous folding, the precision cuts to fit the moulds—these are the secrets that yield the crispiness and delicate thinness enthusiasts prize.

David Gomes points to some frequent mistakes. Working with a normal puff pastry dough stretched thin, haphazardly cut into round shapes, and moulded without finesse will often burst open at the corners, its bottom soaked in fat, its sides lackluster and plasticky. Or trying to roll and cutting it as if it were destined to be a pastel de nata will inevitably lead to a thick, spiraled bottom and the same pitfalls as before.

Last but not least, the baking process requires a blazing oven at temperatures ranging from 300 to 350 degrees Celsius. In a mere ten to fifteen minutes, freshly made pastries transform under the heat. But an unbalanced oven can deceive: too much heat from the top will not give the dough even time to flake and in the cooling process it will become fat and thick. If the temperature is too low, the cream will overcook.

To identify a good pastel de nata, David Gomes suggests observing it closely, for a telltale sign lies in the generous proportion of cream surrounded by a thin layer of pastry. Then turn it around and you should find a spiral, dancing gracefully from the centre of the dough to its very borders. This is the result of the expertly cut raw dough, a delicate strip bonded by fat, creating the exquisite flakiness that sets it apart from ordinary pastries. A marvel to behold, resembling a nest crafted by loving birds.