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Today is the first of May, and looking at my garden I think summer is coming. The trees are all in blossom, and the birds are nesting; forthcoming seasons are beckoning, and the promise of harvests and sunny days ahead.
Meridian Organic Apricot Spread always reminds me of this time of year, as it is the start of the period when you can buy seasonal fruit more cheaply, without having to import it air freighted from all over the globe, adding to all sorts of environmental concerns. I love apricots, they have to be some of my favourite fruits, and Meridian have packed these into this spread, which is quite simply like putting the fruit itself onto your toast in the morning.
When I did A level geography, many moons ago, we learnt that the only place in the UK with any success growing cherries, and apricots, was in Kent, where the climate was conducive to this, but that the main areas for growing these are over the channel in France. The season is very, very short, and really only confined to August for apricots when at last you can purchase these lovely amber balls of summer for a fair price.
I have tried to grow them myself as I have had quite a degree of success with peaches, as living in Essex we have a good climate. Recently I was in a local garden centre and was told that the owner had an Apricot "Moorpark" variety which was literally festooned in these orange globes each year. My experience was not the case, as they flower early, and they really need a frost free cold greenhouse, or at least some fleece protection, and a certain degree of patience, together with some hand pollination, as at this time of year they blossom the insects are few and far between. So it's a hit and miss affair, but you can have a lot of fun trying, and it could be your best chance of growing them organically, as to be honest I have never seen organic apricots for sale in the shops.
In 2005 the UK produced its first ever commercial crop of apricots from a farm in Kent, and they were sold in 250 Sainsbury's stores with a union jack flag logo, it was a revelation, because it was a first, and due to global warming I have no doubt.
Apricots are not native to Britain originating from China, and thought to have been brought to Mediterranean countries by Alexander the Great in 4BC. As they need a warm early summer to ripen it is something that until recently we have only really been able to give to them in a cosy sheltered nook in a south facing little cottage garden. Global warming certainly changed all of this, and in 2005 these commercial harvests in Kent produced 3000 punnets weighing over 1200kgs. So soon maybe we will all be able to experience the beautiful flavour of English apricots, which may be one good thing to come from global warming, but it's early days, until then I think we can enjoy a product from Meridian which is the next best thing to eating the fresh fruit itself.
I buy mine from www.ethicalsuperstore.co.uk and here it retails for £2.29 for a 284g jar. This seems like an expensive purchase, but you have to remember these are organic apricots, so they have never seen a chemical in their life. The spread is made from organic apple juice and organic apricots grown in Spain and has no added sugar.
Meridian Foods started out as whole food retailers over 30 years ago and now also produce whole foods from their factory in rural Wales. Everything about this company is ethical, and the spread is Organic, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Yeast Free, Sugar Free, Egg Free, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Wheat Free.
Now the jar itself looks lovely, enticing in fact, with a photo of a person with arms outstretched facing the sun; it is an inspirational image promising new dawns and new horizons, perfect to perk up a winter morning!
Of course for this review I am spreading this on some lovely hot buttered toast, just so I can tell you exactly what this is like! So here are my thoughts!
It is runny, almost like heather honey or molasses, and it is like spreading fruit compote onto your bread. It's a bit drippy, but it has the sour unadulterated flavour of a fresh apricot. Believe me when you have tasted this you will never want to buy commercial alternatives instead. It has a dark, almost burnt orange appearance, and the smell when you open the jar is quite simply out of this world, like the smell of fresh apricots gently simmering on a farmhouse Aga.
Prior to finding this gem some time ago I used to buy Hartley's, especially when icing Christmas cakes, using it to glue the marzipan to the fruit cake beneath. You really wouldn't want to waste Meridian spread on something like that, it is far too special.
No I would suggest to you to make fresh scones, pour it over yoghurt and muesli, and make some old fashioned jam tarts because this is to die for, it really is. I know I live only a stones throw from the Tiptree jam factory here in Essex, so I can't compare their apricot jam to this because it is like comparing different worlds. This is a pure as you will ever find in a fruit spread and it is quite simply divine. It makes a wonderful filling for a home made Victoria Sandwich cake, and on top of porridge in the morning it really works beautifully.
It's a taste of heaven and to me it's the best way to enjoy these little amber delights every day of the year.
This review is also posted on Ciao by myself under the user name Violet1278.
I recently bought a jar of this apricot spread so that I could make a Moroccan-style warmly spiced sauce to go with some cous-cous and vegetables for a potluck meal. We all sat around, talked, enjoyed some great food and many compliments were received as regards to the sauce! It was a combination of onion, garlic, soaked dried apricots, cumin, cinnamon, chilli, coriander, sumac, paprika, reduced vegetable stock and my secret ingredient, a tablespoon of this spread.
I love apricots so much. They are one of my favourite fruits, but their season is short and confined to a few blessed weeks in August when the sun is shining and the little yellow joys appear and my body yearns with little restraint! So the rest of the year, I might munch occasionally on some dried apricots in muesli or something like that, but otherwise these dear fruits become forgotten as winter consumes all that is golden.
Hurrah, however! Meridian spreads are so richly fruity, particularly the apricot one, that you almost begin to taste those little fragments of summer once more. Meridian pride themselves on a few additives policy, as well as producing the highest quality products with the minimal of processing. The result? Quite a luxurious spread, that far from tasting boring or 'too healthy' makes you feel a bit less yucky than when you eat too much jam and your teeth feel like they are about to fall out!
Meridian have been going for about 30 years, when the founder Andrew Jedwell, produced their first jar of peanut butter. Their range now extends from nut butters to fruit spreads (like this one!), olive oil, fruit juice, pasta sauces and so on. The aim is wholly to use natural ingredients, with the Soil Association, the largest organic certifying body in the UK, awarding their logo and certification to all Meridian's organic products. The company endeavours to produce high quality foods that maintain high standards in terms of sustainability including sourcing the best possible ingredients from farmers paid a good price for the products they produce. Moreover, the aim of the company is largely to supply a complex range of flavours and tastes in their foodstuffs that allow for allergy affected individuals, vegetarians, vegans and diabetics (for example) to not have to compromise on flavour. Unlike some of the other 'free-from' brands, it is nice to see that they aren't just supplying for a niche: they have solid, unwavering ethical principles, too.
Apricot Fruit Spread: The product and my verdict
The apricot fruit spread is designed to be a jam-like condiment that replaces refined sugars found in conventional jam products with apple juice concentrate, a more natural and healthy alternative based on fructose rather than sucrose. This means it is digested by the body at a more stable and prolonged rate, much like eating wholegrains and wholewheat over refined 'white' products. This means you don't get hungry so quickly, so you're less likely to snack and you don't get the sugar spikes that are not good in the long term for good pancreatic and insulin function. So, the ingredients in this fruit spread are:
Organic Apple Juice Concentrate (59%), Organic Apricots (38%), Gelling Agent : Citrus Pectin, Acidity Regulator: Citric Acid
At 38% fruit, this is not too bad, although lower than a lot of conventional jam spreads that are usually above 45% (and more if they are particularly high quality). This however, I would suggest, is not a good basis to discount the quality of this product, since the apple juice concentrate being less sweet is required in a larger quantity to create the richness needed to make it really tasty. Also, apricots are, also, very expensive, even when in season and organic ones even moreso, so as long as the taste test is positive, I would say that the fruit content isn't too much of an issue. It is nice to see that there are no preservatives added too, which always annoys me because jam is called a preserve for a reason: sugars naturally preserve the fruit without unnecessary chemicals!!
The nutritional content is significantly lower than conventional high-sugar jams, with the Meridian apricot spread containing 145kCal per 100g, which is really quite low relative to the 350+ calorific values of most jams. So it might be useful in weight maintenance or control, especially if you have a fondness for jam on your toast in the morning!
I like the design of the jar. Firstly it is recyclable, since it is glass, which is always nice. Secondly, it is quite a simple design and logo on the front, with a figure of a person standing with arms open to the sky looking as if they are radiating! The cost of the product is generally just over £2, but can be up to £2.50 in independent health food stores. You can also buy the non-organic variety in Holland and Barrett for just £1.59, which I think is the cheapest place to buy either version. Since with ordinary jam you really pay for the quality of the product (think Tesco value jam versus Tiptree or Bonne Maman!). You have to pay a little for good health too, sometimes!
This jar weighs in at 284g, so it is quite substantial.
The taste test! Well, it has a really deep, fruity flavour that washes down without giving you the icky sticky feeling that jam can often make your mouth feel. The apricot flavour is unsurprisingly dominant and I don't feel that the apple juice concentrate is overpowering at all, instead providing a darker yet subtle molasses-like edge to the flavour. The flavour of any kind of apricot spread is always so beautiful because it is so fresh and different tasting to berry-based jams. It really tastes light and refreshing but is mellow enough not to be too zingy or marmalade-y. It goes wonderfully well on top of porridge, stirred into muesli, on toast or maybe in recipes like my Moroccan dish! It would make a great cake filling too! I think it is quite versatile.
I am not sure though that it will appeal to all because it is maybe not as rich or intensely sweet as conventional jam brands. It is definitely a different kind of taste sensation, so maybe it is better to appreciate it in its own right rather than as a comparison or substitution!
This product is a no added sugar fruit spread. It is made entirely from fruit - using apple to add sweetness. This means that there isn't any added glucose, but there's still plenty of fructose. It's not quite sugar free, but is still "healthier" than jam as it doesn't have the "empty" calories of sugar, and has the vitamins of the fruit, but is still not really a healthy option - certainly not for your teeth. I like it on bread or toast but it works well in cakes, porridge etc as well.
The apricot spread is really runny. It dribbles off the spoon onto the bread etc. It is smooth throughout - no chunks, lumps or seeds, which means I find it safe to offer to my 7 month old son, and far preferable to jam (though it may be sweet habit forming in the long run).
Though the taste is pleasant, sweet and fruity, this is where the apricot version of this spread falls down, because all these flavours are very non-specific. There is nothing to show that this is "apricot" at all, other than the label on the jar, without which you wouldn't know which flavour it is!
Meridian Apricot spread is organic, meaning that the apricots and apple juice are organic, though other parts of it may not be (adds up to 97% organic products). It is available mainly from niche retailers. I bought it for £1.89 from The Wild Carrot (a health and vegetarian food retailer in Buxton), but have also seen it for £1.99 online from goodnessdirect.co.uk