An interactive map talks about the 29 products selected through the project
The countries of the Mediterranean basin present a rich variety of agri-food products deeply rooted in local culture and biodiversity and representative of the Mediterranean diet. These territories also share common problems and challenges in the agri-food sector, such as the gradual loss of local varieties, rural poverty (particularly affecting women), the limited investment capacity of rural entrepreneurs, and the lack of training on socio-environmental sustainability, business planning and marketing strategies.
In this framework, the Sustainable Networks for Agro-food Innovation Leading in the Mediterranean (MedSNAIL) project aimsat addressing these problems by promoting the valorisation and development of traditional small-scale agri-food value chains, combining the enhancement of market potential and socio-environmental sustainability.
The activities, which have been unfolding for two years now in Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Palestine, Spain and Tunisia, are based on the experience, principles and methods of Slow Food, promoting traditional food with a strong focus on the preservation of biodiversity and respect for local land and culture.
Among the latest MedSNAIL activities, a campaign dedicated to mapping the territories to populate the Slow Food Ark of Taste project.
The results, collected in an interesting web map, once again demonstrated the richness of local food and wine cultures. Twenty-nine products, including vegetables, fruits, sweets, liqueurs and more, drew a panorama rich in flavours and history, at risk of extinction. criteria for inclusion in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.
Eight products on board in Jordan
In Jordan, project partners have carefully mapped local food and wine, bringing eight products on board the Ark of Taste.
The products that met the Ark of Taste criteria are of various kinds, but sweets and baked goods predominate. Such as the baseesah, a dessert traditionally made during the wheat harvest and cold winter days. This recipe captures the food identity and heritage of Balqa, but unfortunately, the knowledge and tradition of making it declined dramatically and are now restricted to the elders. Or the Grape and Carob Molasses. The former is a reduction of grape juice, considered to be one of the first sweeteners, along with sugar and honey, in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. The latter is a product obtained from the fruits of the carob tree, a tree that dates back to ancient times in the area. According to interviews with producers and elders in the area of intervention, the production of carob molasses goes back in history as long as they can remember, as it is a tradition that was passed down to them from older generations. Nowadays the production of these molasses is very minimal: the knowledge and production have declined dramatically in the area, they are prepared by few locals only for their own consumption.
Two products on board in Lebanon
In Lebanon, the Ark of Taste had already registered numerous products, but today, thanks to MEDSNAIL project, Akkoub and Oubeidy are added. Aakoub (or akkoub Gundelia tournefortii) is a spiny, thistle-like plant found in semi-desert areas in Palestine and Lebanon. The wild plant is difficult to forage, due to its mountainous growing location and many spiny leaves. The cleaning and preparation of akkoub is ritual in Nablus. Nablulsi women would gather and spend hours shaving the vegetable until their fingertips would turn black. They store the plant in large quantities to use throughout the year or to send as gifts to family members living abroad. While entire families once traditionally harvested akkoub, it is now at risk of being lost due to the difficulty and time involved in its harvest, cleaning and cooking. Otherwise, the Oubeidy (also called Obaideh) is an indigenous white berry variety grown in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley. It has a high sugar content and low acidity. The resulting wine has a dense texture and flavors of honey and lemon. The grape is very delicate and has a thin skin. Historically, Obeidi has never been considered suitable for winemaking, being preferred instead as a table grape-along with the Tfeifihi, Beitamouni, and Maghdouchi varieties-and for the production of Arak, the Lebanese grape spirit. Lebanese wineries have always planted European or American varieties. More recently, some wineries have started its winemaking.
Two products on board in Malta
In Malta, in addition to the 7 products already on board, the Gozo artisanal salt and the orange blossom, also called Ilma Zahar. The Slow Food’s Ark of Taste welcomes two new passengers on board: the Gozo artisanal salt and the orange blossom, also called Ilma Zahar, Today, the Xwejni Sea Salt is produced mainly by two families, who have passed on the trade from one generation to the other. The preservation of this product is not only gastronomic but characterizes an entire ecosystem: the north coast of Gozo is characterised by a chequerboard of rock-cut saltpans protruding into the sea. These 350-year-old salt pans, which stretch about 3km along the coast, are more than just scenic. They are part of the centuries-old Gozitan tradition of Sea-Salt production.
Ilma Zahar, however, is a distillate made by the leaves and blossoms of seville orange trees. More than 100 years old in the Village of Xaghra, where in the past more than 10 producers were found, nowadays only one remains who still continues the traditional and homemade production.
Six products on board in Palestine
In Palestine, the online catalog was already started. Thanks to the project, 6 new products came on board, a picture of a rich, interesting and still living gastronomic tradition. Indeed, behind each of these products are interesting stories and traditions.
As ancient Baladi varieties of Wheat, Baladi lentils and Hordeum. Or the Baladi sesame: the area grown to sesame is decreasing year after year due to the lower prices of imported sesame. Subsistence farmers grow sesame in different places but at very small scale.
Another selected product is a local variety of dry bean, grown in Arrabeh, southwest of Jenin. It is characterized by small seeds, it has special taste. Local people indicated that they inherited this variety and keeps growing it even on limited level. Only people who tried the taste or cooked it give the fair value of such variety.
Or, finally, Blume schott “Ja’adeh”, a plant that grows wild, without cultivation for economic purposes. The density of the plant is not high. People who collect this plant take a long time to find it, unless they know where it grows. It is only common in the Jenin and Tulkarm areas. It reproduces by means of corms deep in the soil, so it is neither endangered nor a widespread variety. This plant is deeply rooted in the history of the northern areas of Palestine and Jordan. According to tradition, when a mother gives birth, food and drink are offered to the mother in congratulations. In many villages in Jenin and in a few other villages in Tulkarm, in the vicinity of Jenin, a special soup made from Jea’deh Eminium spiculatum and eggs ‘Ja’ajeel Ja’deh’ is usually offered to the mother in childbirth. It has an anticoagulant effect, which means that it helps the mother recover from childbirth; however, some people eat it, particularly the elderly who are still attached to their culinary heritage. Many plants in this family are poisonous when eaten raw, due to the presence of calcium oxylate crystals. When eaten raw, this toxin causes hundreds of tiny needles to stick in the mouth. However, it is easily destroyed by thoroughly cooking or drying the plant.
Five products on board in Spain
In Spain, thanks to the contribution of many people, more than 270 products have been catalogued so far. Thanks to the project, 5 new products went on board.
As the Alpujarra Raw goat’s milk cheese, made from raw goat’s milk: a historical product in the Alpujarra region of Almería due to the traditional presence of the Murciano-Granadina breed, which is reared semi-intensively. The goat breeders themselves extract the milk and produce their own cheese, a tradition that goes back more than a hundred years. Nowadays, the artisan production of raw goat’s milk cheese is very scarce, most of the goat’s milk producers sell to industry, leaving this activity relegated to only one family in the region who are reluctant to lose the ancient cheese-making tradition of the area. The cheese they produce is a unique cheese that is highly appreciated both by the population of the Andarax valley and by gourmet product sellers, underlining the importance of keeping this gastronomic tradition alive.
Or the Meloja, a dessert of Arab origin, made from honey macerated with seasonal fruits. The meloja is made from the honey producted in the Andaráx Valley, using the honey that remains on the walls of the honeycomb and is not initially removed. The taste is very sweet due to its large amount of sugar and dark color, although it depends on the origin of the honey (albaida, orange blossom, rosemary…). Today, the process of obtaining the honey by the beekeepers of the Andarax valley is totally traditional and respectful with the environment. The beekeeping is usually done by the traditional system of brushing bees with brushes of single or double row of natural bristles. The darker and denser honey that remains adhered to the walls of the honeycomb is also extracted and is used to make meloja. Currently, in this area there is only one producer of meloja, since, due to the difficulty of extraction and processing, it is a product that despite the link it maintains with the territory is disappearing.
Or finally the Ohanes grape, an autochthonous variety that has been part of the diet of the people of Almeria (Andalucía) throughout the centuries. The relationship between Ohanes grape and the territory of the Andarax valley goes back to more than three centuries of history since the grape is the oldest crop in the province of Almería. During the last years, measures have been taken to promote this variety and to recover its quality by taking care of its original characteristics, controlling diseases, reducing the use of excessive fertilizers and promoting organic sustainable agriculture. In this regard, it should be noted that, due to the hardness of the skin and its long natural conservation time, the natural conservation of this grape means that conservation chains are not necessary, which implies a reduction in energy costs in the conservation phase.
Avoiding the disappearance of this variety, which is native to the Andarax Valley, is taken on by the producers as a commitment, not only to the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable management of these crops, but also because of their historical importance in the diet and culture of Almería.
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Seven products on board in Tunisia
In Tunisia, the Ark already had numerous products on board. Thanks to the work of the MEDSNAIL project, another 7 products have been identified and selected: Asli grape wine, Kerkennah palm trees/Ghaba, Rob – date syrup, Legmi, Zammit Makhdhour, Jardkaa – Sfax barely bread and El Anneb.
All have interesting histories and traditions. For instance, Legmi, an Indigenous syrupy and whitish sap of the date palm. It is a traditional drink from southern Tunisia, and more exactly from the regions of Kerkennah, Gabès, Tozeur and Douz. It is consumed especially during the Ramadan and served during the meals of Al-Iftar (breaking the fast) and Shour (before elfajr). In Tunisia, and especially in Kerkennah, the harvest is made based on indigenous know-how inherited from generation to another. Their main concern is the preservation of the date palm tree for a sustainable harvest but also to sustain their income. The extraction of the legmi is done in a very precise way. Only the Mâalem (master) knows the method, learned from father to son and from generation to generation for a long time. In a first step, the mâalem climbs along the palm tree, then cuts part of its top, to unearth its core known as “jumar”: a sap having an oval shape. A palm tree produces a daily volume of sap of 5-6 liters, an operation that requires 3 months to exhaust the source. The tree is then left to regrow for a period of 4 years.
A curiosity: consuming fermented legmi is forbidden by Islamic precepts, and for this reason its production is often carried out in a semi-clandestine manner. The legmi legally sold is fresh and not alcoholic.
Another interesting product is the Zammit Makhdhour, made with barley seeds flour and very popular during the month of Ramadan, where its richness in calories and vitamins allow its consumers to better endure fasting during the day. In ancient times, traces of Zammit can be found in Roman era. El Wazen, reports in his description of “Ifriquia” ( افريقية ; current Tunisia), that the Berbers used to eat during the day a meal of barley mixed with olive oil (to have a paste) or with water, and this liquid was called “Zammit or dardoura”. Today, farmers generally keep it for their self-sufficiency, selling a small quantity on demand to people in Sfax.
Or, finally, Jardkaa, a unleavened bread made with barley flour, popular in Sfax city because of the importance of barley culture in the region. The farmers keep it for their self-sufficiency. They sell a small quantity on demand to people in Sfax.
MedSNAIL, Sustainable Networks for Agro-food Innovation Leading in the Mediterranean, is a EU funded project under the ENI CBC Med Programme and in partnership with Andalusian Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (Spain), Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity (Italy), American University of Beirut (Lebanon), The Rural Women’s Development Society Economic, social and political Empowerment for rural women’s (RWDS) (Palestine), University of Sfax (Tunisia), Gozo Regional Development Foundation (Malta) and Women for Cultural Development (Namaa) (Jordan).