FOOD AND DRINK
Nova Scotians Bet on a New, Blue Berry
It's blue, it's oblong, it's full of antioxidants: The only thing keeping the haskap from superfood status is the fact you probably haven't heard of it … before now
There’s no doubt that a live lobster is an original souvenir, and a popular one for those who travel through Halifax Stanfield airport. But just outside the city a host of unique foodie gifts are waiting to be found at Haskapa, a shop dedicated to the up-and-coming haskap berry in all its forms. And these gifts won’t claw at you.
Haskaps contain more antioxidants than blueberries and are bound to be declared a superfood sooner rather than later. They grow in Canada on farms in Saskatchewan and Quebec, as well as in the Maritimes. Located on the shores of Mahone Bay, an hour’s drive west of Nova Scotia’s capital city, Haskapa is the first company outside of Japan to offer commercially available products born of these oblong berries – think stretched-out blueberries. Haskaps add a sweet touch to wide range of food and drink products, including juices, jams, chocolates and gin.
“I’m very proud to say I planted our first-ever haskap berry,” says Liam Tayler, Haskapa’s commercial director. That was in 2011, when the company’s owner, LaHave Forests, was evaluating crops it could grow as it waited for the province’s forests to mature. “We planted an acre,” Tayler explains. “As soon as we tasted the berries, we knew that this was exciting and had potential. It grew from there.”
Taste for the berry has, indeed, grown much faster than Tayler and team anticipated: “We began buying in berries from Saskatchewan and Quebec and even as far as Poland so that we could make some Haskap berry products. We’ve got 40 acres (16 hectares) of Haskap berry plants at the moment, and we’re planting a further 140 acres (57 hectares) over the next 18 months.”
A small selection of Haskapa’s products had been available in some of the province’s grocery stores and a handful of independent retailers, but in the summer of 2015, the company opened its own retail outlet, a chic, rustic storefront not far from Mahone Bay’s famous, picturesque three churches.
“Everything we’ve created is made locally, and it was sort of a natural progression to have the first-ever retail outlet in Mahone Bay,” says Tayler. “It’s close to the farm and it’s close to where we produce all our products. It has that very unique local feel about it, and that’s one of the reasons why we love it here. The designer wanted to create something that reflected that rural essence (of Mahone Bay), but also the innovative cutting edge of the products we’re creating. I think he did a fantastic job.”
The bright and spacious one-room shop has shelves stocked with skin care products such as soap, foodstuffs including chutneys and jams, and juices and gin, all of which are produced nearby – the juice and dried berries are from Lunenburg; the maple syrup in Tantallon; the gin just outside Antigonish; and the jams and preserves in Haskapa’s backyard of Mahone Bay. If you’re not sure which to bring home, the company’s thought of that too, creating sample packs of jam, juice and dried berries, which it labels “The Haskap Experience.”
But the real experience is doing a tasting with the staff in store. The curious are walked through a sample of Haskapa’s offerings, including: a sip of juice, which is rich and full with blackcurrant, blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavours; a spoonful of jam; and another of the jalapeño relish, a perfect mix of sweet and heat. And (during our visit, anyway), requests for seconds are accommodated.
“The products are like my children, and you should never have a favourite,” Tayler says, “but if I really had to choose, it would be the jalapeño relish.” After a taste – OK two – we can’t blame him.