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The new 'superfood' you've never heard of – the berry with 15 times more Vitamin C than an orange

Sea buckthorn
Lauded for their health benefits, bright orange sea buckthorn berries (left) are easy to spot growing in the wild in autumn, and on many a restaurant menu, too

Have you ever tried sea buckthorn? If not, that might be about to change, as a new global report this month predicts astonishing growth for the sea buckthorn market from now until 2024.

Also known as Siberian pineapple, buckthorn, tang bush or sea berry, sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) can contain up to 15 times as much Vitamin C per 100g as an orange.

But as well as appealing to the wellness crowd – who take the berries in supplement form or add them to chia puddings and smoothies – they’re also becoming a fixture on menus in Michelin-starred restaurants across the UK (scroll down for some of our favourite dishes to order). 

In season in the UK from September until February, top chefs and mixologists love the sour tartness of the pulpy, bright orange autumnal fruit, which also boasts a honeyed, carrot-esque sweetness.

It works well as a replacement for lemon or orange, adding acidity to a variety of dishes and cocktails (perhaps squeezed over white fish, or added to either fizz or gin and tonic in syrup or juice form).

Nutritionists love the berries because as well as packing a punch of Vitamin C, they also contain Vitamin B12 (usually only found in animal products), which we need to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system.

Vegans and vegetarians can find it difficult to source B12 in their diets, and as a result, sea buckthorn oil supplements have become popular among the increasing numbers of people in the UK choosing a plant-based lifestyle. 

Since it’s also one of the only edible plants that contains all four omega fatty acids (3, 6, 9 and the rarer omega-7), it’s believed to promote collagen growth – which has made it an enticing ingredient for use in beauty balms and ointments.

Sweet cheese mousse, sea buckthorn, pain d'épices and carrot at The Cellar restaurant in Anstruther, Scotland

So, where can you find it?

According to Totally Wild UK, the foraging and wild food specialists, sea buckthorn is commonly found growing on sharp banks, on the coast or by the sea. It's easily spotted thanks to the narrow green leaves and bright orange clusters. 

Unlike the once-popular "superfood" açaí (which grows in the subtropic regions of Central and South America), sea buckthorn grows along the east coast of England and the coast of Northern Ireland. It's particularly abundant in Scotland, where the East Lothian coastline enjoys a glut at this time of year (thanks to large-scale planting carried out in an effort to stabilise the dunes in the 1960s).

While they're a little too much on the sour side to be commonly eaten raw, the berries can be safely picked in the wild, just like blackberries (though, since the spiny shrub is so spiky, the berries are not always easy to access). With the addition of sugar, they can be made into sauces, dressings, preserves and jellies by home cooks, or even frozen in order to be blended into smoothies at a later date (perhaps with sweeter fruits such as mango or melon).

To extract the juice, the berries can be simmered and strained through muslin. Add sugar and, voila: a syrup that can be paired with champagne or drizzled over cheesecake and yogurt. 

What about ready-made products?

Kirstie Campbell of Seabuckthorn Scotland claims to be the first British producer of raw sea buckthorn juice and supplies Edinburgh cocktail bar Panda and Sons as well as The Refillery, a plastic-free grocery and ethical goods store. Billed as Scotland’s “best kept secret ingredient", wild Scottish hand-pressed sea buckthorn juice is also available to buy from Wild and Scottish (£7.50 for 250ml). 

Meanwhile, the British Seabuckthorn Company at Devereux Farm on the North Essex coast has been commercially farming sea buckthorn for the past decade. For many years a dairy farm, it is now a diversified, 600-acre arable farm. Since 2009, fourth generation farmer David Eagle has become increasingly excited about sea buckthorn, and now has 5000 plants over about 3.5 hectares. 

Eagle supplies the sea buckthorn for both Erbology, a plant-based food brand (try the tigernut granola with sea buckthorn and aronia berries, £4.99 for 220g, at Ocado and Planet Organic) and SIBU sea berry therapy, which makes sea buckthorn supplements as well as moisturisers, toners, soaps and face oils. 

And where is it served?

Sea buckthorn is a hit with Scottish chefs in particular. “As a family, we love to forage for ourselves in autumn. It’s an amazing plant and incredibly versatile, as the berries can be used in lots of different dishes or sauces, jams and juices,” chef Tom Kitchin has said. “When it comes to using it in sweet dishes, I love it in a refreshing sorbet, or served with chocolate.”

This autumn, the Michelin-starred chef Billy Boyter of The Cellar in Anstruther has been experimenting with a sweet cheese mousse, sea buckthorn, pain d'épices and carrot for his seasonal menu. He has also previously served sea buckthorn with a tart, palette cleansing apple and hay custard. "It’s Scotland’s answer to passion fruit," he says. 

Elsewhere, at chef Mark Birchall’s Moor Hall in Lancashire (recently crowned the best restaurant outside London by SquareMeal), foodies can also enjoy a dish of baked carrots with Doddington cheese "snow", chrysanthemum and sea buckthorn, as part of the eight-course tasting menu. 

Baked carrots with Doddington cheese, chrysanthemum and sea buckthorn at Moor Hall restaurant in Lancashire

In Yorkshire, The Pipe and Glass Inn (a Michelin-starred pub in South Dalton), sea buckthorn features on the lunch menu in the form of a tempting starter of dressed Whitby crab, pickled white radish, sea buckthorn purée, sea herb salad, brown crab crisp and nasturtium oil.

And in terms of sweeter dishes, at New Chapter Restaurant in Edinburgh, the chocolate cremeux with mango, sea buckthorn curd and mango and yogurt sorbet is a perfect example of how sea buckthorn can be incorporated into desserts.

Keep an eye out, and you might enjoy a taste of this versatile berry sooner than you think...