Finding America

Me and Tarah

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Regular readers of this blog will know I like to reminisce about certain mainstream British food items that are a scarce commodity in the United States. But occasionally, I also like to give remembrance to the littler guys; the jarred food items of this world.

While you can certainly find some of these items in Meijer's British section (regional to the Midwest) and various international stores, all of the ones listed below are considerably harder to find in the United States than in Britain. Whether it is due to an American aversion, wrong-place-wrong-time, or a wholesale ban (stay tuned for number 5 on the list), there are just some potted food items that don't get the recognition stateside that they deserve.

And so, here are 5 British jarred foods that are hard to find in the United States.

1. Marmite
Whether you love it or hate it—and I'm in the former camp—Marmite is certainly a mainstay of the British food spread section. Made from yeast extract, it goes perfectly on a scrumptious cheese sandwich and has a similar taste to those wonderfully moreish Twiglets, a crispy snack whose coating is also made from yeast extract.

2. Marmalade
Made world famous by Paddington Bear, marmalade is—like tea, crumpets and fish 'n' chips—almost synonymous with the word "British." The explorer Robert Scott was known to have carried jars of marmalade during his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1911. Moreover, hardcore fans of the James Bond franchise will know that Marmalade makes up part of 007's daily breakfast regimen. But while it is available to buy in Walmart and the like, Marmalade is not a staple of the American diet.

3. Pickled onions
Often, merely mentioning pickled onions to Americans is enough to put them off their lunch. But, with the exception of mushy peas, nothing goes better with a plate of fish and chips. Thanks to Meijer's aforementioned British section, it is possible to find pickled onions in the U.S., but don't expect to find them in most regional or national grocery stores.

4. Mint sauce
A quite brilliant accompaniment to roast lamb (I even mix it with mashed potato, but that's just me), mint sauce is virtually unknown as a concept in the United States. As the name suggests, it is a sauce made up of finely chopped spearmint leaves dowsed in vinegar. Once again, it can be purchased at Meijer's ever life-saving British section.

5. Blackcurrant jam
Though American jam is almost always referred to as fruit preserves, most flavo(u)rs are nonetheless available in abundance across national or regional grocery outlets. However, there's one fruit you are unlikely to see gracing the fruit preserve section at Walmart any time soon: blackcurrant. That's because many states have a long-standing ban on the production of blackcurrant, owing to early 20th century fears that the currant was a disease vector, particularly effecting those in the logging industry. Even in states were blackcurrant production is legal, the fruit is generally not recognised by the masses.

Which potted food items from Britain do you wish were in wide circulation in the U.S.? Are there any American jarred foods that you cannot get in Britain? Let us know in the comments below. 

Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia and Smitten by Britain. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. 

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  1. You probably know this, but grocery chains in the US are generally regional rather than nationwide. I've never heard of Meijer's, despite having lived in the US for 17 years.

    To get British food, I would go to Cost Plus, Draeger's, a specialist British food store, or (cheapest!) an Indian supermarket. But those brand names may well mean nothing to people outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

  2. Thanks, vp. I always forget that Meijer is regional, just because it's so huge. I have edited the article accordingly.

    Also, I really want to make a list of regional grocery stores that have a British section.

  3. Hi Laurence,

    Yep, paying $7 for pickled onions and $9 for a small bottle of Ribena cordial is too much - those have to wait for a trip home or a visit from family unfortunately.

    Recently I've had trouble finding Golden Syrup again for Shrove Tuesday, and had to settle for nasty-tasting HFCS-based King Golden Syrup, which is not the same thing at all :-(

    As for stores with a British section, in the Mid Atlantic and NE at least, I think Wegmans and Cost Plus World Market would top my list.


  4. The Tesco import Fresh & Easy has a British section... they sell Marmite, Branston Pickle, Picked onions, Pataks curry sauces, the above mentioned Golden Syrup, Heinz Salad Cream and Bisto to name a few. If there's not one near you - sorry! I only recently started shopping there and was nicely surprised. I've found mint sauce in Ralphs Grocery Store and they've also started selling PG Tips.

  5. Having read almost everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, I am obsessed with trying anything "tinned" or "potted" because it just sounds so much better than "canned"!!! :) Can you enlighten me as to what exactly "fish paste" is?? :)

  6. Hi, Lisa. It's pretty much as it sounds, and is usually used as a condiment. According to Wikipedia, it's not just a British thing either.

    1. The King of fish pastes is of course Patum Peperium: a Gentleman's Relish produced from anchovies.

      You can find it on Amazon for about $10 per 2.5oz pot.

  7. Here in Shreveport, Louisiana I have two options: World Market (which is Cost Plus) and regional grocery store Kroger. Both of them carry Marmite, Ribena, Branston Pickle, Bird's Custard Powder, and assorted other items that I still need after 30 years living here in the U.S (but not Milky Bars, alas). World Market has Heinz tinned stuff, too, and I fully admit I regularly buy tins of Spotted Dick to take to dinner parties for laugh-value.

  8. the only one I can stomach is marmalade---

  9. How about scotch eggs, pork pies and clotted cream. In NYC we have Myers of Keswick and Tea and Sympathy where pretty much all things you mentioned are sold. Larger supermarkets carry some products. Of xourae the two aforementioned shops charge much more for these foodstuffs. I like lemon curd and ginger beer (Schweppes?) as well. Gibger beer in USA tastes quite different.

  10. In Texas I frequent World Market to get my British provisions, but I believe H-E-B (the largest grocery chain in Texas) carries Marmite and has a British imports section as well.

    My primary grocery store is Whole Foods Market, and they also stck Marmite (I want to say they have Ribena as well but I cannot recall).

  11. I can find most of those items in Vermont but I tell you something that you can't get anywhere but should!: CORONATION SAUCE

    My American wife loves it and I've either had to make it from scratch or order it from Amazon UK.

    The US does not know what they are missing!

  12. Here in the Rochester, NY/Finger Lakes area we have our beloved Wegmans grocery store chain which has an international aisle and practically all of the items you mentioned are located there plus quite a few others like Ribena, HP Sauce, McVities biscuits, etc.

  13. The writer needs to move to another State. I am in Massachusetts and can easily find all of the above foods either in local supermarkets or one of my two close British food stores. Plus there are many online companies that sell all this stuff.

  14. You need to drive to Chicago, Laurence.

  15. The "British aisle" at meijer is no longer. They removed it! Now where am I supposed to get my supply of Ribena?

  16. Thank you to those who suggested Cost Plus World Market as a source for Branston Pickles. I picked up a jar yesterday at the store in Knoxville, TN. I tasted a little; wasn't what I was expecting. I want to try the pickle and cheese sandwich.


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