Poperingse Hopscheuten (Poperinge hops)

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Poperingse Hopscheuten

IGP/BGA Poperingse Hopscheuten are shoots which grow slowly in the underground portion of the hop plant (Humulus Lupulus). Once fully grown, they have a diameter of 3 mm to 5 mm and a length of 4 cm to 8 cm. ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are always an attractive white colour, contain no soil and are disease- and parasite-free. They have a firm texture and are crunchy (neither stringy nor woody), so they break easily without fraying at their tips. ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ display traces of nodes (unlike soya shoots, for example). The taste of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ is highly specific, but may best be described as a ‘typical nutty taste’ with a hint of chicory. A comparison, though difficult to make, is the only way to describe their organoleptic characteristics. The taste of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ is reminiscent of purslane, thick bean sprouts or the creamy, nutty taste of salsify. The taste is fresh and very earthy. As ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ consist predominantly of proteins and contain no fats, their calorie content is virtually zero. ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ also have a high content of micronutrients and vitamins, in particular B-group vitamins.

Specific steps in production that must take place in the defined geographical area:

The following steps in the production of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ must take place in the defined geographical area: the covering of the hop plants with soil, the removal of the runners on which the ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ grow, and harvesting. This applies both to plants grown outdoors and to those grown in heated greenhouses.

Concise definition of the geographical area:

The production area consists of the town of Poperinge in Belgium (comprising the following municipalities in addition to Poperinge town centre: Krombeke, Proven, Reningelst, Roesbrugge-Haringe and Watou), the neighbouring town of Ieper (comprising the following municipalities in addition to Ieper town centre: Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke and Zuidschote) and the neighbouring municipality of Vleteren (comprising Westvleteren, Oostvleteren and Woesten).

Link with the geographical area:

The protected geographical indication ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ is based on reputation and on the tradition of producing this product in the Poperinge region.

Specificity of the geographical area:

There are a number of reasons why ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are grown in the Poperinge region. A first reason is the ideal suitability of the local soil and the weather conditions. Poperinge has an Ldcz-type soil: moderately wet sandy loam soil with a heavily marked, fragmented texture B horizon. The lower soil layers are denser, allowing rapid subsoil drainage. Good, deep, well-drained sandy loam soil with a good lime content is ideal for growing hops. The soil must contain quite a lot of moisture which can be extracted from the deeper layers. The Poperinge region, like the rest of West Flanders, has a temperate maritime climate with dry winters and warm, humid summers. The proximity of the sea has a mitigating effect on extreme temperatures. The average annual rainfall is 825 mm. This type of climate is favourable for growing ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’. Moreover, the local farmers have for decades acquired extensive expertise in the growth of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’.

Farmers grow and harvest hop shoots in two ways. There is the ancient, traditional method of growing hop shoots outdoors — a production process used to this day in all hop-growing regions, including Poperinge. However, in 1983, hop shoots were grown in a heated greenhouse as part of a scientific study. This exclusive second growing method is used only in the Poperinge region, where one third of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are grown in heated greenhouses, two thirds outdoors. The combination of both cultivation systems is specific to the geographical area. As the harvesting of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ is very labour-intensive and must be carried out with great care and attention in order to avoid damaging the fragile hop shoots, growers have the requisite high degree of knowledge and skill.

1983 saw the establishment of the Keurbroederschap De Witte Ranke (‘Fraternity of the White Hop Vine’), named after a variety of hops that was common at the time. The purpose of the Fraternity was and still is to promote the interests of the Westhoek in general and of the Poperinge region and its ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ in particular.

Specificity of the product:

Within the wide range of ‘shoots’ on offer, ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are a very particular product, firstly on account of their special structure. Only the crunchy part of the hop shoot — the top part which is snapped off at the second node of the shoot, leaving a crunchy, white shoot 5 cm to 8 cm in length — is eaten. Moreover, ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ have a highly specific taste which is not easy to describe. The closest approximation is a ‘typical creamy, nutty taste’ with a hint of chicory. This distinctive, fresh and earthy taste is partly the result of the typical soil and climate in the defined geographical area. As ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are a typical seasonal product which can be harvested only from the end of December to the end of April, they are available only for a limited period each year.

Causal link between the geographical area and a specific quality, the reputation or other characteristic of the product:

Hops were an important crop in beer-brewing Belgium. In the Middle Ages, beer was a popular alternative to water, which was less pure. From the 13th century, hops were used in breweries and replaced the secret mixtures of bitter and aromatic herbs (the ‘gruut’). The crop was brought to Poperinge to replace the cloth industry. The story goes that in the 15th century John the Fearless encouraged the people of Poperinge, who had lost their right to produce cloth, to grow hops. The soil structure and climate make the Poperinge region the ideal place to grow hops. In this way, the region around Poperinge, along with Asse-Aalst, became the hops barn of Europe.

One of the crucial steps in the growing of hops is the removal of the excess shoots. Two or three shoots are kept on each plant. These grow into new vines on which the hop cones can grow. Thus, although hop shoots were primarily a by-product of hop growing, they were a welcome delicacy in early spring, when fresh vegetables were still scarce.

References to the use of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ as a fresh vegetable can be traced back to the 16th century, when the shoots were even believed to have medicinal qualities. Thus, in 1554, Dr Rembert Dodoens wrote that ‘the shoots of hops are used in food and serve to enhance flavour’. Dodoens also believed that ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’ had medicinal qualities. ‘Strength and vitality’. The shoots or young sprouts of hops are used in food. Although they serve more to enhance flavour than to provide bodily sustenance — for they have very little nutritional value — they have a beneficial effect on the bowels, as they facilitate urination and defecation and fortify the stomach.

In 1581, Matthias de Lobel (25), a physician and expert on herbs, published his Krudtboeck (Herb Book) in which he refers to the custom of eating root shoots as a type of vegetable: ‘The young shoots, which do not appear until the end of March or early April, of both wild and cultivated hops are eaten by commoners instead of salad. They have a delightful, chicory-like taste and are fairly warm.’

Written references to ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are also increasingly frequent in subsequent periods. The knowledge of the growth and use of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ acquired over the centuries in the geographical area is such that the local growers may be said to have specific technical knowledge and possess various skills not found in other regions (such as growing in greenhouses).

The fact that a large number of (historical) texts refer to ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ and the region may also be seen as evidence of product renown directly attributable to the product, the producers’ growing techniques and their geographical area. The fact that investments continue to be made in ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ is demonstrated by the scientific studies still being conducted into the techniques used to grow the different varieties of the plant. A number of restaurants in the Poperinge region have been serving dishes containing ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ since the end of the 19th century. Some have gone as far as to include the product in every dish on their menu. The reputation of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ is also highly evident from the large number of book and press articles on local restaurants' use of the shoots, which are regularly proclaimed in the press as ‘the white gold of Poperinge’.

‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ are a very versatile ingredient. Every season the culinary press gives broad coverage to ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’, which are regarded as a genuine delicacy. A number of specific recipes containing ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ can be found both online and in a range of cookbooks.

Each spring the Fraternity of the White Hop Vine and the town of Poperinge organise the hop shoots festival, in which ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ play a central role. The best restaurants in the Poperinge area offer a special menu with dishes containing ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’. Various growers also stage farm open days giving consumers the opportunity to find out about the growing of ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’ at first hand. In 2008, to commemorate its 25th anniversary, the Fraternity published a book devoted specifically to ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’. Each year restaurants and consumers eagerly anticipate the arrival of the first ‘Poperingse hopscheuten’/‘Poperingse hoppescheuten’, as reflected in the sale of the initial crop in December, when buyers from Belgium and abroad always pay high prices for the first shoots.

Reference: The European Commission