Every gardener knows, without a doubt, that some of the most delicious and nutritious foods cannot be bought at any store.
Though you can find them free for the taking, when you forage in the wild or grow them for yourself.
They may have gone undetected and under the radar for an extremely long time, but the reality is that you really must find some hop shoots, harvest, prepare and eat them for yourself to truly know what you are missing. A lot.
They may cost a lot (if you can find a place to buy them), yet in many cases, you can harvest them for absolutely free.
Though you have to know where to find them!
Where to find hop shoots
There are two ways to go about collecting hop shoots, one takes having a hop farm nearby, hopefully organic and assuming that they allow for picking. The other route takes some basic foraging skills, which anyone can acquire.
Hop shoots are a bit like other foraged plants, including wild garlic. They must be eaten and/or processed soon after harvesting.
Ultimately, they are best eaten within hours, as they do wilt shortly after plucking the tips from the bine.
Yes, you read that correct, from the bine, not a vine. A bine grows in a helix around another supporting stem, rather than using tendrils/suckers to climb, such as a vine.
As a byproduct of the hop-growing industry or your very own garden
Hops are commonly used in the brewing of beer, though the hop flowers are also beneficial in an immune system boosting, stress reducing, sleep-inducing herbal tea. Yet, it is the hops’ shoots that are of particular edible interest.
If you ever find a hop festival to attend, it is a wonderful way to try out something new, though you needn’t wait, or travel so far to have so much fun.
You can also plant hops in your backyard garden, so the ability to forage is never afar.
Cultivated hops grow well in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9, and are generally considered to be hardy deciduous perennials (meaning that they lose their leaves and die back to the ground every winter) that can thrive for many years in the same location.
They are easy to plant, grow and maintain, the hop shoots being a delicious byproduct of pruning them back every spring.
Discover more about homebrewing and growing your own hops here.
In the wild
One of the best ways to locate a patch of hop shoots (Humulus lupulus) is to find the notable cones in fall.
Then, remember the exact location and in spring you will be able to find the shoots popping up directly below where you spotted the flowers.
Another way to find them is to look for the dry hop shoots that are still hanging from supporting trees.
The hop shoots are best harvested in April-May when they are young and fresh, with 6 leaves or fewer. As long as you can pinch them off with your fingertips, they will be perfectly edible. 6-12″ is a good harvest length to shoot for.
It is said that wild hops are a wild card in home brewing and that cultivated varieties are far superior, we’ll let you decide.
What do hop shoots taste like?
Some say that eating a handful of hop shoots is akin to eating a hedgerow, while others consider it to be “kale-like with a faint nuttiness”.
Our consensus is that hop shoots are very unique indeed, with flavors of peas, beans, asparagus,…
Of course, it may turn out that they taste different depending on where they are harvested. The point is that they are both nutritious and exciting, which makes it easy to eat 30 cooked hop shoots, or more, in a single sitting.
As for why hop shoots cost so much, they must be picked individually by hand, which is difficult considering the way they grow. It takes a long time to harvest a basketful, let alone a bushel, so take the time to savor every bite!
5 ways to eat hop shoots
Hop shoots are one of the earliest spring plants to forage for. And you will be pleased to know, there are several ways to eat them.
Here are five delightful ways to try them:
Perhaps the easiest, though admittedly not the tastiest way to eat hop shoots, is raw. Straight from the forest, just give them a gentle shake and nibble away.
Or wash them as soon as you get home and chop them up, and add them to salads with other spring greens.
Second best, or best of all, is to fry a couple slices of bacon, then toss in some mushrooms into a cast iron pan, then quickly add the hop shoots and leave them on the heat for just a minute or two.
Serve over a bed of risotto with a poached egg.
Or simply sauté the hop shoots in homemade butter or olive oil and serve with a slice of toast or fluffy buttermilk biscuits.
The end result is several crispy hop stalks with delicately crunchy leaves that truly taste like kale chips. These are best served hot from the stove.
Hop shoots in salads
If you have the time to make a more complex meal or side dish, then consider adding your harvested hop shoots to both raw and cooked salads.
One of our favorite ways to consume a small bundle of hop shoots is to add them to a German-inspired potato salad.
Ingredients for hop shoots potato salad:
- 2 pounds potatoes
- 12 ounces of bacon
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 T. gluten-free flour
- large handful of freshly harvested hop shoots
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. To start: wash, cut and boil bite-size potato chunks in salty water until just fork-tender. Drain the water and remove the lid, so the potatoes can “dry off” a bit.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, cut the bacon into small pieces and fry with the chopped onion and garlic cloves. At the very end of frying, toss in the chopped hop shoots and give a gentle stir.
3. Sprinkle in your flour of choice, stirring well. Then add apple cider vinegar, along with a few tablespoons of water to tone it down. Bring it to a simmer, then carefully fold into the waiting potatoes.
Serve your hop shoot salad hot or warm, even at room temperature.
It is a wonderful way to use up loads of hop shoots at once!
Pickled hop shoots
Another unconventional way to stock your pantry is with items that definitely cannot be bought from any store. Hop shoot pickles is one of them.
Many, if not all, of the ingredients you will already have at home, leaving you only with the task of harvesting enough hop shoots to fill as many jars of pickles as you desire.
Follow any simple brine recipe for canning, this is usually a 50:50 ratio of water to apple cider vinegar. For 1 cup of water, add 1 cup of vinegar, plus 1/2 tsp. salt.
Fill your jar to the rim with brine, then pour it into a small sauce pot to heat on the stove. Bring it to a boil, adding whatever additional ingredients you wish: garlic, dried hot pepper flakes, peppercorns, etc.
In the meantime, stuff your jar with hop shoots, then cover with hot brine.
Eat them straight away, or store them in the fridge for several months – they make for quite a conversation piece on your platter of party appetizers. Also good in place of pickles on sandwiches.
Hop shoot powder
If you are more keen on making powders with your dried herbs, know that hop shoots dry out completely on their own within a couple of days when pre-chopped.
Then you can break them down in a spice grinder, or use a mortar and pestle for a less fine powder. The former becoming a fine hop shoot powder to sprinkle on eggs, the latter for adding fantastic flavor to soups and stews.
Remember, that hop shoots are best eaten when young and tender. However, if you happen to harvest a few that are a bit tougher, simply chop them up into small pieces and blanch them first in boiling water. Then toss them into a pan of scrambled eggs, or fold them into a cheesy omelette.
You might also try grilling them with spices too!