We tried Flemish beef stew and fries energy gel (so you don't have to)

To celebrate the upcoming Tour of Flanders, Cycling in Flanders has released an energy gel that tastes like a Belgian classic dish

Clock09:20, Friday 29th March 2024
Beef stew energy gel vs the real thing

© GCN

Beef stew energy gel vs the real thing

To celebrate this year’s Tour of Flanders, the tourist board of Flanders has released an energy gel that tastes like a Belgian classic: Flemish beef stew and fries.

The new gel is designed to address a pressing issue facing visiting cyclists in Flanders; they want to experience the local culture and cuisine, but stopping off for a bite at local eateries would put holes in an otherwise perfect Strava post.

First, there’d be the inevitable reduction in average speed. Then, there’s the possibility that a segment might be interrupted. Finally, there’s the matter of the ballooning ‘elapsed time’ figure. It hardly bears thinking about.

With that in mind, this new gel is designed to give us a bit of the local flavour, without the need to hit the brakes.

And whilst this gel might just be a bit of fun, made to promote the upcoming Tour of Flanders, we took it upon ourselves to put it to the test. Firstly, does it taste like the real thing? Secondly, does it taste any good?

Read more: 66 years marshalling at the Tour of Flanders: meet Lucien De Schepper

What is Flemish beef stew?

Flemish beef stew and fries, called Stoofvlees-friet in Flemish, is the unofficial national dish of Belgium. It is a beef stew with a rich, beer-based sauce, cooked for a long time over a gentle heat, and served with fries.

The sauce gets most of its flavour from the brown Belgian beer and cubes of beef, but there are additional ingredients too, including mustard, cherry syrup and vinegar. Each family has their own recipe, but by the time any Flemish beef stew is brought to the table, the meat is tender and slow-cooked, and the sauce is rich, dark, and glistening.

Alongside, there are fries. As everyone here knows, Belgium is the original source of the ‘french fry’, which Belgians have been eating for hundreds of years. The story goes that American soldiers caught onto the idea after being stationed in Belgium during WWI. But because many Belgians in Wallonia speak French, the American GIs thought they were eating French, not Belgian cuisine.

Altogether, beef stew and fries is Belgian through-and-through, cooked for centuries and still available at every Brasserie in town — with a Belgian beer to accompany it, of course.

The test

So can you condense a classic winter warmer into a glucose gel? To find out, GCN’s Deputy Editor Patrick Fletcher and I headed to the most traditional Flemish brasserie we could find in Gent, Belgium to try the real thing. It was delicious. The beef, cooked until tender, fell apart upon the prod of a fork. The sauce, rich and darkly seasoned, had the consistency of double cream, and a deep, glossy colour like a pair of brown eyes. The fries added a welcome salty crunch. Overall, a high-scoring meal.

After a few mouthfuls, and having noticed that the waiter was distracted on the other side of the room, we pulled out the energy gels and ripped off the tab.

With the taste of the real thing still lingering in our mouths, and the smell of real Flemish stew hanging in the air, the gel tasted like sugar, and nothing else.

We realised that the side-by-side comparison was a step too far. Would an orange, apple or berry gel stand up alongside a fresh piece of fruit? Of course not. We needed to test the gel where it was intended to be eaten: out and about, when energy is low, and real Flemish stew is well-out of reach.

Having left Patrick in Belgium, I resumed the test a week later, this time half way up a mountain in the Lake District, UK. Opening the packet in the fresh air, a stew-like smell leapt out. I tasted. That sweet, syrupy flavour was still front-and-centre, but beneath it was a dark, meaty flavour.

Yep, it really did taste like beef stew.

On a second squeeze, there was a hint of onion, vinegar and brown sugar. With a clear palette, this gel captured plenty of the basic flavours in the real thing.

Of course, the flavours that survived the transition were caricatures – enough to remind you what beef stew tastes like, but far from the real thing.

The worst part is that the deep, gravy-like flavour comes in a sickly sweet glucose syrup. It’s an odd combination, and a fairly nauseating one.

Overall then, the team at Cycling in Flanders have successfully captured something of the flavour of their unofficial national dish, but believe us when we say that beef, beer and onion sauce does not pair naturally with glucose syrup.

This gel is just a bit of fun, and won't actually be available for sale. If you want to taste Flemish beef stew, you're better off giving the real thing a try.

For more from Flanders, visit our Tour of Flanders guide page.

For the latest news, interviews and analysis from the world of professional cycling, be sure to check out the Racing tab on the GCN website and visit our essential guide to The Spring Classics to stay up to date with all of the action from cycling's most exciting season.

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