Want to bring some variety to the greens you offer on your menu? Brussels sprouts are a relative of cabbage but can offer a different experience than you get with cabbage, kale or other hardy greens. They’re also versatile: Try them roasted, steamed, sautéed or even deep fried in both sweet and savory combinations. They can round out a meal as an appealing side dish simply dressed in olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper – and can also work well in a salad as a complement to such wide-ranging ingredients cranberries, bacon or your favorite cheeses.
Calzones are an ideal winter comfort food. They offer the chewy, melty goodness of pizza, and can be customized with a long list of fillings and dipped into anything from marinara sauce to tomato soup to chili oil. No longer restricted to Italian-style ingredients, calzones can include ingredients as wide-ranging as blue cheese and barbecue chicken. But they’re an especially good vehicle for vegetables, from spinach to mushrooms to eggplant. In these plant-forward times, what varieties can you create?
It’s hard to deny the growing mainstream appeal of plant-based foods. The grocery store giant Kroger recently announced it was launching Simple Truth Plant Based, its own line of plant-based burgers and sausages, as a generic alternative to premium plant-based brands. Impossible Foods has won celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jay Z, Serena Williams and Katy Perry. You’re likely experimenting with more plant-based options on your menu. But could you default to vegetables? The University of Cambridge may offer a glimpse into what that might look like for you. Hospitality and Catering News reports that the university’s catering service, which operates 14 outlets and manages more than 1,500 hospitality events each year, removed all beef and lamb from its menus in 2016, replacing those items with plant-based options as part of a new Sustainable Food Policy. In making the changes, the university set out to reduce its consumption of meat, improve and increase the availability of plant-based options, remove unsustainable fish from its menus and reduce food waste. In the process, the university catering service trained its chefs in vegan cooking and its café managers in marketing for sustainability as opposed to profit. In the years since the university implemented its Sustainable Food Policy, it has been able to share dramatic effects with its guests. Despite a rise in how much food the university purchased, overall carbon emissions across the university catering service have dropped by 10.5 percent, according to the report. Further, there was a 33 percent reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased and a 28 percent reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased. Finally, even though food costs have increased since the university launched its policy, its gross profits have increased by 2 percent.
‘Tis the season for snacking – and dips are always a welcome part of the holiday spread. In Whole Foods’ recent report on food and drink trends for the coming year, dips and dippable spreads feature prominently. It identified a number of plant-based ingredients including grains, beans and seeds that mimic the texture of yogurt and other dairy products. Watch for these newcomers as potential bases for dips. Further, the company sees a growing interest from brands in developing dips and spreads that are not only keto- and paleo-friendly but are also mindful of the environment. Many of these dips and spreads eliminate ingredients like palm oil and include sustainably grown seeds and nuts. Beyond the usual spreads and dips with bases of tahini, chickpeas, peanuts, cashews and almonds, look for new options made from such ingredients as watermelon seeds and pumpkin.
As the plant-forward movement continues to build momentum, innovation is coming in the form of new applications of parts of the plant that haven’t previously made it to the menu. As Technomic’s recent forecast of 7 Key Trends for 2020 predicts, waste-averse chefs are finding uses for such ingredients as beet greens, sweet potato leaves and avocado blossom, as well as snacks, desserts and drinks made from seaweed and sea beans.
Interested in offering more plant-based proteins but can’t quite get past the texture problem? As technology firms attempt to make a burger or steak that replicates the experience of the real thing, they are experimenting with some futuristic ways of delivering it. The Spoon reports that such methods as 3D printing – Novameat and Redefine Meat are two companies using this approach – are being used to print plant protein into fibrous strands that imitate the texture of animal protein. Other companies, including Atlast Foods, Prime Roots and Emergy Foods, are using mushroom roots made through fermentation. But what seems to have the most promise in delivering meat-like texture is gelatin, which melts when cooked and more closely mimics the texture of a steak. Harvard scientists recently reported success in growing cow and rabbit cells on a scaffold made from gelatin.
Even if you don’t think insects have a direct place in the food you serve (cricket cookies, anyone?), they could still play a large role in lab-grown cells that could eventually become replacements for such foods as shrimp, lobster or even hybrid alternatives to plant-based meat. That’s according to a new study out of Tufts University that found that insect cells are especially good building blocks for other proteins because they are safe, nutritional and cost-effective — qualities that put them in a more favorable position than lab-grown beef at the moment. A Fast Company report said that while lab-grown insect meat still has a ways to go before it’s ready to market — researchers still need to determine how to develop the cells into the muscle and fat that builds the meat-like structure of the protein — the study provides a strong basis for insects as the basis of related crustacean-like proteins on menus down the line.
Even as plant-based meat companies continue to improve upon their offering and make it easy to be a vegetarian or flexitarian these days, are the committed carnivores in your midst likely to order an Impossible Burger? Or a plant-based steak or stack of bacon? Perhaps not. Cell-based meat may have some promise here. Despite its current high cost, and questions about how it will be regulated and about whether it is actually better for the environment than conventional meat, the deciding factor may be taste. As reported in The Spoon, food tech companies are still in the midst of taste testing products ranging from cell-based sausages to shrimp, and the first public sale of cell-based meat is likely to happen late this year. Look for more companies to emerge (and for prices to start to fall) next year.
As Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger compete for market share and fast-casual and quick-service brands scramble to bring meat substitutes to their menus, don’t forget some other plant-based meat alternatives that may suit your menu well. In a recent Upserve survey of 9,000 restaurant operators, jackfruit had climbed 52 percent on menus in the past year. Unripe jackfruit has a taste and texture that mimic meat and can work well as a pork or chicken substitute. It is also nutrient-rich, containing calcium, iron and potassium, and because it is a natural plant-based protein, it may appeal to guests looking to consume more whole foods.
Who needs meat? As menus become more plant-focused, chefs are taking cues from meat preparation so consumers are less likely to miss the carnivorous experience. Datassential points out that one trend to watch in the coming months is that cooking and preparation methods once reserved for meat are making the leap to produce. (Coffee rubs, once in the purview of barbecue, are now being used on root vegetables like beets.)