No Sideshow: Veggies Take Center

Today’s consumer is eating healthier for a cornucopia of reasons including extending their lives, reducing weight, lowering risk for chronic illness and easing inflammation. Whether its eating like cavemen, following a flexitarian diet, adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle or just working towards eating more plant-based foods, consumers are no longer pushing vegetables around their plates and if they are, it’s toward the center. Restaurants from fast-casual to fine dining are meeting consumer demands for more veggies by opening whole concepts around vegetables.  Featuring them in everything from bar snacks to entrées, chefs love veggies because of their abilities as big flavor contributors, stealth-like meat substitutes and the way they make everything more colorful. Take a look at how versatile veggies can be.

Veggies as Comfort Food – Pinterest reports a 336% increase in searches of veggies related to comfort food.[1] Consumers love substituting vegetables like cauliflower for the flours in pizza crusts, zucchini for pastas (known as zoodles) in lieu of starchy potatoes alongside their holiday roasts and turkeys.

Cauliflower – Speaking of cauliflower, it has taken over vegetable searches on Google. Google Trends reveals “cauliflower tots” searches increasing a whopping 1400% in the last five years. Cauliflower stars as the bread in comfort classics like grilled cheese and as the rice in carry out staples like Chinese fried rice, winning over the most skeptical of consumers.

Root to Leaf –  With the rise in vegetable based dining, the nose to tail movement has become the root to leaf movement. Fed by the trend of reducing waste, savvy chefs are finding new uses for the traditionally unused parts of the vegetable. Root purees, veggie top pestos, and soups made out of stalks are premiering on menus along with carrot lox that was created to help save some endangered fish. And mixologists are getting in on the action by creating “closed loop cocktails.” Great Britain-based Ryan Chetiyawardana of White Lyan and Dandelyan, and Rich Woods of Duck & Waffle are “upcycling ingredients others would bin.”[2] These cocktail masterminds have transformed lemon husks, banana skins, tomato stalks, avocado stones and even burnt toast into creations that are blowing the minds of handcraft-seeking cocktail lovers.

Aquafaba – Who knew that draining the juice from a can of beans like chickpeas could yield an amazing vegan substitute for egg whites in meringue? Called aquafaba or bean juice, this viscous liquid is being used to create beautiful vegan French macarons or a frothy meringue on the top of a whiskey sour. Aquafaba has an even more mainstream use as Soho-based condiment brand Sir Kensington’s recently launched a vegan mayonnaise called Fabanaise that also incorporates another trendy ingredient we are particularly fond of: kombu.

Fast Casual goes Vegetarian – It was only a matter of time before a totally vegetarian fast casual concept would appear and no surprise, it started in California.  Veggie Grill is one of the fastest growing Golden State concepts, showcasing the Beyond Burger, a plant-based burger that looks, cooks and tastes like a fresh beef burger. Denver-based Vital Root recently premiered in the summer of 2016 and is the vegetarian baby of local celeb chef Justin Cucci of Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox. With creative menu items like bacon made from coconut meat or sunflower seed risotto featuring butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, rainbow carrots and hazelnut chive pesto, this entry into the fast casual arena is sure to grow along with the live plant walls that are the star of the decor.

Bar bites – In a quest to support consumers wanting to eat lighter but still have a cocktail or two, chefs are incorporating veggies into fried foods and calling on street foods for some excitement. Philadelphia favorite Lo Spiedo offers with Mexican Street Corn or grilled carrots, smoky and layered with barbecue sauce and ranch dressing. Lazy Dog Café’s Togarashi Edamame and Café Gratitude’s Tostadas with Thai Coconut instead of white fish are proving that vegetarian doesn’t just mean steamed veggies.

Looking for some inspiration for your next vegetarian or vegan concept? Contact us today to see how our real food ingredients make transitioning to the center of the plate a home run.