Eat to Live, Live to Eat
By Shane O’Brien – Culinary Consultant
Fascinating trends never stop in the world of food, and largely it revolves around ingredients and raw materials.
One interesting feature of consumer interest is within the area of wellness. Stress relief and food have a long relationship. Take, for instance, mushrooms and the clever but proven approach taken by the Finnish-American food and beverages company specializing in mushroom-based drinks, Four sigmatic. Their “Mushroom Hot Chocolate” contains an adaptogen known as reishi, which may induce calmness to help you sleep better and lower occasional stress. This is not a fluke either; according to a story on Healthline, “In 2021, we’ll notice more food and beverage companies coming out with products that contain these ingredients with an emphasis on reducing stress and improving sleep, which is also linked to better mental health.”
Other examples of emerging trends are, of course, in the plant-based space. Beyond Meat, well on its way to becoming a household name, has more to offer than a burger patty replacement.
The Deep-Fried Philly Eggroll from the Vegan A.F. truck located in Los Angeles, specifically in the eastern part of Fairfax District, takes Beyond Meat and seasons it heavily, adds plant-based cheese, and to add necessary texture and acidity, a little giardiniera. This all gets filled into an egg roll shell and then crisped up in the deep-fryer.
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The plant-based lifestyle is moving from an emerging trend to a sustained one, as we have seen in recent years in the form of U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increasing 11 percent from 2018 to 2019.
Food Trends for a Happier, Healthier 2021
By Natasha Reta, Culinary Consultant
Food trends in 2021 are focused on health and sustainability, which is surprisingly delicious. These healthy trends are flavorful and exciting. Try them out for healthy alternatives when you are tired of the same old same old.
Canned or cooked from raw, chickpeas are an amazing source of fiber and protein. Besides exploding on the market in various hummus flavors, chickpea is also used as a gluten-free flour alternative. And because we all love chickpeas so much, we found yet another alternate way to use chickpeas, by using their water waste. Also known as Aquafaba. The starchy liquid leftover from cooked chickpeas can be used to make vegan whipped cream, mayo, plant butter, egg substitute, and more! Don’t want to cook it from raw? Try opening a can and saving the liquid you would normally drain out.
If left on the tree, banana blossom would grow into bananas, but this blossom may be the next new plant-based alternative for vegan meat. When cooked, the tightly packed petals of the banana blossom mimic the flaky texture of fish. The dark purple husk of the blossom is removed to reveal tender, yellow-green leaves inside. The taste has been compared to artichoke or bamboo shoots. Although not readily available fresh in areas that do not produce bananas, these blossoms are also sold canned, jarred, and sometimes frozen.
It sounds like a mythical creature, but in fact, it’s a hardy shrub with thorny branches, willowy leaves, and bright orange-yellow berries. A native of Asia and Europe, this small berry has been emerging in popularity due to its high amount of vitamin c and B12. It’s used in juices, preserves, smoothies, chocolate, and even skincare products. Look for sea buckthorn berries dried in your local health market.
Made of sesame seeds, this treat is popular in the Middle East and seen on brunch platters and served as dessert. It is currently being sold on the market in various products, including shelf-stable halva slices and halva butter. Halva originated in Persia as a mash of dates and milk. As preparations varied throughout its discovery, the word began to refer to any confectioners sweet made of a mash and flour or semolina paste. This sesame seed version is a later modified recipe adopted by the Ottoman Turks. This halva has a dry and crumbled texture that dissolves into a sugary sweet paste on your tongue with warm notes of toasted sesame seeds.
Tired of the same grains? Fonio is an ancient grain from Senegal that is gluten-free, high in dietary fiber, and supports sustainable land use. It is growing in popularity due to its use in porridge, couscous, bread, and even beer. The fonio millet species grows to maturity in as little as six to eight weeks and grows in dry climates without irrigation and poor soil. Compared to quinoa in texture, fonio is also used as a gluten-free ingredient in chips, cereals, and crackers.
Lab-Grown Meat…Yea or Nay?
Lab-grown meat. It sounds unnatural and like something from a sci-fi novel. But it may very well be the driving force to end meat consumption as our developing world currently struggles to produce and distribute meat, poultry, fish, and more.
The pandemic disrupted meat production at US meat packaging plants and caused worldwide panic about a potential meat shortage. This gave way for plant-based products such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to step up to the plate as viable alternatives. Yet, it has not replaced the consumer’s desire for meat with its very prominent texture and taste. This has led to the development of many “lab-grown” meat start-ups within a scientific base without taking up the footprint of a large pasture.
To develop this lab-grown meat, scientists must isolate stem cells from animals, allowing them to multiply in a lab under monitored conditions to regenerate fat, muscle, and tissues. One of the biggest challenges is replicating our conventional meat’s nutritional characteristics, taste, and texture. Companies estimate, on average, about three weeks of cultivation to produce the same amount of meat you would get from a cow that had to live for 18 months.
Just as all meat, the FDA will have a significant role in the regulation of lab-grown meat. On the one hand, these companies will not have to maintain such rigorous regulations such as slaughter and bacterial inspections. Instead, a federally recognized and approved lab will produce all the products.
This still may not be enough incentive and security in the consumer’s mindset to step fully into mass production and marketing of lab-grown meat products. It is, however, a step towards the production of something that could potentially help us reduce land waste and methane levels. “Lab-grown meat and stem cell regeneration” may not sound appetizing, but is it the next proactive solution to aid in preserving our land? Will you try a lab-grown burger at your next BBQ?
The Top Food Trends of 2021
While much of 2020 was about stocking up the pantry with nonperishables and desperately Googling “curbside takeout near me,” 2021 should be a whole new ballgame for the food industry. After a year of being in survival mode, expect to see some welcome food and beverage trends, many of which put a renewed focus on health’s flavor.
The Delicious, Nutritious Chickpea
Chickpeas are gaining popularity as a hearty, meatless alternative that doesn’t skimp on protein and has a distinctive, nutty flavor. While it has been in mainstream grocery stores for decades as the primary ingredient in hummus, expect to see more of it in 2021, even in its non-mashed form. It may appear in traditional middle eastern stews, as a main ingredient in dressed-up vegetarian tacos, and even take center stage in fancy tapas. It can also be used as a wheat alternative in the form of chickpea flour. Gluten-free bakers, rejoice!
If you think of mushrooms primarily as a pizza topping, it’s time to hit the books. Adaptogenic mushrooms have been used medicinally for decades in East Asian medical practices. Health gurus boast some strains of mushrooms as ways to reduce brain fog, increase immunity, and lower stress levels. Expect to see these in health food stores and beyond.
Birria originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Traditionally, it is a long-marinated pulled meat, usually goat or lamb, although it might include beef in the United States. The meat is placed inside a tortilla, topped with cilantro and red onion, and then served with a side of broth for dipping. It has been on the rise as a menu item in Mexican restaurants for the latter half of 2020, and it should continue to gain traction in 2021.
Plant-based burgers will be even more popular in 2021, being offered at restaurants and even commanding their own aisle in grocery stores. With so many deceptively meaty burgers on the market to choose from, which one should you pick? The New York Times ran a blind taste test of six top brands and reported their findings to help you make an informed decision. Expect to see more meatless “jerkies” as well, including mushroom and jackfruit jerky.
Hard seltzers have been having a bit of a moment lately. Expect the catalog of all that is bubbly and boozy to expand a bit this coming year to make room for hard seltzer’s hipster older brother, hard kombucha. When the health benefits of probiotic Scoby meets the buzz of a beer, what’s not to love?
A Whole New Oil
Expect to see many new oils beyond your traditional olive, peanut, and vegetable oils this year. Some will emerge for their unique flavor, some for health benefits, and others because of their high smoke point, which allows you to cook things like jalapeños without the fumes burning your eyes. Pumpkin seed oil, sunflower seed oil, and avocado oil may make an appearance in salad dressings, too.
These Japanese sandwiches started as a convenience store staple. Traditionally, they have katsu—a fried pork cutlet—in the middle. Now they’ve taken a more gourmet turn and can contain just about anything, from egg to salted beef to strawberry. As a snack that proudly displays its middle, restaurants may go overboard in their offerings in hopes of free advertising. This snack is so ‘grammable,’ some chefs are opting to stuff it with picture-perfect, edible gold foil.
Spicy and sweet have made quite the duo in the past, and this time it’s no different. Expect to see this devilishly sweet condiment drizzled on everything from fried chicken to ice cream. What makes it hot? In a recipe for homemade hot honey, Bon Appétit suggests using chiles like Thai, Fresno, or Holland.
People are becoming “sober curious,” which started happening even before quarantine forced us to reexamine our daily habits. After the success of Dry January in 2020, CNN Travel ran a piece about how non-alcoholic craft cocktails were changing the bar scene. Until recently, non-alcoholic options were slim for any bar patron not wanting to consume alcohol for various reasons, including pregnancy, liver problems, or just an overall desire to cut back. Now companies like Seedlip and Stryyk are making it their mission to distill high-end non-alcoholic liquors that can be a part of a cocktail that is as carefully hand-crafted as a boozy one.
Are you evolving your menu to meet new tastes and demands? How are you keeping your management, chefs, and staff abreast of new food trends? Don’t underestimate the power of conversation, knowledge, and training! If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you have to keep your restaurant staff in sync. Synergy Sync is an integrated training and operations management platform created by restaurant leaders for restaurant leaders. Increase sales with consistent, quality training, maximize labor efficiently utilizing our app-based, results-oriented training program. Schedule a virtual tour to learn more about Synergy Sync and how it can accelerate your training and help your team thrive and succeed.
We asked some of our Synergy consultants about the new favorite ingredients they’ve discovered and used lately. Check these out for inspiration:
“I’ve been enjoying espelette pepper recently. The smoky, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor gives a new dimension to roasted meats and fish.”
Dean Small, Founder & Managing Partner
“I really enjoy experimenting with dry Spanish chorizo because it’s so versatile. You can eat it as is, dice it and cook it crispy to add to egg dishes, and the oil is great to whisk into a vinaigrette.”
Operations & Beverage Consultant
“I like to use sodium citrate in the test kitchen to make cheese slices or sauces out of any cheese, even those that don’t melt well normally.”
Natasha Reta, Chef/Culinary Consultant
“If you haven’t had a chance to use green almonds, definitely check them out. They’re basically unripe almonds, and they are great for pickling or for making a delicately flavored almond soup.”
Anne Haerle, Concept Development & Culinary Consultant
With customer interest in global cuisines continuing to grow, restaurants are constantly challenged to develop dishes that deliver enticing combinations of flavors from across the globe. At the same time, menu trends like spicy condiments and superfoods are riding strong. By merging these trends with new players on the ingredient scene, restaurants can ride the waves of the latest trends and create unique eating experiences for their guests.
Below are some emerging ingredients and preparations that you can use to keep ahead of the global flavor curve:
Heat Seeking: Searching for the Next Spicy Condiment
The appetite for tongue-torching hot sauces shows no sign of waning. Now that Sriracha graces almost as many restaurant tables as ketchup, restaurants are looking for hot condiments beyond harissa and sambal oelek. Enter ajvar, a fire-roasted red pepper condiment from the Balkans that brings the heat. Preparations like this add smokiness, fruitiness, and a spicy kick to meats, sandwiches, and as a dip. An option to typical red pepper flakes is urfa biber, a Turkish dried chili pepper with smoky and raisin-like flavor notes. Use urfa bibier as a garnish on roasted meats, or in your own custom spice blends.
Go with Your Gut: Expanding the Range of Fermented Drinks
With awareness of gut health reaching mainstream status, fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha continue to grow in popularity. To stay at the forefront of this trend, try tepache, a fermented pineapple-based drink from Mexico. With added flavor from cinnamon and unprocessed brown sugar, tepache can be offered as a “mocktail” for guests craving unique flavors in their healthy beverages.
Origin Story: Exploring the World of Superfoods
The search for foods that improve physical and mental health grows daily as restaurant guests connect what they’re eating with how they feel. Ingredients like kale, beans, avocado, acai, and coconut often appear on top ten superfoods lists. A new contender from the Philippines is pili nuts, which resemble an oversized almond. Their status as a complete protein with a high mineral content launches them into the superfood category. They can be added to salads as a topping, incorporated into nut mixes, or ground into flour for baking.
Spice Hunter: Delving into Exotic Spices
Another way to add a global touch to your dishes lies in exploring exotic or little-known spices to create new flavor combinations. One such spice on the rise is grains of paradise, hailing from West Africa. With its distinctive taste and aroma of black pepper, cardamom, citrus, and florals, this intriguing spice can be used to flavor seafood, drinks, or sweets. Another exotic spice to sample is anardana, the dried seeds of pomegranate arils. They contain many of the same flavor qualities of pomegranate juice and can add a sour flavor and crunch to a number of dishes or cocktails.
Fruity Goodness: Sample Some Far-Flung Fruits
If you’ve never branched out from apples, pears, and grapes, it’s time to venture into the world of little-known fruits. Besides dragon fruit and jackfruit, which are appearing on a greater number of menus, take a look at calamansi, a unique citrus fruit from the Philippines. With a sour yellow flesh and a skin that’s bright green and sweet, this flavor powerhouse can add new dimensions to desserts, salads, and drinks.
If you want to amp up the Instagram factor of a plain fruit salad, give cucamelons a whirl. They look like tiny watermelons with a taste reminiscent of cucumber, and they provide a stunning visual quality to sweet and savory dishes, or as a cocktail garnish.
Incorporate some of these ingredients to bring a unique global twist to a number of dishes on your menu and add a new level of culinary innovation to satisfy the curiosity of new and existing guests.
Ingredient Spotlight: Black Lime
A foodservice operator must always be on top of how to keep things innovative, fresh, and on-trend at their restaurant. A way to do this is to experiment with different ingredients to develop novel flavors and, in turn, memorable dishes that keep guests coming back for more. In the Synergy Test Kitchen, our chefs often incorporate new foods, spices and techniques for our clients and today we want to introduce you to an extraordinary item.
You’ve probably heard of black garlic – aged garlic with an earthy taste and sticky texture. You’re probably familiar with black rice, which has a mild and nutty flavor and believed to have many nutritional benefits. Have you’ve heard of black limes (also known as loomi)? Yes, there is such a thing! This lime isn’t naturally black; however—its black color comes after the lime is dried out in the sun (after it’s first boiled in saltwater). Now, this isn’t a new food. Black limes are often used in Middle Eastern cooking which is from where the black citrus fruit hails.
The big question: What’s it taste? The flavor is strong—citrusy, tangy, sweet, and tart. The second big question: How do you cook with it? In Persian cuisine, often black limes are used to add a sour flavor to stews and soups. You will also see black lime used to season fish and rice dishes. Used, whole or ground, the black lime can be a very versatile ingredient. Mixologists find creative ways to integrate into their cocktail menus like Lee Zaremba’s Devereaux Daiquiri, which features aged white rum, aguardiente, kiwi syrup, lime juice and shaved black lime garnish.
We love how creative some chefs are in their use of black limes. Grant Achatz infuses them in his Korean-style sauce used at his three-Michelin-star restaurant, Alinea. Jessica Koslow from Sqirl in Los Angeles adds dried limes to her chicken porridge.
So go ahead and try cooking with black limes! You can find them at Middle Eastern grocery stores, and apparently, it’s quite simple to make on your own, too.
Best from Foodservice and Hospitality Expos 2019
What a year 2019 has been for the foodservice industry! We were fortunate enough to travel the country to check out the latest trends, greatest tools, as well as the movers and shakers in the hospitality space. It was a delight to engage in person with others and to get hands-on experience with restaurant innovation. Our Chef, Anne Haerle and Synergy co-founder Dean Small, were invited to share their knowledge and expertise in workshops, specifically on menu innovation techniques and how to increase sales. We want to take this opportunity to share with you our insights from our trips to food shows and restaurant discoveries.
During our trip to the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show in New York and the Healthy Food Expo, we learned about many new products and several tech-driven device demonstrations. Notable robotic devices included the Suzumo automated sushi maker and a very impressive salad-making vending machine called Sally The Robot by Chowbotics. Sally is a robot that vends fresh salads, bowls, and snacks 24/7 in just a 3×3 space.
Eco-friendly packaging and plant-based foods made a consistent splash at the restaurant and foodservice conventions we visited. Zero-plastic straws made from brown rice from Edible Ecoware, as well as spoons you can eat made by Planeteer, were a couple of innovative items we came across. In the beverage space, “CBD-infused” certainly abounded, be it in sparkling water or water-soluble CBD powder that can be mixed into your coffee! More in drink trends: plant-based alternative milk like oat milk, collagen, mushrooms/adaptogen powders and draft lattes. Healthy food in the form of microgreens has been something we’ve seen a lot of this year with an emphasis on how to grow your own in-house.
There were some exceptionally memorable gadgets we found to be unique such as Snow Van’s machine that made a snow dessert out of virtually any liquid. Over at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando, we also checked out technology that printed custom selfies on drinks! At the NRA Show, Dean was especially impressed with Peel-A-Ton from Astra Inc., a machine that quickly and efficiently peels veggies and fruits.
We are excited to see what 2020 has in store for the restaurant industry! Please follow us on social media to keep updated on the latest trends in food and hospitality as we traverse the globe on our culinary discoveries.
Success in the Restaurant Business (When It’s Not Your Business)
Today’s non-commercial foodservice providers face more pressures than the average restaurant. So how do you stay competitive and wow your guests?
The dining public has high expectations that continue to grow. Whether it’s organic ingredients, local sourcing, fair trade certified, or cruelty-free, today’s restaurant guests expect that their standards for quality, as well as their dietary needs, are met at every meal. Restaurants with experienced back-of-house teams strive to meet these ever-changing demands while keeping food and staffing costs at bay.
Whether ordering a post-workout smoothie at their gym, buying lunch at their corporate café, or treating their family to snacks at an amusement park, foodservice customers assume that they will have their pick of high quality, better-for-you menu options no matter where they’re eating.
This long-standing trend puts additional pressure on businesses that operate dining facilities but aren’t traditional foodservice operators. Amusement parks, family entertainment centers, corporate and college cafeterias, airports, and housing communities are just a few of the entities who have been forced to upgrade their menu options and food quality to serve a demanding dining public. Rather than seeing this challenge as an inconvenience, institutions and corporations with F&B programs can develop dining strategies that create a competitive advantage.
Amusement Parks and Entertainment Centers: Bringing the Wow with Wellness
In our recent work with water parks, family entertainment centers, and amusement parks, the challenge is to balance the expectation of “fun foods” with a growing desire for healthier options. We’ve addressed these needs by raising the level of food quality in ingredient sourcing for menu items with wide appeal. For example, using a blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib for burgers and top-shelf ice cream for milkshakes greatly enhances flavor and gives the operator a greater value proposition to promote on their menus. In addition, by building these items with greater plating presence and over-the-top garnishes, guests looking for these fun foods to complement their experience are willing to pay a bit more for visual appeal.
At the same time, not every amusement park guest wants burgers and shakes. Creating healthier options that still convey a brand personality infused with fun provides an interesting culinary challenge. Items like elote corn with herb garnishes and grain bowls with interesting blends of roasted vegetables deliver color, depth of flavor, and appealing options for vegetarian and vegan guests. Offering these better-for-you items appeals to adults who bring children to amusement parks but want a better meal for themselves. This type of menu approach satisfies a wide range of guests and, if promoted correctly, can provide a compelling point of difference for the park operator.
Colleges and Universities: Aligning with Guests Needs and Values
The drab cafeteria offerings on college campuses are largely a thing of the past, considering today’s student demands and increased competition. The typical college dining hall has been replaced with vibrant food stations and grab-and-go options to cater to a generation more inclined to snack than sit down to eat. In addition, university cafeterias no longer have a lock on the student dining population. Restaurants looking to appeal to college-age audiences build a part of their real estate strategy around securing locations near college campuses and offering promotions and delivery deals geared toward students.
So how do college dining halls compete with the marketing power and brand recognition of large restaurant chains? One strategy is to align their operations with the expectations and values of their student customers. Besides being focused on ingredient quality and sourcing, college-age customers are also concerned with sustainability, reducing food waste, and eliminating food insecurity. Along with meeting the menu variety and student health concerns, university foodservice outlets can develop programs to donate leftovers to local food banks, collect food scraps for composting, and offering specially priced meals for students on strict budgets.
Solutions for Non-commercial Foodservice Operators
Considering the pressures on noncommercial food outlets for menu innovation and operating efficiencies, how do these hospitality providers stay competitive? Partnerships offer a compelling solution for companies who would rather pay an outside operator to provide food service within the facility. For example, Sodexo is partnering with plant-based chain Veggie Grill to install outlets on select university and college campuses next year. On the upside, contract foodservice operators like HMS Host provide a turnkey solution for institutions who don’t want the pressures of being in the food service business.
For smaller operators such as residential clubhouses or country clubs with a limited customer base, using a contract operator may not be an option due to low volume. So what’s the solution? Work with an experienced food service provider or consultant to help develop a scaled foodservice solution that can be operated successfully with a lean staff and minimal overhead. For example, smaller operators can take cues from restaurants who have scaled their operations to fit the smaller footprints of food halls and food trucks but still provide innovate and vibrant menus that appeal to today’s diner with minimal space and maximum food quality.
Meeting today’s expectations for food quality, convenience, and sustainability doesn’t have to be a chore. Contact Synergy to help turn your noncommercial foodservice operation into a competitive advantage and profit center.
Trend Alert: CBD Meets Food
CBD is all the rage now. You probably have heard this term thrown around these days and seen them on the labels of various products and advertisements– CBD tinctures, lotions, capsules, oils and even CBD infused food and drink (Carl’s Jr. debuted a CBD burger in Denver earlier this year). CBD is the acronym for “cannabidiol,” a chemical compound found in cannabis plants. And after the Farm Bill (Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) passed, more and more CBD products seem to be flooding the market.
Why all the rage? CBD has been touted for its health benefits as a natural remedy, primarily for seizure and pain relief, without psychoactive effects. It’s also been marketed and used for anxiety, autoimmune and skin diseases, to name a few. However, at the moment the strongest evidence for effectiveness is for the treatment of epilepsy. Regardless of the efficacy, CBD’s popularity has surged and is making its way into the foodservice industry.
According to the 2019 What’s Hot Culinary Survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, plant-based ingredients, including cannabis and CBD, and zero-waste cooking will be the hottest overall culinary trends of the year. We’re seeing cookies, sparkling water, popcorn, chips and even matcha powder infused with CBD. Mixologists around the country can be found experimenting with CBD in their cocktails and restaurants like James New York NoMad are serving up dishes like butter lettuce salad with gorgonzola and pear vinaigrette (containing 20 mg of CBD).
But before you get your culinary creative juices flowing and begin thinking about CBD menu items, take note– CBD legality and restriction varies among states amid regulatory uncertainty.