“There are marvelous opportunities to create new products with vibrant vegetables,” foodservice expert Nancy Kruse told attendees at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. “Vegetables have a halo of health, which gives you permission to innovate.”
Vegetables are the hottest category on the menu of America’s restaurants over the past four years, Kruse says, citing industry data based on number of product mentions on restaurant menus.
Following the popularity explosion of kale and cauliflower in recent years comes “the great carrot revival” in 2018. Roasted carrots are rising quickly on menus, showing an increase of 124 percent in the past four years, according to Datassential.
Kale, brussels sprouts and little gem lettuce rank Nos. 1, 2 and 3 since 2014.
All-vegan New York City deli Orchard Grocer features a bagel topped with spice-rubbed carrots instead of lox, along with cashew cream cheese and capers. Others across the nation offer such carrot-inspired foods as ravioli with a carrot-ricotta filling, street tacos topped with barbecued carrots, and salads dressed in a carrot vinaigrette. Acclaimed Detroit restaurant Lady of the House raises the bar with its unique carrot “steak” made with carrots, hollandaise and pesto and presented much like an appetizing filet mignon.
Lady of the House owner Kate Williams, named as one of America’s 10 best chefs by Food & Wine, puts a vegetable spin on a favorite dessert with her version of potato donuts, which are served with chamomile sauce, dried yogurt and sugared thyme.
James Beard award winner Anna Sortun of Sofra Bakery & Cafe in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says bakers can capitalize on unique flavors of Turkish and Lebanese flatbreads by featuring vegetable toppings. Using red pepper paste, she adds a “vegetable quality” to flatbreads, which translates into more appeal for America’s growing numbers of vegetarians. “Middle Eastern flatbread is used like a sponge to absorb juices of chopped vegetables,” Sortun says.
Earlier this year, Pie Five Pizza became the first casual pizza chain to introduce cauliflower pizza crust. The new crust is gluten-free and contains 40 net carbohydrates, which is less than half of the net carbohydrates in any of Pie Five’s other crusts.
America’s youngest consumers are learning to become health-conscious themselves. According to Mintel, 60% of parents with kids aged 12-17 in the household report saying “no” to their kids’ food and drink choices based on sugar content.
This has influenced Gen Z, as one quarter of teens aged 15-17 say they worry about staying healthy.
“Generation Z has come of age at a time when health and wellness is a major consideration. However, health is multi-faceted for this group, suggesting that better-for-you formulations such as craveable fruits and vegetables can be expanded to give this generation options that fit with their ever-changing diet priorities,” says Dana Macke, associate director of Lifestyles and Leisure Reports at Mintel.