Add increased selection and tasty preparations to the good nutrition and overall wholesomeness long associated with vegetables, and you have a food group that’s claiming an ever bigger portion of the dinner plate. Farmers are growing new, colorful varieties, creative chefs are whipping up flavorful vegetable dishes in restaurants and prepared food counters, and glossy magazines feature tempting vegetable recipes that exploit seasonal bounty.
Vegetables and the side dishes they grace have moved into the culinary forefront, according to the Vegetables & Sides: Culinary Trend Mapping Report recently released by leading market research publisher Packaged Facts and the Center for Culinary Development (CCD).
“This explosion of farmers’ markets with new and different varieties of vegetables has raised American consumers’ vegetable IQs and influenced their lifestyles by encouraging them to add new vegetable-centric products to their diets,” says Kimberly Egan, CEO of CCD. “And not just as sides, but as green breakfast smoothies, meatless entrées and even desserts made with vegetables that all extend vegetables into new dayparts.”
Many consumers can now identify several types of heirloom tomatoes, which have opened the door for more exotic vegetables from watermelon radishes to kabocha squash to sea vegetables. Simultaneously, consumers are showing a renewed interest in growing their own produce and are either turning their yards into garden plots or are making a weekly trip to the farmers market their main and most enjoyable food shopping event. Supermarkets are responding both by retooling produce sections and by purveying a wider range of convenience and value-added products such as pre-chopped mirepoix for soup making or peeled butternut squash cubes for easy roasting or stir-frying.
Vegetables & Sides: Culinary Trend Mapping Report, designed to help participants in the food industry seize a leading position in new product development, profiles several hot trends using CCD’s proprietary Trend Mapping® methodology:
- Fried Brussels Sprouts — Brussels sprouts are now taking a dive into the deep-fryer as restaurants and food trucks feature fried Brussels sprouts as a snack or side dish. What chefs have taken to doing to Brussels sprouts might seem to cancel out their health benefits, but that isn’t deterring diners.
- Savory Baked Goods — Creative and whimsical pastry chefs are now raiding the savory pantry and adding vegetables to their sweet creations resulting in delicacies such as Smoked White Chocolate Parfaits with Fennel Mousse and Beet Cake with Fromage Blanc Frosting. By highlighting the unique flavors and mild sweetness of vegetables in desserts, these chefs are ranging far beyond standards such as carrot cake and zucchini bread as well renouncing the old trick of hiding vegetable content to get more veggies into kids’ diets.
- Sea Vegetables — Long appreciated in several cultures across the globe, sea vegetables such as nori, dulse and kelp are washing up on menus and even on grocery shelves as more Americans learn to appreciate their distinctive flavors and nutritional powers. The salty, briny taste of sea vegetables can provide umami flavor to dishes and be used as a seasoning, ground and added to spice rubs, spice blends, vegetable coating batters, rice dishes and stir fries.
- Kale — With its soul food resonance, superfood profile, and health foodie advocates, this leafy green could very well follow the path that baby spinach and bagged greens have taken in the past decade and become a mainstream addition to the weekly shopping list.
- Stage 2: Vegetable Juices Redux – As consumers (particularly Millennials) look for ways to work in their five-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables, they are turning to hip fresh veggie juice bars and carts and a range of trendy veggie juice detox cleansing programs.
- Farro — Carb lovers are opening their minds to alternative grains such as farro (or emmer wheat) that pack more nutritional punch. Fine dining currently is taking cues from the farro-based pasta, bread, croissants, flatbreads, cookies, crackers and soup mixes enjoyed in Italy.
- Sweet Potatoes — Never a hard sell, sweet potatoes have long been featured in classic American holiday dishes. But new uses for sweet potatoes are being seen across all stages of the Trend Map®, including at Stage 5 sweet potato fries in quick-service restaurants.