All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice From reformulation to creating desire: Looking forward to a plant-forward future

From reformulation to creating desire: Looking forward to a plant-forward future

Panelists at the CIA's Global Plant-Forward Culinary Summit discussed what’s most exciting to them about the plant-based, plant-forward movement, where momentum and opportunities exist and what gives them hope for a plant-forward future. 

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plant-based, plant-forward menu

Plant-based, plant-forward menu

Enthusiasm for plant-forward eating continues to grow, but not without challenges, discussions at The Culinary Institute of America’s virtual Global Plant-Forward Culinary Summit explored. From reformulation of ingredients to the increased interest in “blue food,” panelists at the session titled “State of the Plate: Plant-Based, Plant-Forward, and the Future” talked about what’s most exciting to them about the plant-based, plant-forward movement, where momentum and opportunities exist and what gives them hope for a plant-forward future. 

Reformulating the American diet

Plant-based foods are offering new ways for chefs and CPG companies to reformulate dishes and food products to carry more nutritional value, whether it be fiber or protein, and panelist Larissa Zimberoff, a San Francisco-based journalist and author, said she’s seen an uptick on this focus since the pandemic.

“I’m super excited to see reformulation and how big brands, or people we think are big brands, like Beyond Meat, are reformulating to do something different with their plant-based products,” Zimberoff shared. “I think that seeing this reformulation, thinking about America’s health post-COVID, brands are thinking about how can they change their nutrition?”

As Beyond Meat announced earlier this year that it plans to revamp its product by using avocado oil instead of canola oil, lowering the sodium and increasing fiber, panelists agreed that fiber is an area of opportunity.

“I read a stat a couple of years ago that 97% of Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diet, but they all have too much protein. So for me, as an executive chef with Good Eating Company, and speaking about reformulations, I’m always curious about what types of new products are out there. What types of new functional fibers are there that can be like natural binding elements?” said Phil Saneski, executive chef of Good Eating Company, adding that he’s starting to see newer ingredients like isolated pea starch being used as a functional fiber.

Panelist Cheryl Tiu, lifestyle journalist and culinary consultant, said she’s excited to see whole fruits and vegetables being used. 

“On the restaurant side, I’ve been seeing a lot of restaurants and chefs cook a lot with whole foods, whole fruits and vegetables. So roots and fruits, but specifically in a singular dish,” Tiu said as she described a dish at a Miami restaurant that used carrot, but treated it in multiple ways, including fermented and fried. In addition, Tiu cited seeing many new plant-based products that are very specifically geared to a country or a market.

Filling the gaps

In recent years, there’s been an increase in awareness of “blue food,” or food from the ocean, as moderator Rupa Bhattacharya, executive director, strategic initiatives group at the CIA, put it, largely due to allergies.

“I think one of the areas where we lose in traditional foods is our variety is really limited because we’re just so used to the standard diet,” said Zimberoff. “It’s often referred to as the SAD diet, the standard American diet – we just go to the same things meat, potatoes, you know, it’s rice, chicken, and people think of chicken and eggs as the like just the penultimate proteins and there’s just a lot of opportunity in, I think, kelp. I think there’s just so much opportunity and so much flavor that people are turning to from allergies, that I think they’re gaining traction in that way.”

Saneski agreed, adding that replacing empty carbs, offering one-to-one protein replacements and filling nutrition gaps is a big opportunity for plant-based foods.

“There’s an opportunity to season a lot of these traditional commodity ingredients, to elevate them with kelp, whether we’re approaching it in like a dashi or we’re poaching it in something that will add more flavor that at the end of the day, is like a maitake mushroom,” he said.

Creating desire through flavor

When it comes to encouraging consumers and diners to opt for plant-based or plant-forward options, there is a certain psychology that comes into play in how dishes and products are created and presented in order to successfully draw them in.

“You have to build some sort of entry-level supporting structures that make it work,” Bhattacharya pointed out.

Saneski agreed and said he takes traditional dishes and makes them look like the meat version of it. 

“So we’ll do lentil bolognese, we’ll do celery root skewers [where] the celery root is marinated like meat, and we’ll put it on a skewer with maitake mushrooms and the color that it gets, it kind of looks like chicken shawarma and then when people eat it, they’re like ‘oh, actually, I was surprised,” he said. “But that’s what it maybe takes in some venues and some different platforms to get consumers to try it in the first place. If you tell them ‘oh yeah, this is vegan,’ they might have some preconceptions about it.”

In addition, using the right language to communicate a dish or product to consumers is crucial, as is “going beyond a one-to-one product like when you’re comparing like a chicken with a plant-based chicken,” said Saneski. “Maybe put some more nutrients into the burger bun, maybe put a little bit more miso or some shitake mushrooms into the mayo.”

Looking ahead, panelists shared what they’re most excited about when it comes to a plant-forward future: Startups continuing to rethink the plant-based food possibilities, restaurants putting more fruits and vegetables on menus and explicitly shouting out local farmers and producers and the potential of a vegetable-based future as it extends to pastries.

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