Plant-Forward

Photo: Pumpkin Pho with Ginger Hoisin Broth, recipe developed by Dusty Cooper of Residential Dining Services at University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Plant-forward dining is moving to the centre of the plate, grabbing the attention of vegetarians and omnivores alike. When meat is removed from the plate, umami can serve as a way to build satisfying flavours.  

Umami can add a new dimension to parsnips, avocados, squash, eggplants and mushrooms, among other tasty vegetarian staples. Great vegan and vegetarian cooks know how to use umami-containing or umami-friendly ingredients to their best advantage to unlock the flavour in their dishes. For example, fermented products such as soy sauce and tamari are rich in umami and salt. A tiny dash in salad dressings, drizzled into soups or vegetable stews or onto plain steamed vegetables can intensify the flavours of the other ingredients.

Toronto-based NPD Group reports millennials are the top consumers of plant-based meat alternatives. Another core group is Gen Xers who are, in turn, raising their Gen-Z children on plant-based beverages and foods. It also notes 90 per cent of plant-based users are neither vegetarian nor vegan. Rather, they’re mainly consumers who want healthy options. Kikkoman is answering that demand with its better-for-you options, which include no preservatives added, gluten-free and less sodium options.

Darren Seifer, an NPD food-and-beverage industry analyst, notes taste is king in the plant-based food category. “Attributes such as health and convenience go far to drive consumption, but if the flavour profile falls below consumers’ expectations, then the product will likely have a short run.”

James Beard Award winner chef Alex Seidel, says while focusing on vegetables is more sustainable and healthier, “it requires more creativity and variety.”

Kikkoman’s foodservice line has a long history of inspiring chefs and Seidel appreciates the products for the layers of flavour the fermentation process brings to its soy sauces. “It adds new elements and heightens the flavour so it becomes part of the food rather than a separate sauce or condiment.”

Creative thinking when it comes to layering flavours is key to mastering plant-forward menus.

Canadian foodservice providers who have committed to providing alternative menu options for vegetarians and vegans have changed the way chefs are cooking meatless meals — infusing bold flavour profiles to create a balanced menu that appeals to anyone.

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