As plant-based trends reach global phenomenon status, its rising mainstream appeal is driving expansion into different categories and an accelerated demand for new formats and more sophisticated alternatives.
When thinking about plant-based dairy alternatives, food professionals must think beyond plant-based milks. The category has expanded into a broader range of non-dairy drinks, yogurts, cheeses, creamers and butters.
The U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods reached a record $4.5 billion in 2019, according to the Plant Based Foods Association. Dairy alternatives make up the largest share at 68%.
In addition to plant-based ingredients, more and more consumers are looking for menu items using nutritious, clean-label ingredients, free from preservatives and additives, which provide a higher degree of transparency for consumers.
Innova Market Insights recently named clean label and transparency in its Top Ten Trends for 2021.
Overall, this uptick in demand for great-tasting, plant-based, clean-label dairy alternatives represents enormous potential for foodservice operators to attract new customers in 2021 and beyond.
So how do walnuts fit in? With walnuts, foodservice operators can deliver nutritious, plant-based, clean-label menu items that are versatile, easy to use and taste great.
Ten years ago, consumers accepted that eating "healthy" foods often meant sacrificing taste. Fast-forward, and consumers are demanding menu items that do it all. Today, healthful indulgence has become the holy grail of plant-based menuing.
In a 2019 consumer survey, taste was cited as the number one reason for consuming walnuts. In addition, 90% of consumers recognized walnuts as a nutritious food and 78% said the health benefits of walnuts positively impacted their purchase decision.
Walnuts are packed with good fats—they are the only nut with an excellent source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) at 2.5 grams per ounce. In addition, walnuts are a good source of protein (4g/oz), fiber (2g/oz) and magnesium (45mg/oz). There is a wealth of research showing walnuts' health benefits from weight management to heart health to cognition.
Taste, Texture and Versatility
In the spirit of consumer demand for plant-based, clean-label menu items that taste good and are nutritious, as foodservice operators innovate, they are looking at walnuts beyond just a salad topper or for use in baked goods, and more than ever as a flavorful plant-based dairy alternative. California walnuts are incredibly versatile for both savory and sweet applications, and can be used as a showcase ingredient in innovative plant-based menuing. The mild flavor and texture of walnuts makes them a versatile dairy-free ingredient for flavor profiles in a wide range of foods.
Using walnuts in your plant-forward menu creations
According to Data Bridge Market Research, the walnut milk market is expected to grow at a rate of 7.9% between 2020 and 2027.
Walnut milk can be used for a variety of menu items from breakfast to dinner to dessert and more. For a breakfast item, try this Walnut Milk Porridge with Berries, or for a specialty beverage item, try this Salted Honey & Walnut Milk Latte. Always a favorite, your customers won't believe this Walnut Ice Cream is dairy-free.
Did you know a simple blend of walnuts and water (a 2:1 ratio) transforms into a smooth cream? This wholesome walnut cream can be used as a thickener in a variety of recipes—from soups and sauces, to spreads and desserts—to keep dishes plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free. The cream can be kept in cold storage for up to seven days, allowing for operational ease. Use walnut cream to make this indulgent California Walnut Cream Alfredo Sauce, or use as a thickener and add depth of flavor to this California Walnut and Mushroom Soup. It can also be used in sweet applications like a pastry cream, by adding confectioners' sugar and vanilla.
Plant-based cheese is gradually crossing over to the mainstream, and as the plant-based food category continues to gain popularity, the demand for dairy-alternative cheeses is also expected to witness notable growth in the upcoming years. With the simple addition of nutritional yeast, California walnuts can be transformed into an innovative cheese alternative that will impress chefs and consumers alike. Nutritional yeast is a clean, plant-based ingredient that offers a pleasantly cheesy flavor and is a great source of protein. Two mounded tablespoons pack as much protein as half a cup of beans and as much potassium as a small banana, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group.
When coupled with omega-rich walnuts, they become the ultimate cheese alternative superfood. Try serving this California Walnut Parmesan over pastas and salads for a light cheesy crunch that will make taste buds dance, or use this California Walnut Ricotta in sweet cannolis or a hearty lasagna to keep dishes plant-forward.
For more California walnut dairy-alternative recipe inspiration, visit walnuts.org.
For questions on using walnuts in your plant-based menu creations, please contact Emily Nordee-Rogers, Foodservice Innovation and PR for California Walnuts, at [email protected].