Why use walnuts on the menu?
- Clean label, all-natural ingredient consumers recognize
- The only tree nut with an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 ALA (2.5g/oz)
- Versatile for use in a wide range of applications, menu dayparts, cuisines
- Flavor and texture ideal for use in plant-based meat alternatives and more
It doesn't matter if you identify as a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, plant-based eating is trending. According to the NPD Group, in the past year alone plant-based protein shipments to foodservice outlets grew by 20%. The growth comes as those, including restaurants, corporate cafes, college and university dining halls and assisted living facilities are expanding their plant-based menu offerings in response to growing consumer demands and the changing preferences of their customers. According to the Good Food Institute, in 2019, 58 of the largest U.S. restaurant chains featured at least one plant-based dish on the menu, up from the previous year. Plant-based eating has been shown to appeal to young, adventurous eaters, for whom health and sustainability are growing priorities.
As this trend continues, California walnuts are ripe for inclusion as an ingredient on plant-based menus. A versatile, natural whole food that contributes beneficial nutrients to the diet, they add value consumers recognize and appreciate. And, with the unpredictability of the current COVID-19 environment and supply chain issues with animal meat proteins, new opportunities for plant-based menu items made with walnuts are arising.
While there are certainly an increasing number of plant-based options becoming available to foodservice operators, California walnuts stand out as a clean label option and are an ingredient consumers recognize. Plus, they have the added bonus of providing flavor and texture to a variety of menu items from breakfast through dinner.
Walnuts also feature a variety of functional benefits. They are the only nut to contain a significant source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic (ALA) at 2.5 grams per ounce. Plus, they also provide four grams of protein per ounce. According to a 2019 study, 80% of consumers said they know omega-3 is a good fat. This means you can boost your menu items with plant-based omega-3 ALA by simply including walnuts.
With so much to offer, it's no wonder walnuts are quickly finding their way onto the center of the plant-based plate. Let's take a deep dive into how California walnuts are making a name in the plant-based world.
Plant-based meat alternative
With walnuts, chefs and foodservice operators can mimic ingredients such as ground beef without excess ingredients and fillers. The next generation of plant-based meat alternatives will focus on clean label products, and walnuts can play a starring role due to their subtle nuttiness and exceptional texture that mimics ground beef in tacos, hamburgers and even ravioli.
At last year's National Restaurant Association Show, Azar Nuts launched "it's nature" Walnut Crumbles, a plant-based meat alternative product for foodservice operators that, when combined with legumes and spices, can be used in place of chorizo or hamburgers.
Azar chose to use walnuts in the product, saying, "they are an innovative way to use a traditional favorite. Vegan and non-vegan consumers alike gravitate to a protein alternative that's simple, familiar and soy-free. Plus, walnuts offer amazing nutritional benefits by providing antioxidants and omega-3 fats which contribute to reduced inflammation and improved heart disease risk factors. Culinary experts will appreciate the adaptability and allure of the rich, buttery and flavorful interior that walnuts will add to any recipe."
Sweet and savory applications
Walnuts fit into both sweet and savory foods, and can be used across all dayparts. And they can be ordered in different colors and sizes ranging from whole pieces to walnut meal, making them easy for back-of-house use.
Consider making a dairy-free walnut "cream" for use as a thickener in soups and sauces. Or, easily use walnuts as a gluten-free crust or alternative to breadcrumbs. With endless flavor profiles, walnuts add a wonderful contrast and texture to a variety of dishes your guests will appreciate.
The good news is, using walnuts in plant-based center-of-the-plate creations is easy. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Start by taking a plant-forward approach, and include plant-based ingredients at the center-of-the-plate and not just in side dishes.
- Rethink meat, especially when it comes to portion size. Add a walnut meat option to the menu for guests who don't eat meat. For example, you may have a "build your own bowl" format where you can offer walnut meat as an option too.
- Design menu options with the gluten-free and dairy-free customer in mind.
- Experiment and have fun with different formats and pairings to suit your operational needs.
Simply adding a plant-based version of a staple on your menu provides diners with more options and attracts adventurous eaters. For more information on how you can use walnuts in your plant-based center-of-the-plate creations, visit: https://walnuts.org/food-professionals/usage-inspiration/.