Americans Looking for Wiser Restaurant Menu Offerings

The many Americans who eat out increasingly are seeking wiser menu offerings.

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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Healthy, safe ingredients

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines strongly promoted increased consumption of vegetables. Gilroy, Calif.-based Gilroy Foods, a division of ConAgra, is rising to the occasion. The company recently introduced is a line of vegetable purées called GardenFrost, a subcategory of its Softfrozen line. The purées contain small amounts of maltose, a less-sweet sugar that allows the primary vegetable flavor to come though and makes them easier to work with than hard-frozen vegetable products. These can be scooped directly from the freezer.

Vegetables are no longer just side dishes. The focaccia above is packed with ConAgra Food Ingredients' GardenFrost vegetable purées.

The purées are available in flavors such as Fire-Roasted Tomato purée, Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Purée, Asian Blend, Mediterranean Blend, Latin Blend, Garlic Purée, Roasted Garlic Purée, Onion Purée, Roasted Onion Purée, Ginger Purée and Roasted Sweet Bell Pepper Purée. "They're convenient as well as healthy," says Amy Marr, director of marketing. "Using the purées to replace vegetable bases can cut the salt content in half; they're so flavorful the salt won't be missed. Some of the newer products have small chunks of the vegetables and herbs for more texture."

In addition to the Softfrozen purées, Gilroy Foods has introduced Controlled Moisture (CM) vegetables. These products use a mild dehydration process that removes 30-50 percent of the water, thereby concentrating their nutrition. Marr noted that from a nutrition standpoint, it only takes one-third of cup of CM vegetables to equal the nutrition of a half-cup of frozen or fresh vegetables.

Spicetec, Carol Stream, Ill., another ConAgra unit, has been working on new techniques to reduce salt. The traditional way, masking the bitterness of potassium chloride, is replaced with a technology that uses peptide and amino acids, called Amplify, which increases salty taste perception, boosting overall flavor, while reducing the sodium in savory formulations.

Eggs are an ingredient that repaired its unhealthy image from a few years ago. They offer high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and at relatively low cost. Worries over Salmonella has been relieved by a process that pasteurizes the egg in the shell, which allows chefs to make sunny-side-up eggs and real Caesar salad dressing. One marketer is Davidson's Pasteurized Shell Eggs. Eggs offer considerable amounts of lutein, the antioxidant that fights cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness.

Stan Hodes, executive chef and culinary manager of Baptist Health System of South Florida, includes pasteurized eggs in his menus. "The cost was moderately higher, but removing the risks associated with fresh shell-on eggs was well worth it," he says.

"I now safely serve eggs any way our patients want them, and any way our retail guests order them," Hodes continues. "We make our own dressings and sauces with fresh eggs again. As healthcare professionals, we need to stay in touch with and seriously consider these advancements in food safety."

Vegetables, too, are being treated to avoid carrying foodborne organisms. The vegetable corner of the restaurant plate, which once held a scrap of iceberg lettuce and a pale slice of tomato, now is more robust, and steamed vegetable are an alternative to potato. Many restaurants are providing baked sweet potatoes, tasty and rich in antioxidants and fiber.


City University of London report:

National Restaurant Assn.'s Market-Driven Solutions report:

ConAgra Food Ingredients:

U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council:

Plug "soy" into our web search engine and you'll get 93 articles, 14 products, 11 news stories, one whitepaper and 37 other items - that's 156 in all. If that's not enough, our Industry Links page can take you directly to the web sites of the United Soybean Board and Soy Foods Council.

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