Healthful-food-hungry consumers have been keen of late on adding to their diets more superfoods, ingredients known to pack a powerful nutritional punch and provide a boost to health and well-being.
Lately chefs — and not just those at health-centric restaurants — have been adding more and more-different superfoods to everything from breakfast foods and craft cocktails to pizzas and puddings.
According to the latest research from Datassential MenuTrends, mentions of the term “superfood” have grown 20 percent on menus overall over the past year and more than 300 percent over the past four years.
While many fast-growing superfoods have become familiar fare on menus — think kale, quinoa and seaweed — creative chefs are exploring several lesser-known ingredients in an aim to add flavor and health benefits to dishes, and perhaps even boost the bottom-line.
Chia. An edible seed of a flowering plant in the mint family, chia has shown 240-percent growth on menus in the last four years, according to Datassential. The tiny seeds are versatile to cook with and are said to offer big health benefits, everything from boosting energy to reducing signs of aging to building stronger bones and muscles. Chefs appear to prefer using chia most in puddings and porridges.
Inspired by customers’ desire for healthy alternatives for breakfast and dessert, Malibu Farms in Miami Beach, Fla., serves a Raw Vegan Chia Pudding ($12; left). A cross between breakfast and dessert, the pudding is sweetened with dates and almond milk and topped with bananas.
At Cannon Green, a seasonal Mediterranean restaurant in Charleston, S.C., executive chef Michael Perez serves Chia Seed Pudding ($8) topped with local fruit and house-made granola for Sunday brunch.
“Chia seeds serve as a great base for building flavors,” said Perez. “[The Chia Pudding is] a satisfying yet healthy brunch dish that has been really popular.”
Similarly, for breakfast Chef Lauro Romero at King Tide Fish and Shell in Portland, Ore. offers a “just right” quinoa-chia porridge ($10) with gogi berries, peanuts, banana, mango jam and fruit.
Sumac. This scarlet-hued spice often used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine is known for its high concentration of antioxidants, purported to prevent heart disease and cancer, treat osteoarthritis, and lower blood sugar.
At Whole Heart Provisions, a plant-forward restaurant with locations in Allston and Cambridge, Mass., chef and co-owner Rebecca Arnold “takes fresh vegetables, extraordinary spices, and classic cooking techniques to create craveable, delicious and healthy food.”
Inspired by an Israeli falafel pita, her newest bowl, The Levant, has cucumbers, tomato, falafel, cabbage slaw, pickled cauliflower, eggplant, sesame, tahini, and harissa topped with sumac ($11.25).
“We add the sumac on top, which adds a nice lemony kick and some vibrancy to the dish,” explained Arnold.
At The White Bull in Decatur, Ga., chef Pat Pascarella recently offered a dish with roasted eggplant, tomato, buttermilk, tehina, za’atar and sumac. Also on his farm-forward, natural menu are a selection of craft cocktails ($13-$14) under a section called “prescriptions,” that includes drinks made with all manner of herbs and botanicals designed to “cure all of life’s ailments.”
Charcoal. A much-talked about — and oft-Instagrammed — ingredient in the last few years, mostly for its ability to turn food a striking black color, activated charcoal, an edible form of carbon known for its absorption, is exploding all over menus.
According to Datassential, activated charcoal appears on 300 percent more menus than it did just one year ago.
The Drawing Board in Petaluma, Calif., offers a cocktail program that pays homage to craft cocktail’s medicinal history, including The Widowmaker (left), made with vodka, Chareau Aloe liqueur, lavender, maple, lemon and activated charcoal.
“Touting the detoxing benefits of activated charcoal, partnered with the digestive benefits of aloe vera, the soothing properties of lavender, with a hint of maple, this is a cocktail that will leave you feeling better than when you got to the bar,” said The Drawing Board owner Rosie Wiggins.
Santa Ana, Calif.-based Nekter Juice Bar harnesses activated charcoal’s functional health benefits in flavorful non-alcoholic beverages such as the Charcoal Skinny Lemonade and Probiotics, available at its more than 100 locations.
Additionally, last year’s popular Charcoal Skoop, a vegan vanilla ice cream made with the superfood ingredient, is likely to return to Nekter’s menu for a limited time this fall.
At Pizzana, a thin-crust pizzeria in Brentwood, Calif., chef Daniele Uditi’s latest creation is the “carbon-ara”— pun intended — made with fior di latte, carbonara sauce, parmigiana, pancetta, and topped with a sprinkle of activated-charcoal breadcrumbs ($22).
Chef John Mooney of Bidwell Restaurant in Washington, D.C. makes wood-fired pizzas ($13-$16) with a choice of four crusts, including one made with activated charcoal infused into the double-zero dough.
Charcoal is also on the Bidwell summer drink menu by way of the Black’ish, made with Don Q Rum; Tuaca, an Italian brandy; activated charcoal; homemade coco loco, a mixer made of tequila, vodka, lime juice, coconut cream and coconut water; and a pineapple reduction.
“I personally am sensitive to acidity,” said Mooney. “When I use activated charcoal I have no issues at all because it has perfect PH. Natural alkaline neutralizes acid.”