Meet the new super veggie that's making kale green with envy: seaweed. Seaweed has been a staple in Asian cuisines for thousands of years, but you'll see more nutrient-rich and "sea"-stainable wakame and kelp salads on restaurant menus – and not just in sushi bars. You'll also see more delicate and crispy seaweed snacks at supermarkets, where sales of such products are soaring and poised to exceed sales of kale-based snacks, according to data from Mintel.
That's a good thing: Like veggies, seaweed is low in calories and fat, and provides several essential nutrients, including vitamins A and C, B vitamins, fiber, iron, iodine, zinc and magnesium. Some roasted seaweed snacks, like Annie Chun's, have just 25 to 30 calories per serving, while most fried chips pack in 150 to 160 calories per serving. What's more, preliminary research suggests compounds in seaweed may even help tamp down hunger.
2. Ancient Grains
Quinoa has some competition! Chefs are experimenting with other ancient grains like amaranth, millet, kamut, sorghum and spelt, says Sanna Delmonico, a registered dietitian and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. "Whole-grain flour made from ancient grains is being used in baking to make breads to desserts," she says. They're also being used as bases for savory meals. Los Angeles chef Christine Moore, for instance, makes a hearty farro bowl with kale, roasted fennel, onion and almonds topped with a smoky romesco sauce at her restaurant, Lincoln.
Ancient grains vary in their nutritional value, but all are minimally-processed whole grains. They are all generally good sources of protein, fiber, B-vitamins and iron. Most are gluten-free, but spelt and kamut are varieties of gluten-containing wheat. Reams of research show that plant-rich diets with plenty of whole grains reduce the risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, while making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
3. Earth-Friendly Burgers
Who doesn't love a good burger? Clearly, most Americans do because they eat an estimated 50 billion a year. That's a lot of beef, which just happens to have one of the largest environmental footprints of all animal-based foods people eat. To help, chefs are reinventing burgers to be healthier and more sustainable – without compromising taste.
The James Beard Foundation's Blended Burger Project, for example, calls for chefs across the country to create burgers that are at least 25 percent fresh chopped mushrooms. One result can be found at Cedars Cafe in Melbourne, Florida, where the menu features a beef burger blended with portobello, shiitake and cremini mushrooms. "In the past few years, the blended burger has been adopted by some of the nation's most creative and adventurous chefs and the food service industry," says Kristopher Moon, vice president of the James Beard Foundation. "We are delighted to see the widespread enthusiasm and acceptance for this plant-forward take on the burger."
4. Rigatoni (and More)
There's nothing new about pasta, but after sliding sales during the height of the low-carb craze, pasta is making a comeback. Data from Google trends show that, based on search results, consumers are buying, preparing or ordering more rigatoni, tortellini, penne, fusilli and linguine. Top chefs are also featuring lighter pasta dishes on the menu. At the trendy and plant-forward ABC Kitchen in Manhattan, for one, chef-owner Jean-Georges Vongerichten serves his fettuccine with a mushroom Bolognese.
Pasta is perfect for health-conscious consumers, and it also has a light environmental footprint. The wheat-and-water staple is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which is considered the gold standard for healthy and sustainable eating. And it's made from semolina, a protein-packed wheat variety; a 200-calorie cup of cooked pasta has 6 grams of protein and a low glycemic index to help keep you fuller longer.
Silicon Valley-type technology is being used to create plant-based protein and fats to replace traditional meat and dairy ingredients. The results are ingredients that are nutritionally superior and more sustainable than animal-based products. Nutrient-rich algae made via a resource-efficient fermentation process, for example, is the hot new plant-based ingredient. TerraVia's lipid-rich whole algae, which is high in beneficial monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, for one, can replace eggs, cream and butter in baked goods, sauces, dressings and ice cream – without affecting the taste or texture. Foods with algae are now in every aisle of the supermarket. What's more, algae naturally provide essential nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and fiber.
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