In the past few years, we've seen an upward trend of locally sourced and natural ingredients. In fact, in our 2015 Restaurants Canada Chef Survey, we found that the locavore movement came in 2nd as one of the top trends of the year. If you've heard of the movement, it aims to increase awareness and access to locally sourced foods. A large part of the locavore movement is the buying and cooking of what are known to be "superfoods."
So, what makes a superfood, super? And how can chefs incorporate them into their recipes? We sat down with Toronto-based nutritionist and author, Meghan Telpner to find this out. Meghan gave us some insight into the movement and how superfoods can best be used by chefs - and which to avoid and which to try. Usually natural and wild fruits and vegetables are better for us to eat, as in the wild they must develop their own natural defences, which tend to be very good for us. The pricklier they are, the better they are for our bodies! She suggests that you stay local and close to home.
Within the class of superfood, there are different levels, and Meghan's best recommendation is that the popular ones such as goji berries and maca are great, but not the best you can get. While you can buy superfood supplements, powdered is not the way to go. Powders and extracts are more part of smoothie culture rather than fine dining. If you're looking to try some interesting new salads or add some more nutrients to your dishes, try some of Meghan's favourite superfoods:
1. Stinging nettles - prickly and usually avoided, this plant has been said to be able to help with a host of body issues.
From being called a cure for arthritis, an herbal treatment for allergies, it relieves hair loss and helps treats Celiac disease. This is one that you can easily cook with: "packed with iron, calcium, vitamins A and C, you can use them as a partial stand-in for greens like chard or spinach in certain recipes where they won't be the main player (soups, pastas and warm grain dishes)." Here is a great link with some recipes you can use.
2. Lambs Quarters - You can eat the leaves, shoots, seeds and flowers of this plant. Lamb’s quarters contain some oxalic acid therefore when eating this raw, small quantities are recommended. This is a popular mountain plant in Korea and China and you can use this in place of spinach or chard - so the possibilities are endless! Here is some more information and some recipes to try out.
3. Dandelion sprouts - This is something that we've seen in many recipes lately. Almost all the parts of the plant, leaves, flower tops, and root, can be used for culinary purposes. The herb is good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Don't afraid to get creative with these ones. Here are some recipes from TheKitchn.com (including one pesto recipe that looks divine!).
4. Wild Leeks - Iron-rich and local, wild leeks, also known as ramps, can easily fit into anyone’s diet! These guys are known to protect your heart, are high in iron (and increases energy levels) and helps support brain function and development. How can you lose? Meghan's very own Academy of Culinary Nutrition has wonderful easy-to-do recipes. Check it out here.
5. Wild Edible Mushrooms - From Reishi to Chaga to Chanterelles and Morels, wild edible mushrooms found in Canada are wonderful and help with anything from anxiety reduction, aiding in sleep, stabilizing blood sugar levels to even promoting hair growth. Chaga specifically has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits. Talk about a powerhouse of nutrients! These guys are probably the easiest to incorporate into your menus - here are some recipe suggestions from UK's Delicious Magazine.
Some other popular ones to try are:
1. Spirulina - This wonderful superfood contains more beta-carotene than carrots! Rich with essential vitamins and amino acids.
2. Wheatgrass - Full of calcium and iron, this superfood is a great bone builder!
3. Alfalfa - Tiny, but rich in protein, magnesium, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and K.
4. Maca - Great for skin, bone, blood and cell health, maca is rich in vitamin B, C and E.
If you're looking to source some of these wonderful superfoods, make sure you get them as fresh as possible and unsprayed. Meghan suggests growing or sprouting them yourselves, but if you're not able to, there are many companies in Canada that sell fresh from the farm. If you're looking to harvest them yourself, then here is a helpful guide to being kind and ethical.
As for a push for superfoods in restaurants and fine dining? Meghan says that she seen trends, but "it's awesome to see more integration of plant-based meals that are not necessarily vegan, but just incorporate more local vegetables." Beyond just incorporation, creating a balance through building more omnivorous-based restaurants is key. Trends have gone towards meat-based and snout-to-tail restaurants lately, but as Meghan says, "We're so blessed to be in Canada; we have wild blueberries full of nutrients so close to home." We agree, Meghan. Being in Canada gives us the chance and opportunity to experience the truest local foods, and now more than ever is the time to start putting them in your dishes, chefs!
Interested in learning more about trends and forecasts for the Restaurant Industry? You're in luck! We have an arsenal of resources on our site.
A special thanks to Meghan Telpner for answering all our questions! Look out for her new Undiet cookbook coming out in October. More details and ordering information can be found here.
Meghan Telpner is a Toronto-based author, speaker, nutritionist, and founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. Her humorous, engaging and real approach to living an awesome, healthy life has garnered her a world-wide following and extensive media attention. Meghan’s Academy of Culinary Nutrition, is growing a global tribe of vibrant living advocates and her bestselling and award-winning book UnDiet: Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health is creating a revolution in how people think about their health. With an equal passion for both vibrant living and good karma business, Meghan works with health focused independent practitioners and small businesses to find their unique voice in a crowded marketplace, stay ahead of the curve, cultivate community and convert passion into profitable conscious business. For more visit MeghanTelpner.com.