One Easy Way Restaurants Can Capture the Real Food Movement
For restaurants wanting to embrace the real food movement, wild blueberries offer an exciting way to capture the essence and excitement of natural ingredients in gourmet cooking.
Author Nina Planck popularized the real food movement that focuses on getting back to “real” ingredients in the late 1990s. The movement centers on eating more natural ingredients, including wild and free-range proteins, non-genetically modified fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other un-altered food products.
For restaurants that want to provide selections for their real food customers, wild blueberries are an economical ingredient chefs can add to the menu as part of their offerings.
“Wild blueberries are a perfect fit for the real food movement because they deliver on a wild heritage and authentic wild flavor that today’s consumers crave,” says Mike Collins, wild blueberry advocate. “Cooking with a wild ingredient helps convey the essence of cooking with nature, with natural ingredients, with the real food elements that customers are looking for.”
Unlike highbush hybridized blueberries planted and grown on farms all over the world, lowbush wild blueberries are unique in our modern food system. They are a truly wild fruit that is not planted. They spread naturally through a complex underground root system in the rugged forests, fields, and barrens of Maine, Eastern Canada, and Quebec where they’ve grown for thousands of years, Collins says.
“Looking back thousands of years ago, when humans were hunters and gatherers, we were picking berries,” he says. “Wild blueberries harken back to those days. They are the same hearty berries that our ancestors enjoyed and that our childrens’ children will enjoy long after we’re gone. They are one of the very few unchanged and easily accessible wild fruits left on our earth just as mother nature intended.
This authenticity fits in perfectly with the real food movement and provides restaurants with a flexible ingredient that can draw customers into its menu. And because they have a more deliciously complex flavor profile than their hybridized cousin, the berries can be used in a variety of ways from savory to sweet, from appetizer to dessert. They are smaller in size and more varied than the larger cultivated blueberries, but this means they pack a stronger flavor and restaurants can use fewer of them and still achieve a bold blueberry taste.
The smaller size of wild blueberries means there are roughly three times the number of blueberries in a pound of wild versus a pound of cultivated berries. That means cooks can use less fruit weight in applications for the same amount of flavor, says Chef Tom Gumpel, CEO and founder of Cocoa-Va Inc. Chefs adding frozen wild blueberries to muffin mix or pancake batter will need less fruit, while retaining the rich varied color of the berry.
“The color in wild blueberries is pretty steadfast,” Gumpel says. “When you bake them, they’re not going to bleed out into your batter and there’s no loss of color to the berry.”
The wild nature of wild blueberries is especially appealing to health-conscious consumers, says Mary Ann Lila, director for the Plants for Human Health Institute.
“Thanks to some new insights into the composition and resiliency of endemic wild plants and the quest for novel flavors and textures—especially in niche, fine dining establishments—wild foraging has become cool again,” she says. “Foraged cuisine, farm-to-table, and indigenous ingredients have become coveted, trendy options in high-end restaurants, where the tannic tartness of wildcrafted leaves and fruits can complement blander foods or flavor botanical infused gins and vodkas. Consumers are keen to experience new foods that they perceive as healthier, natural, and unadulterated.”
Wild Blueberries provide restaurants the benefits of a wild ingredient but are easily accessible in their convenient individually quick-frozen format throughout the year. For restaurants that want to capitalize on the trend of getting back to the basics in food, using wild blueberries as an ingredient evokes the essence of the real food movement without breaking the bank.