Instances of vegetarian options on menus have increased nearly 5% over the last five years, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. This may not seem like a huge jump, but with plant-based proteins trending, it’s safe to say that number will grow exponentially in the future.
Today, plant-based options are going beyond the basic veggie burgers that used to dominate meat-free menus, allowing operators to create delicious, appealing menu offerings for vegetarians and omnivores alike. Here are four ways that plant-based proteins are trending on menus—and who’s menuing them.
1. Blended burgers
Today’s modern veggie burgers offer diners a blend of whole foods such as quinoa, black beans, brown rice, mushrooms and more. Even operators not necessarily known for their vegetarian options are hopping on board—such as fast-food burger chain White Castle, which offers a black bean slider with red peppers and onions.
According to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarianreport, 49% of consumers say they are likely to order dishes described as plant-based—higher than items described as meatless (44%) or meat-free (44%). By emphasizing a burger’s plant-based ingredients, consumers may be more likely to order it instead of a burger that’s simply showcased as a meat substitute.
2. Beans at breakfast
Savory breakfast is on the rise, and beans at breakfast are showing up on all kinds of menus. Grain bowls have boosted beans’ popularity at breakfast, as rice (or other grains including quinoa or farro) is a perfect partner for beans. Sweet potato black bean hash is another popular breakfast item that features beans—a new take on popular potato and corned-beef hash, this is a flavorful, high protein and low-fat option for those seeking a savory breakfast.
At Le Pain Quotidien, a European-style bakery chain with 87 locations across the country, diners can order the restaurant’s riff on the incredibly popular avocado toast—Sweet Potato and Black Bean Toast, topped with avocado, arugula and vegan chipotle aioli.
3. Globally influenced dishes
Globally inspired plant-forward food is trending across menu parts, even in iterations that are typically made with meat, poultry or seafood. Poke, a Hawaiian dish of raw fish, is transformed into the Tofu and Vegetable Poke Bowl at Urban Plates, a fast-casual cafeteria-style restaurant with 11 locations in California. This vegetable-based dish features ginger-garlic tofu mixed with red bell pepper, grilled zucchini, pickled vegetables, scallions, avocado and poke sauce.
Other global-influenced dishes that feature plant-based proteins include chana masala, an Indian chickpea dish cooked in a spicy onion and tomato gravy; falafel, a Middle Eastern dish of patties made from chickpeas or chickpea flour and spices, often served in pita with cucumber salad and tzatziki sauce; and misr wot, or Ethopian lentil stew—made with berbere seasoning, red lentils and other aromatic ingredients. These plant-based dishes offer tons of flavor and give diners looking for a unique vegetarian option the chance to branch out from their standards.
4. Plant-based dairy options
While meat-free analogs are common for ingredients such as chicken, beef and other animal-based proteins, the options for plant-based dairy options haven’t been as prolific—until now. Increased popularity of items such as cashew-based cheese has made it easier than ever for those who abstain from dairy to enjoy their favorite foods. It can be used in place of ricotta in lasagna and other Italian dishes, including pizza.
At Big Max BBQ, a fast-casual barbecue restaurant in Huntington, Tennessee, diners can enjoy the Vegetarian Lasagna Meal, which includes shredded carrots, cabbage, tofu and cashew cheese sauce with a side of salad and garlic bread; or the pizza, which is topped with onion, tomato, bell pepper, olives, tofu and cashew cheese sauce.