Our guide to ingredients that pack a nutritional wallop…with recipes and usage ideas.
Superfoods add more than nutrient-dense foods to the menu. They bring with them menu distinction, intrigue (in some cases) and wholesome goodness. But what are superfoods? The USDA offers no official definition, and a quick search online brings up countless and varied lists. According to the International Food Information Council, superfoods provide high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. They come in both everyday and exotic forms. From blueberries to goji berries. From barley to quinoa. "I look at superfoods as natural foods containing exceptionally high nutrient density, as well as phytochemicals and antioxidants," says Julie Morris, natural-food chef and author of Superfood Cuisine: Cooking with Nature's Most Amazing Foods (Navitas Naturals, 2011). "There is a gray area of what is and what isn't a superfood. Most natural foods are beneficial, but there's a difference in the nutrient density that sets superfoods well above other foods."
Studies tell us that diners are seeking out healthier options, and superfoods certainly dial up that delivery. "Now is a great time for chefs to leverage superfoods," says Chef Morris. "Consumers are more aware of them, but may still be intimidated to try them at home. They may try them at restaurants because they view superfoods as both exotic and gourmet."
Menu Language: At Seasons Restaurant, Westin Prince, Toronto, executive chef Samir Roonwal, draws attention to superfoods featured in the dishes by adding an SF logo in front of their menu descriptions. At the bottom of the menu, the restaurant gives an explanation about superfoods, educating guests on the healthful benefits of these ingredients.
Breakfast/Brunch Display: Chef Roonwal displays jars of 20 super-food items on buffet lines, inviting customers to boost their yogurts, cereals, granola mixes and porridges with these nutrient-rich foods.
Server Knowledge: Teach your serving staff about superfoods, giving them one or two sentences that relay what the ingredient is and why it's extraordinary.
Superfoods: a Primer
The list of superfoods is long! Rather than running an exhaustive encyclopedia, we offer a superfoods guide that spotlights ingredients from Chef Morris' cookbook that holds culinary interest, capture the imagination of today's diner, or in some cases, offer delicious familiarity.
fast fact—grows in clusters on tall palm trees native to the Amazon rainforest, açai has a mild blueberry flavor with a hint of chocolate
culinary tip—look for frozen açai pulp packs and use in smoothies, soups and desserts
fast fact—a single avocado tree can produce about 500 avocados a year (although they usually average about 150 fruit)
culinary tip—for added menu interest, look for small, pickle-sized avocados called "finger" or "cocktail" avocados1
fast facts—blueberries turn reddish when exposed to acids, such as lemon juice and vinegar, and they turn greenish-blue in a batter that has too much baking soda, which creates an alkaline environment2
culinary tip—one dry cup of fresh blueberries equals two-thirds of a cup of puréed blueberries3
fast fact—chickpeas are not actually peas, but bush beans
culinary tip—try frying chickpeas in a bit of oil for a shareable or side dish, topping with lime juice, salt and chili powder
fast fact—with a flavor profile that falls between cherries, cranberries and raisins, goji berries are sweet-tart, and have a background plum-like flavor
culinary tip—plump dried goji berries in port wine, tea or goji-berry juice
fast fact—varieties include Scottish curly kale, cavolo negro (Tuscan kale) and red Russian kale
culinary tip—before cooking kale, marinate it to break down the cell structure
fast fact—domestically, only Florida, California, Hawaii and Puerto Rico grow mangos
culinary tips—mangos shouldn't be refrigerated until they reach desired ripeness; try using green mango in a savory summer slaw
fast fact—one pomegranate yields ½ cup of juice and ¾ cup of seeds
culinary tips—garnish rice dishes with pomegranate seeds; glaze chicken with pomegranate molasses before grilling
fast fact—not officially a grain, but a seed, quinoa was named by the Incas as the "mother of all grains"
culinary tip—look to quinoa flakes for breakfast solutions, such as hot cereal and muffins; for added drama, consider red quinoa, which is slightly more toothsome and hearty, but offers beautiful color
fast fact—sweet potatoes are not potatoes—potatoes are tubers and sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family4
culinary tip—use sweet potatoes instead of potatoes in hash browns
fast facts—44 states grow watermelons, with Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Arizona consistently leading the country in production5
culinary tips—the average 20-pound watermelon yields about 53 6-ounce wedges, each ¾-inch thick; the average 20-pound watermelon yields 14 pounds of edible fruit, leaving six pounds of rind
Our Favorite Superfood Recipes
The Next Pomegranate?
Remember when pomegranate was an exotic superfood? Chef Morris has pinpointed a few "new" superfoods poised to take the superfood stage in the next few years.
fast fact—these tiny seeds absorb about nine times their weight in liquid
culinary tip—with almost no flavor, they're ideal as a thickening agent in sauces and jams
fast facts—also known as Chilean wineberry; hints of blackberry, blueberry and açai
culinary tip—add maqui powder to cheesecake batter for a beautiful purple presentation
1 California Avocado Commission
2 U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
3 U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
4 North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission