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Don’t Ignore the Power of Superfoods for your Menu

Editorial consulting by the Culinary Institute of America

I totally get the new menu labeling laws – really, I do. But what I would really like a menu or product to tell me is what I should eat to boost my energy, stimulate my brain, help my aging skin cells, and build my stamina – and what will make me lethargic by midafternoon. Research has shown that diners don’t eat less or make better choices when restaurants post the number of calories in their meals. Calling out reduced calories, fat, sugar, or salt can actually encourage people to order more than they should.

Enter the Superfood.  Although there is no fact-based or legal definition of this super-term, the CIA’s Senior Manager of Nutrition Sanna Delmonico says that in addition to their nutrient density, Superfoods are those foods that are high in phytochemicals and polyphenols.  Ok, those are pretty daunting words for those who are not schooled in nutrition at a graduate level.  When Sanna shared her definition, my head wanted to explode and my colleague said they made him feel like reaching for a creampuff.

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Frankly, “phytochemicals” and “polyphenols” are words so scientific that they hold little romance or allure. Menuing healthy options shouldn’t be about data or big words, but about delicious, colorful, well-prepared ingredients, jam-packed with goodness – the type of poetry that draws you in and makes you have to have it.

Including more Superfoods is hardly daunting –even fast food restaurants are doing it! In an 18-month-long process to start changing how its customers view and order off its menu, Chick-Fil-A introduced a Superfood side dish of hand-chopped kale and broccolini tossed in a maple vinaigrette dressing.  And if kale wasn’t super-foodie enough, they even topped it with dried sour cherries and roasted nuts.

While any fruit or dark leafy greens are better than none, the reality is that people don’t eat enough of them. When restaurants don’t pay attention to the quality of ingredients they are putting on the plate and just tossing in any old greens or fruit, they do so at their own peril.  Instead, they should be thinking about how beautiful and good for you some of these awesome ingredients can actually be. If you don’t like Superfoods, just call them awesomefoods. It’s the same principle.

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One way to recognize Superfoods is to understand how hard they’ve worked to become awesome. Here in Napa Valley, there’s a grape growing region called Howell Mountain AVA (American Viticulture Area).  The grapes on this mountain grow in very poor soil, above the gentle fog line that protects the grapes on the valley floor, enduring drastic temperature changes every day. These grapes are small, with thicker skins, less moisture, and lower yields.  The struggle of these vines provides a captivating story for the winemakers to tell – and sell – their wines at a premium price.  Likewise, Wild Blueberries grow on the rugged glacial plain aptly called “The Barrens,” and cling to the shallow soil with a horizontal root system to maximize surface water. The biodiversity of Wild Blueberry genomes in a single field also enhances flavor and nutrition.

Wouldn’t it be great to see more chefs getting creative with these color-flavor-nutrient bombs?  Try nuts as a crust instead of breading, or black beans and beets as the “meat” of a burger, or coarsely chopped Wild Blueberries in a dressing to add texture and tartness.  Doesn’t that sound super?

Give this recipe a try: Spicy Deep Fried Wild Blueberries

About the Author 

Chef Rebecca Peizer, C.H.E. C.E.C.

Chef Rebecca Peizer

Associate Professor of Culinary Arts
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Rebecca’s passion for food set her on a path to the Culinary Institute of America where she graduated in 2000. From there, she set off to New York City where she became a private chef. She took her next big step in the culinary world when she moved to California and opened Roux, a restaurant in St. Helena in the heart of the Napa Valley. Roux quickly took off and theSan Francisco Chronicle named it Top 10 Restaurants in the Bay Area 2001. On the heels of that honor, Food & Wine named her Top 10 Sous Chefs in America 2002. Over the course of her career, Rebecca has had the opportunity to work with many great chefs including Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Bradly Ogden, Cindy Pawlcyn, and Julia Childs. She has catered events for presidential candidates, Napa Valley winemakers, and prominent artists, and now shares her passion for food and wine with students at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley.