Grain bowls finding permanent home on menus

by Jeff Gelski
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Pico House food truck grain bowls
Grain bowls from Pico House, a food truck in Los Angeles, feature such grains as barley, farro, Glenn wheat berries, red winter wheat, rye and white wheat.

ROSEMONT, ILL. — Grain bowls may be turning into permanent fixtures on menus, serving as alternatives to sandwiches and entrees.

“This is beyond a trend, and this is just the way we eat right now for a lot of different reasons,” said Kara Nielsen, a “trendologist” and consultant.

Grain bowls hit such trends as customization, eating on the go and meeting the needs of alternative diets, she said Sept. 27 in Rosemont at the Whole Grains Council event “Whole Grains in Foodservice, the Next Frontier.”

Ms. Nielsen, who has worked for the Sterling-Rice Group, CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights and CCD Innovation, pointed to Pico House as an example of success. The Los Angeles-based food truck serves bowls with such grains as barley, farro, Glenn wheat berries, red winter wheat, rye and white wheat. Meats, vegetables, house-made pickles and herbs complement the grains.

Build your own grain bowl
Build-your-own-bowl bars may increase the popularity of grains bowls.

Ms. Nielsen gave ideas on how the popularity of grain bowls may increase: build-your-own-bowl bars, precooked bowl bases to help smaller food service outlets, and individually quick frozen (I.Q.F.) grains.

She said food service operators should pay attention to portion control. Some bowls might be too big.

“I also noticed that you can kind of mess up a bowl,” Ms. Nielsen said in reference to consumers. “You’re making it yourself, and you don’t really know how much sauce (you need) or how things are going to taste together. It can get a little muddy. Keep some of those things in mind. It doesn’t have to be everything and the kitchen sink. The bowl is just really the new plate or the new sandwich.”

Rye flour
Rye flour is showing up in brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

Ms. Nielsen also spoke about trends for grains, bread, mills and vegetable burgers.

For grains, keep an eye on rye. The grain is appearing in such dessert items as brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

“What I’ve been seeing in this culinary trend space is lots and lots of conversations about rye,” Ms. Nielsen said.

She added puffed and popped snacks, some with amaranth or sorghum, are becoming more popular.

La Brea Bakery bread
La Brea Bakery's new line of “farm-to-table” artisan bread is made from single-origin heirloom grains.

For bread, Ms. Nielsen likes a new line of “farm-to-table” artisan bread from La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles. The bread is made from single-origin heirloom grains and comes in three varieties: Pain de Campagne, Fortuna Wheat Loaf and Struan.

For mills, heritage grains are on trend. Growers of heritage grains are becoming more connected to millers, who in turn are becoming connected to flour users such as brewers and chefs. She mentioned Emer & Rye in Austin, Texas. The restaurant has an in-house fermentation program and mills heritage grains, turning them into pastas, bread and desserts.

For vegetable burgers, Ms. Nielsen mentioned a “World’s Best Veggie Burger” from Hilary’s in Lawrence, Kas., that contains millet and quinoa.

Hillary's world's best veggie burger
The “World’s Best Veggie Burger” from Hilary’s contains millet and quinoa along with coconut oil, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, onions, Redmond’s Real Salt, apple cider vinegar, psyllium husk powder, arrowroot and garlic.

“It may be hard to believe, but veggie burgers are pretty sexy right now,” she said.

Ms. Nielsen also mentioned an “Impossible Burger” served at a Momofuku Nishi restaurant in New York City.

Two days after Ms. Nielsen’s presentation, the Financial Post published a story about the burger. Although meat-less, the Impossible Burger has a meaty smell because it contains heme, the molecule that gives meat its taste. Impossible Foods, Inc., a start-up company in California’s Silicon Valley, recreates heme by fermenting yeast. 
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