Better Than Soy — Unusual Plant-Based Ingredients to Elevate Your Menu

At one point in time, soy was always the answer to the plant-based question. Tofu, tempeh, and soy crumbles were simple substitutes for most meat products, and they were easy to access from restaurant suppliers. But now, there has been a shift in the way plant-based food is being approached. Chefs are experimenting with different produce to create unique flavors while keeping dishes nutritious and plant-based.

One of the biggest breakouts in this area has been jackfruit, which is used as a common substitute for pork and other meats. But there are other unusual ingredients that will add greater versatility to your menu offerings while delighting your vegan and vegetarian customers’ taste buds.

Read on for some plant-based ingredients you can add to your Caribbean restaurant menu!

Coconut Bacon

Bacon is one of the hardest flavors to recreate in a plant-based form. That perfect blend of crunch and umami is one of the reasons many people say they could never give up meat. Your Caribbean customers will be delighted to find coconut “bacon” on your menu. Made from unsweetened coconut flakes flavored with liquid smoke, soy sauce, maple syrup, and smoked paprika, it provides a similar salty chewiness to the real thing.

Coconut bacon isn’t widespread on menus yet. But it has been seen on a few menus in Denver and Los Angeles. It makes a great bacon substitute for burgers, avocado toast, or salad. Pre-made coconut bacon is available, or you can make your own with readily available ingredients from your food distributor.

Banana Blossom

Also called banana flower or banana heart, the banana blossom is the long purple flower that protrudes from the end of a banana bunch. Often overlooked in favor of the banana fruit, these large blossoms have a bit of crunch and taste slightly like an artichoke. But when battered and fried, they make a perfect stand-in for a flaky piece of fish. A London fish-and-chip shop gained notoriety for this plant-based fish substitute, delighting vegan customers who missed the British staple in their diets.

Banana blossoms can be used in other ways as well. They can be added to soups, stews, stir-fries, and more. Since bananas are so widely grown in the Caribbean, banana flowers should be easy to come by.

Aquafaba

You may think going plant-based in the kitchen can limit your creativity, but if you’re willing to be a little adventurous, you’ll find it does anything but. Aquafaba is the water strained from a can of chickpeas. While that may not sound like something you want in your dessert, it’s a versatile ingredient that will create lift and structure in baked goods and dips.

When whipped, aquafaba turns into a thick fluffy foam. Then it can be added to all sorts of recipes to add fluffiness and density. Aquafaba is an ingredient in vegan meringue, pavlova, mousse, fudge, buttercream, marshmallow fluff, mayo, vegan cheese, and more! Adding this ingredient to your cooking staples will widely increase the number of plant-based dishes you’re able to make in your restaurant. And since it comes from chickpeas, it’s easy to find at any restaurant supplier.

Irish Moss or Sea Moss

Irish Moss is a type of red algae that grows in areas of the Atlantic from the chilly north to the balmy Caribbean. It’s been used on the islands for many years in a drink with sweetener, nutmeg, and cinnamon and is said to be a potent aphrodisiac. But outside of the Caribbean, it’s also used as a plant-based alternative to gelatin. Irish moss can serve as a thickener in pie filling, mousse, ice cream, or pudding. The richness from the moss will make plant-based desserts creamier and more satisfying.

Interested in adding any of these ingredients to your restaurant or hotel menu? Contact your Merchants Market Group sales associate to find these and other plant-based ingredients.

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