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The New Wholesome

Tags:  Nutrition  |  Our People

The functional foods trend is making its way from retail across limited- and full-service menus alike. Ingredients such as turmeric, kombucha, matcha and bee pollen are showing triple-digit growth, showing up in everything from soups to salad dressings. While you may not want to call out specific health claims of these ingredients on your menu, you can position them as part of an overall attention to wholesome offerings—letting your patrons make the food and beverage choices that best suit their needs.

In this case, the perception of “better for you” benefits is a compelling selling point. Part of what makes the wholesome ingredient trend so appealing is that patrons can easily incorporate superfoods into their diet rather than having to completely change their lifestyle or behavior. So add a bit of kelp to that noodle salad, steam up an activated charcoal latte or griddle up a maitake mushroom burger. You’ll boost the functional benefits of your menu items without sacrificing flavor!

Power Bowl 

Antioxidant-rich Bok Choy and Salmon, an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids,
are just some of the wholesome ingredients in our Charred Salmon in Smoky Thai Broth. Watch our video!


Custom Culinary® products, especially our True Foundations® clean label bases, bring a wholesome element to soups, entrées, appetizers and sides. Try these patron-pleasing recipes as inspiration.

Charred Beef, Vegetables, and Grain Bowl Custom Culinary

Charred Beef, Vegetables,
and Grain Bowl

True Foundations® Beef Base-rubbed flank steak, quinoa and farro prepared in True Foundations Roasted Vegetable Base® serves as the ultimate wholesome yet hearty meal.


Hearty Chicken Soup with Ancient Grains

Hearty Chicken Soup
with Ancient Grains

A colorful, appealing assortment of vegetables and ancient grains puts a functional ingredient spin on the classic chicken soup recipe, featuring True Foundations® Chicken Base.


Roasted Vegetable Flatbread

Roasted Vegetable Flatbread
This crisp flatbread is topped with a bounty of vegetables—including yellow squash, red pepper and beets, a great source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. They’re roasted in True Foundations® Roasted Vegetable Base for additional flavor.


Pumpkin White Bean Soup

Pumpkin White Bean Soup

This seasonal soup is hearty without being heavy, featuring roasted pumpkin (rich in vitamin A), sautéed vegetables, white beans (containing B vitamins) warm spices, Gold Label Mirepoix Base and Chef's Own® Cream Soup and Sauce Starter.




Kombucha Berry Smoothie Bowls
Berry-flavored kombucha, Greek yogurt, frozen mixed berries and honey are blended into a “gut-friendly” smoothie,
served in a bowl and topped with chia seed granola, Custom Culinary® Açai and Blackberry Chutney, fresh mint and cacao nibs.

Matcha Yogurt Morning Probiotic Shot
This probiotic-rich drinkable yogurt is made with Custom Culinary® Moringa and Matcha Curd*, yuzu and fresh herbs, garnished with matcha-dusted white chocolate shavings.

Keralan Fish Curry Bowl
Flaky whitefish, chickpeas and kale stewed in a savory Keralan curry made with “superfood” Custom Culinary® Turmeric, Kombu and Shiitake Mushroom Broth*. Topped with grilled portobello strips and fresh cilantro.

Loaded Falafel Waffle
Chickpea falafel made with Custom Culinary® Vegan Umami Base*, cooked in a waffle iron until crispy then topped with charred cherry tomatoes, grilled red onion, fresh cilantro and dairy-free avocado tzatziki sauce—making it ideal for vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians alike.

Jackfruit Shakshuka
Eggs poached in spicy Custom Culinary® Southwestern Jackfruit Chili*, served in a cast iron skillet topped with crispy tortilla strips, fire-roasted corn, red onion, crumbled queso fresco and cilantro-lime crema.

Chef's Perspective

I’ve been in the food business longer than I’d care to admit. The earliest parts of my career were spent honing our craft in classical French restaurants. During those days and under those circumstances, the use of heavy cream, butter, duck fat, etc., was almost unlimited. So, as long as the food rocked, nobody cared. Later in life, upon entering the manufacturing end of the business, it became clear that consumers wanted “more healthy options” on menus, or at least that’s what they said…. lol. Truth be told, although that’s what consumer research suggested, more healthful offerings were not ordered at the rate that would keep them on the menu, so their circle of life was relatively short. More times than not, after failure, they would be replaced with another “better for you” option whose sales would also pale in comparison to the rest of the menu.

However, as time passed, the demand for foods that taste good and offer more than just basic nutrition is becoming table stakes in different ways within various age groups. You’ll note that first and foremost, I mention foods that taste good. The bottom line is that although we want foods to offer more “better for you,” they must still deliver pleasantly on the palate.

Humbly, due to the nature of my job, I get to dine out quite a bit. Lately, I’ve noticed that chefs and food establishments of all types and levels have started to harness the wonderfully bold and unique flavors of the Middle East and North Africa. Ingredients like Za'atar, which has a host of known health benefits, including its ability to improve the immune system, boost skin health, build strong bones, increase circulation, soothe inflammation, boost energy, and more, are on the rise. Sumac is yet another. Aside from being an antioxidant superhero, sumac is known to aid in the reduction of blood sugar levels. I go out of my way to seek out anything with turmeric to aid my aching joints.

I’d be remiss if I omitted Harissa in this immediate discussion as we, Custom Culinary®, have a great one in our branded portfolio. This traditional chili paste adds a unique taste to food. Besides its bright color and spicy taste, harissa, in general, has many health benefits that are worth noting. For those who want to have a healthy and balanced diet, harissa is a hypocaloric food that has minimal carbohydrates and almost no fats. It contains capsaicin, which can reduce blood pressure. Its consumption may reduce inflammations, an important trigger for heart issues. It is known to detoxify the body and help eliminate food waste. These are just a few noteworthy points of this functional ingredient.

I hope these simple examples have helped you to get my hang point. A significant majority of today’s consumers have a high level of interest in “functional foods,” items that are said to have positive effects on health beyond delivering basic nutrition.

Healthfully rich culinary gifts from the ocean are yet another great example. Sea vegetables have gone from near obscurity to seaweed snacks in kids' lunch boxes at school. Sea greens are showing up in dishes all over while consumers are experimenting with the superfood properties of many varieties of seaweed, algae and kelp like Arame, Kombu and Hijiki to name only a few.

Another example is the fermented food craze we recently highlighted in our Fermented Future” trend spotlight, as fermented foods have long been known for being rich in probiotics and, therefore, good for your gut. Trendy fats are yet another fantastic illustration of my point. Once the naughty boys of the food world, fats are now the darlings, thanks much in part to keto, paleo, grain-free and paleo-vegan diets. As more and more people are transitioning to plant-based eating, as highlighted last year, we are seeing plant-based meats reach new heights. Now, the trend is expected to invade the meat snacks segment as well.

The bottom line is that the New Wholesome is ever-evolving and here to stay. Consumers of all age groups want it and are seeking it out on menus and, more importantly, ordering it. Whether it’s an item that contains functional ingredients, low-fat, low-sodium offerings, or cleaner labels, Custom Culinary® is here to help. I recommend trying our Gold Label True Foundations® Bases, which were developed with the needs of both operators and patrons in mind, featuring clean and simple ingredient decks for incredible made-from-scratch flavor.

Until next time, keep it clean and wholesome!

David Russell
Corporate Executive Chef - CEC, CAA
Custom Culinary, Inc.


A Visit to the “Farmacy”
A Visit to the “Farmacy”

There is no doubt that food influences overall health. What we are encountering more often now is consumers who visit the “farmacy” versus the pharmacy.

Bowls are a Top Consumer Trend (and a top carryout choice)
Bowls are a Top Consumer Trend (and a top carryout choice)

With a few base options, a list of craveable sauce choices, and a variety of fresh toppings, you’ll have a made-to-order option ready for guests to enjoy.

Chef's Perspective: How Plant-Based Eating has Shifted
Chef's Perspective: How Plant-Based Eating has Shifted

Operators have taken note of the growth of plant-based eating, citing consumer demand as the biggest reason for adding more plant-based proteins.

Healthy Never Tasted So Good
Healthy Never Tasted So Good

Though as time passed, the demand for foods that taste good and offer more than just basic nutrition are becoming table stakes in different ways within various age groups.

Three Tips for a Healthier Menu
Three Tips for a Healthier Menu

While definitions of health continue to evolve, meeting customer expectations when dining away from home may be easier than you think.

*Products are customized; please contact your Custom Culinary® representative for more information.

Datassential, “Functional Foods” Menu Adoption Cycle, accessed August 2019.
Datassential, “The New Healthy SNAP! Keynote,” 2019. “Flavor Takeaway: Plant-Based Protein,” Flavor & The Menu, August 2019.
“Functional Beverages Trend Insights,” Flavor & The Menu, January 8, 2019.
Katie Ayoub, “Functional Sipping,” Flavor & The Menu, January 9, 2019.
“Love Beets? Learn Which Color(s) Can’t Be Beat,” Cleveland Clinic, July 2017.