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Don't Get Caught with Your PLANTS Down: Restaurant Guide to Vegan Food Trends

When it comes to culinary trends, veganism has begun rooting itself in the mainstream American diet. As concerns by health-conscious and environmentally concerned consumers grow, interest in following vegan guidelines, eating vegan food, and dining in vegan restaurants, is surging.

Savvy restaurants need to be educated, knowledgeable, and have a plan of action to meet the growing demand for more plant-based options.

The Vegan Trend

Though this popular culinary trend resonates differently with every individual, from health concerns and weight loss to climate change and saving animals, regardless of the reason, the fact is that there are many more who follow this trend than ever before.

And the increase in those who favor a vegan diet is not a slight one. In fact, based on national surveys and statistics, there are over 79 million vegans in the world today, with the U.S. seeing the largest growth of 600 percent since 2014.

It seems safe to say that the vegan lifestyle is definitely taking root in American culinary culture.

What Demand for Vegan Options Means for Restaurants

As having vegan menu options on menus shifts from intriguing to expected, those in the restaurant business are noticing that limiting the availability of plant-based menu items could be catastrophic. While the cost of ingredients needed for vegan recipes and cooking vegan food may cost a bit more, dedicated consumers seem to understand and are willing to pay more for the vegan options they demand.

While some restaurants that refuse to make these changes could stand to lose a good chunk of their customer base, businesses that do respond to demand for more and better vegan dishes on their menu stand to see sales soar.

In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Tastewise, a popular industry food data, statistics, and trends platform, this vegan trend is spreading throughout the entire restaurant industry, with a significant increase in demand for vegan dishes by consumers, and increased sales of vegan food for restaurant sources.

To fill the need for a variety of different vegan food options for customers, more and better-tasting plant-based meat alternatives are popular choices for today’s diners. Vegan products like alternative protein-sourced burgers, bacon, and sausages have taken the vegan palate to a whole new level and consumers are loving the new options.

This new and popular meat-free market is skyrocketing, with sales growing by 75% since 2018. And it doesn’t stop there. Worldwide sales of plant-based meat alternatives are expected to be a $7.5 billion business by the year 2025.

Vegan vs. Vegetarian: What’s the Difference?

There is often some confusion about the difference between vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. While both are plant-based diets, there are some exclusions that differentiate the two in a big way.

When people think about a plant-based diet, they typically think about a diet that doesn't include meat, poultry, or fish. But plant-based diets vary in what foods they include and exclude:

  • Lacto-vegetarian diet. Excludes meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as foods that contain them. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter, however, are included.

  • Ovo-vegetarian diet. Excludes meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allows eggs.

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. Excludes meat, fish and poultry, but allows dairy products and eggs.

  • Pescatarian diet. Excludes meat and poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allows fish.

  • Vegan diet. Excludes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products — and foods that contain these products.

  • Flexitarian diet. Primarily a plant-based diet, but includes meat, dairy, eggs, poultry, and fish on occasion or in small quantities.

To meet the demands of consumers’ desire for vegan options, it is first important to have a deep understanding of the difference between vegan and vegetarian.

The word vegan can be an adjective (as in a "vegan diet") or a noun (as in "I am a vegan"). In general, vegans avoid eating or using things that are either from animals or made by animals. In terms of diet, this means not consuming any meat or dairy products, or other animal-derived products, such as honey and gelatin.

While some people may simply follow a plant-based diet, where more food choices include fruits and vegetables and less animal products, people who consider themselves vegans avoid any and all animal products in their food choices. Vegans also tend to avoid animal ingredients in cosmetics (such as dyes made from insects), perfumes (such as components from animal scent glands), and clothing (such as wool, leather, and fur.)

Vegans also often reject products that have been tested on animals. While not all people who consider themselves vegans strictly adhere to all of these restrictions, the trend is moving in that direction as more consumer products are being created to meet this growing demand.

What vegans can and cannot eat

A vegan diet is often considered plant-based—meaning it consists entirely or mainly of foods that come from plants, including vegetables, fruits, and grains. Vegan protein sources include beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds.

Vegans don’t eat animal products or animal-derived products, including meat, dairy products, or eggs.

There are many processed products that serve as vegan alternatives for these items. These include things like vegan “butter” and vegan mayo (made without eggs), nondairy “milk” products (like almond milk, soy milk, and oat milk), and products often called “meat substitutes,” including tofu, tempeh, seitan, and, more recently, alternative protein products like Meatless Chick’n, Beyond Meatballs, Impossible Burgers, and Meatless Crumbles.

There are some foods that are considered nonvegan even though they are not meat or dairy. Honey is typically considered non-vegan because it’s a product of honeybees. Some products are considered non vegan not because they contain animal products but because they’re processed with them. For example, some sugars are considered nonvegan due to being processed using a product from animal bones.

A vegan diet is often associated with healthy foods, like vegetables, but just because a food is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Some processed candy is vegan, for example.

Origins of the Vegan Lifestyle

Although many people are just becoming aware of the vegan lifestyle due to its recent popularity, this way of eating has been around for quite some time. In fact, the word “vegan” was first used in the early forties by a group of vegetarians in England who formed an organization known as the Vegan Society, a group that’s key focus was arguing for an end to animal exploitation.

Their mission statement included plans to forego the use of any products of animal origin. These items included but were not limited to meat, clothing, eggs, and dairy products.

Today’s vegan choices include not eating any meat or any food item that uses animal products of any kind. This includes not just red meat, pork, and chicken, but also encompasses all fish and shellfish products.

Typical vegan food regime

  • Seeds and nuts

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Vegetable oils

  • Legumes - peas, beans, and lentils

  • Bread, pasta, and rice

  • Alternative dairy products - soy milk, coconut milk, and almond milk.

  • Alternative proteins

What does vegetarian mean?

The word vegetarian can be an adjective (as in a vegetarian diet) or a noun (as in "I am a vegetarian"). Vegetarians do not eat meat. Some vegetarians may also avoid using some animal products (such as leather) that involve the death of the animal, but the word vegetarian is primarily associated with diet only. Vegetarians may avoid meat for a number of reasons, including concerns for animals, personal health, and the environment—or a combination of these factors and others.

What vegetarians can and cannot eat

Like the diet of vegans, a vegetarian diet is often primarily plant-based. The main difference is that vegetarians eat non-meat animal products, especially dairy products, and eggs, which are often used as primary protein sources, along with non-animal sources like beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Why Restaurants Should Offer Vegan Food Options

Restaurants and other food-oriented businesses are learning now that they need to adapt their menus and change their way of thinking in order to accommodate the new demand for vegan food and vegan restaurants. From plant-based food products to vegan desserts, smart restaurant owners and managers are quickly revamping their menus to support the vegan lifestyle.

Due to the popularity of vegan eating, the demand for new and enticing easy vegan recipes including vegan desserts should be a new focus for restaurants of all kinds. The vegan approach to food should not be limited to the menus of vegan-only restaurants. Every restaurant should offer at least a couple of vegan options for customers to stay competitive as we approach the middle of the decade.

While it may seem like a lot of planning, revising, and inconvenience, cooking vegan food and creating new vegan recipes is not that much of a change. Most restaurants already use the main ingredients of a vegan diet in the dishes they currently offer as menu options, so it’s more a matter of excluding animal products than adding anything new to the inventory.

Failing to offer vegan cuisine at a restaurant could result in a loss of customers who are looking for those creative and inspired vegan recipes. This is a huge audience to which restaurants should pay attention and aim to please.

Incorporating Vegan Food Dishes Into Your Menu

Since so many delicious vegan recipes contain foods already used in most restaurants, changing the menu to include new and creative vegan dishes for restaurant guests should be an easy task.

In order to best serve your customers who are vegan and best incorporate easy vegan food recipes and delicious dishes as an option on your restaurant menu, here are some tips to help expand your offerings to include more vegan fare.

  • Educate yourself and your staff to truly understand what it means to be, eat, and cook vegan.

  • Explore new suppliers that provide plant-based food and the staples of a vegan diet.

  • Train your staff on cooking vegan food with a culinary expert.

  • Get creative in the kitchen to invent new vegan recipes, including desserts and beverages, customers will enjoy.

  • Pick vegan options that fit your brand and allow for cross-selling.

  • Highlight your new menu items on your menu, in your marketing, and on social media.

Learning Easy Vegan Recipes is Key

Again, you do not have to operate a strictly vegan restaurant to create and incorporate delicious vegan food on your menu. Once you have new suppliers and the staff is trained on veganism and the proper food ingredients, the fun begins.

When learning and practicing new vegan recipes, find inspiration from ingredients that are most likely already available in your restaurant’s kitchen. Focus on recipes for vegans that offer a variety of choices from the main vegan food options which include many types of vegetables and fruits; protein-filled legumes, heart-healthy nuts and seeds, easy-to-make pasta and rice dishes, hearty artisan bread, and flavor-full dairy alternatives like coconut and almond milk.

Whether you own a restaurant, manage a kitchen, or are a 5-star chef, understanding veganism and the eating habits of vegans is crucial to operating a successful restaurant these days.

If you add vegan options to your menu, it’s critical that you know which hidden ingredients are not acceptable to those practicing a vegan lifestyle. The secret to avoiding being caught with your “plants” down is to know which ingredients are not vegan, so they do not appear on your list of ingredients.

15 Hidden Non-Vegan Ingredients in Food Products

Some foods sometimes considered non-vegan are less obvious. For example, Parmesan cheese is produced using animal tissue known as rennet; some beers and wines include fish-derived gelatin known as isinglass; and many desserts and candies use gelatin, made from animal tissue.

Below are 15 of the most sneaky ingredients to avoid in menu items touted as vegan-friendly.

1. Whey: The liquid portion of milk that is obtained during cheese making after milk has been curdled and strained, whey is a common ingredient in protein shakes, nutritional supplements, cakes, bread, crackers, margarine, and cheese-flavored processed foods, and may be used as a flavor enhancer, gelling agent, thickener, and emulsifier and to improve the texture of foods like yogurt.

2. Vitamin D3: Many vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D; however, not all types of vitamin D are vegan.

3. Casein: A protein often present in cheese to give it its stretchy and melting characteristics. There are vegan cheeses on the market today, but some may contain sneaky vegan ingredients like casein. Products like almond cheese, soy cheese,rice cheese, protein powders, margarine, puddings, cakes, donuts, ice cream, coffee creamer, whipped toppings, and cream-based soups, including those listed as dairy-free, are common culprits.

*NOTE: Not only is casein not vegan, but it’s a potentially carcinogenic compound that can be highly addictive due to the presence of casomorphin, an opioid peptide that acts like morphine in the brain.

3. Lactic acid: A naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation, created when bacteria break down carbohydrates for energy, artificially produced lactic acid is commonly used as a curing agent, a flavoring agent, and a preservative in packaged foods. It’s a common ingredient in processed foods like bread, cheese, beer, pickles, yogurt, candy, sauerkraut, olives, fruit preserves, and frozen desserts.

4. Beeswax: One of the sneakiest and most common non-vegan ingredients that can easily go unnoticed, beeswax is used as a coating on apples to make them appear fresh for longer.

5. Isinglass: A type of gelatin obtained from dried swim bladders of fish, isinglass is commonly used in the brewing industry as a fining and clarifying agent for wine and some types of beer.

6. Gelatin: An animal protein obtained by boiling animal parts (usually cows or pigs), including tendons, skin, bones, and ligaments.

Sold under the brand name Jell-O, gelatin is often used as a thickener and a gelling agent in products like jelly candies, marshmallows, fruit snacks, yogurt, cakes, frosted cereals, and desserts.

7. Castoreum: An animal ingredient secreted by mature beavers to create a scent that is similar to vanilla and raspberry, making it a common food additive and a flavoring ingredient.

8. L. Cysteine: An amino acid obtained from cow horns, chicken, and duck feathers, but the common type used in food comes from human hair. It’s used to prolong the shelf-life of products such as baked goods and commercial bread.

9. Confectioner’s Glaze: Commonly listed as shellac, pure food glaze, natural glaze, or resinous glaze, it is a hardened resin secreted by the female lac insect after consuming tree sap used on candies to preserve and add a shiny finish.

10. Carmine: A bright red coloring obtained from crushing cochineal beetles, carmine is a common coloring ingredient in food products such as colored pasta, bottled juice, frozen ice pops, candies, ice cream, yogurt, cupcakes, doughnuts, and fruit pies.

11. Lecithin: A substance naturally found in animal tissues, egg yolks, and soybeans, lecithin is used as an emulsifier, a lubricant, and a preservative in processed foods and can be found in different products, including chocolates, sweets, sauces, marinades, margarine, baked goods, vegetable oil spray, breakfast cereal, and candy.

12. Omega 3 fatty acids: Obtained through animal-based foods such as fish and other seafood and plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

13. Lard: Pure animal fat that has been separated from the meat, lard is commonly used in most store-bought pie crusts, some refried beans, cakes, brownies, cupcakes, french fries, some cornbread brands, salad dressings, and tortilla wraps.

14. White sugar: Just because sugar comes from the sugarcane plant, it is not necessarily vegan because during processing, some companies in the US, use bone char during the filtration process, which is produced by charring ground animal bones. It’s used as a decolourizing filter which renders sugar its white color.

15. Lactose: A type of sugar in milk, it’s among the most common non-vegan ingredients found in presumed vegan products like baked goods like bread, sauces and salad dressings, cereal bars and breakfast cereals, margarine, noodle mixes, potatoes, candies, cheese flavored snacks, certain coffee creamers, cookies, pancakes, and biscuits.

By Eileen Strauss


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