Food service industry trends have begun to reflect a change in the expectations of American eaters.
An increasing number of Americans have begun to buy into the farm-to-table movement, choosing organic foods, purchasing local fruits and vegetables, and supporting sustainable production.
Consumers expect food to be at its best.
Meat needs to be tender, lettuce needs to be crisp, bread needs to be hot from the oven, and vegetables need to be garden-fresh. This expectation is present not only in fine-dining restaurants, but also in hotels, cafeterias and other food service establishments.
And in response to this shift in consumer habits, restaurants and suppliers alike have begun to emphasize quality and freshness over speed of service or quantity.
Despite these consumer expectations—and the desire of restaurants to fulfill those expectations— it is not always feasible to serve just-picked vegetables. Instead, large-scale kitchens might consider using “sous vide”, to be able to serve customers the quality food they want.
Cooking Under Low Temperatures and High Pressure
“Sous vide,” which is French for “under vacuum,” refers to a method in which food is cooked at lower temperatures than normal and for longer periods of time. This can mean hours or days of low-temperature cooking at temperatures of 100 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The process can be used for vegetables, as well as for meat, eggs and fish.
The process is well suited for the food industry because it permits preparation and cooking of foods long before they are ordered. These foods can be stored in vacuum packaging, and heated when they are needed. Sous vide allows foods to retain moisture during storage so that they do not dry out.
Reliably Greener Greens
On the whole, consumers perceive very soft-cooked vegetables as poorer quality. These vegetables are seen as overcooked and less nutritious. They may be suspected of being frozen or even canned out-of-season vegetables rather than in-season, fresh vegetables. On the other hand, you may not have the time to prepare fresh greens and other vegetables each time a customer orders them.
Sous vide techniques permit you to prepare vegetables quickly without making them mushy because of the low temperatures used. Higher temperatures used in conventional, on-the-spot cooking techniques, such as boiling and steaming, can lead to unappetizingly soft textures in your vegetables. Furthermore, the vibrant colors of vegetables can be dulled. With proper sous vide, your broccoli and spinach can be well-cooked while retaining the appealing vivid green color that consumers take as a positive sign.
Considerations for the Food Service Industry
While sous vide can seem like the ideal solution to challenges in providing perfectly cooked, fresh food, food service establishments can face some barriers in implementing it. The initial investment in equipment can be costly, with a water bath and thermal circulator being minimal requirements. Then there is, of course, the cost of training kitchen staff to use and maintain the equipment.
Food safety is yet another concern. Before implementing a sous vide system, you need to obtain the permission of your state health department and comply with regulations. This is likely to involve the development of a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) plan, which can be a labor-intensive effort. Still, these barriers are likely to be overcome as the benefits of sous vide are more widely recognized, and as sous vide becomes another emerging food service industry trend.
The expectation for fresh food is understood when consumers visit your establishment, but quickly serving up large quantities of safe, high-quality and perfectly cooked food can be tricky. Sous vide is among the food service industry trends that is making it easier to provide the wholesome foods that customers are looking for. It can keep your greens greener to satisfy the demands of the pickiest customer.