The term “superfoods” was first coined in 1915, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that it became a trending topic. Now-a-days, it’s a word that’s hard to miss and one that some scoff at while others celebrate. So, just what makes a food super? Nutrients…and lots of them, many of which claim to be exceptionally good for our health. These foods often contain an abundance of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, each offering diverse and often unique nutritional properties.
The Rise of Superfoods in Restaurants
Restaurant Hospitality reported that menus which mention the word “superfood” increased by 20 percent in 2018 and by over 300 percent for the four-year period from 2014 to 2018. By 2024, health-conscious consumers in the U.S. are expected to spend over 22 billion in the superfood market. A few of the foods included in this category are fruits, vegetables, ancient grains, seaweed, spirulina and chlorella, as well as roots, herbs, and seeds.
Restaurateurs and chefs, known for being on the cutting-edge of culinary developments, are taking notice and adjusting their menu to include many of these trending foods. Let’s take a look at what foods are making the cut and which restaurants are incorporating foods that are super into their menus.
Superfoods Finding Their Way onto Menus
There are several common foods that have long been known as nutritious and good for you such as kale, blueberries, oats, and avocados. Other superfoods are not so well-known, but definitely making a splash in the health-conscious movement. Let’s take a look at a few of those that are off the beaten path.
Fruits making the grade include acai and goji berries as well as pomegranates and noni.
Acai berries, found on the acai palm tree in the rainforests of the Amazon, are found to have twice the amount of antioxidants found in blueberries as well as omega fatty acids. They are said to taste like a sweet blackberry with a pinch of dark chocolate with health benefits that include reducing cholesterol levels as well as providing protection against some types of cancer and neurological diseases.
For the last few years, acai bowls have been all the rage. Bon Appetit’s test kitchen manager, Brad Leone, suggests a combination that includes acai puree, dates, bananas, blueberries, mango, maca powder, kale, and yogurt topped with chopped nuts, coconut flakes and goji berries. Not only is that a powerhouse of a bowl—it’s also Instagram-worthy.
What makes a grain ancient? While there is no set definition, grains that have been unchanged and cultivated for thousands of years definitely fall into the “ancient” category. These include einkorn, Kamut®, spelt, amaranth, and quinoa.
Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is one of the fastest growing whole grains in terms of popularity and awareness. The Incas believed it to be sacred and called it the “mother of all grains.” It is one of the few whole grains that is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids. It’s also high in E and B vitamins as well as several minerals.
The health benefits are many and include the reduction of blood sugar as well as triglyceride levels. You can commonly find it in salads, protein bowls, porridge, and veggie burgers.
Several types of seeds have made the spotlight in the superfood movement. These include hemp, flax, sesame, and chia.
One of the most popular seeds is chia—a word that, in the ancient Mayan culture, meant “strength.” In 2017, the sale of these seeds, that come from a flowering plant in the mint family, increased by about 15 percent, and is expected to reach more than 2 billion in sales in the U.S. by 2022. Chia seeds can be found in puddings, pancakes, smoothies, salads, granola, breads, cakes and other desserts. While they don’t really add any flavor, they do contain a big dose of calcium, phosphorus, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. Their health benefits include weight loss, increased energy, supporting cardiovascular health, and improving blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.
This rather odd superfood is made by heating up coconut shells, or other carbon-rich materials, to very high temperatures until they are carbonized and turn to charcoal. It is commonly used at hospitals to treat food poisoning and overdoses. Surprisingly, its popularity in restaurants is skyrocketing.
Since 2018, black food has been on the rise, from ice cream to pizza crusts and even cocktails. We’re not quite sure if this is due to activated charcoal’s cleansing effects or the splash that photos of black food make on Instagram.
The health benefit of activated charcoal is primarily associated with its strength as a detoxifier. It is for this reason that you don’t want to consume it on a regular basis as it may absorb important vitamins, minerals, and medications just as it absorbs poisons and toxins.
Restaurants Embracing the Superfood Movement
While some restaurants are incorporating these nutrient-dense foods by offering one or two items that include one of the more common superfoods, others are diving in wholeheartedly. Vitality Bowls is definitely one of these.
From California to Florida, these superfood cafes focus on combining not one, but many, superfoods in bowls, smoothies, and salads. An example of this is there Energy Bowl which is made with Organic Acai, Guarana, Goji Berries, Bee Pollen, Egg Panini and cage-free eggs—four solid food stars in one bowl. Other bowls include organic Acai, Acerola, Pitaya, and Graviola. They also offer kombucha and cold brew nitrogen-poured coffee on-tap.
Their website reveals a strong presence in some of the best business practices for restaurants—online ordering, catering, and a loyalty program. Currently, they have more than 100 cafes open or in development.
The Drawing Board
The Drawing Board, located in Petaluma, CA, offered cocktails that included medicinal ingredients such as aloe, activated charcoal, and lavender. Interestingly enough, one of its signature cocktails was called the Widowmaker. This establishment has recently evolved into a cocktail driven, farm-to-table restaurant with a new name: Whisper Sisters Cocktails & Provisions.
Google “Restaurants that offer Superfoods” and you’ll find a host of interesting and often unusual eateries. From Graze in Chicago to the Orlando-based food truck, Purple Ocean Superfood Bar, nutrient-dense foods and drinks are available and ready for you to discover.