The surprising ingredient trending in plant-forward dishes

veggie tacos

More consumers are actively seeking out plant-forward options when they’re dining out as well as when they’re cooking at home—even in the wake of the pandemic. And these consumers may not be ones who follow strict vegan or vegetarian diets—in fact, according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, just 6% of consumers reportedly follow such diets. But a much larger portion of consumers—34%—say they eat vegetarian or vegan meals at least once a week. What’s more, 14% of consumers say they are eating more vegetarian and vegan options now than they were two years ago.

The plant-forward boom on menus of all stripes, then, can’t necessarily be attributed to a surge in vegetarians or vegans. Rather, it’s driven more by consumers who are interested in eating plant-based meals at least occasionally—and the number one reason consumers say they are eating more plant-based options is because they are trying to eat healthier and are getting their protein from other sources than meat.

One source that operators may not have explored too deeply when menuing plant-based options, though, is nuts—walnuts, specifically. Take a look at how this surprising ingredient can star in hearty, versatile plant-based dishes.

Versatility across menuparts

Walnuts are an unexpected plant-based protein that offers a versatile way to menu plant-based options including tacos, burgers and more. They can be used to make savory, craveable sauces and dips and can easily be added to salads for a quick protein boost (4g per oz) that adds no extra labor to the back of the house. What’s more, they are also an excellent source of omega-3 ALA, with 2.5 grams per ounce.

For tacos—a crowd-pleaser among vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike—walnuts can be ground coarsely and seasoned with spices such as cumin, chili pepper and garlic to create a vegan “chorizo” that’s perfect topped with pickled jalapeños and radishes, then finished with a squeeze of lime and a layer of mashed avocado.

Walnuts can also be used to create other hearty meals, such as California Walnut Meatloaf, Low-Carb Veggie Shepherd’s Pie and Meat-Free Bolognese—a plant-based comfort food classic.

Craving the richness that cream offers but abstaining from dairy? Try dishes made with plant-based walnut cream—California Walnut Cream Alfredo Sauce is perfect atop fettuccini, while California Walnut and Mushroom Soup hits the spot when the weather turns cool.

california walnut cream alfredo sauce

Walnuts can also be used in romesco sauce—replacing the more traditional almonds—which offers smoky, savory deliciousness to any dish it adorns. For more adventurous diners, try menuing Walnut and Jackfruit Cakes served with walnut romesco.

Walnuts are great for happy hour menus, too—soy-glazed walnuts are a sweet-and-savory accompaniment with any cocktail or soft drink.

Walnuts can also be used in an array of desserts, from caramel-topped cheesecake with chopped walnuts to Walnut, Chocolate and Avocado Mousse, a classic dessert updated with better-for-you ingredients.

chocolate mousse

Because they can be used all day long across the menu, from appetizers to entrées, small plates to desserts, walnuts offer foodservice operators a versatile, cost-saving plant-based protein alternative that diners are sure to love.

To get more menu inspiration or to learn more about how walnuts enhance any plant-based menu, visit


This post is sponsored by California Walnut Commission

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