Plant protein drives menu innovation

black bean salad

From Bush’s Best®.

As they have over the past several years, exciting flavor and healthy options continue to drive college and university menus. For some operators, offering dishes with plant-based proteins, such as bean-based dishes, has been a way to meet both of these challenges at once.

These types of items are trending with college students, who have been raised with more attention to healthy eating and alternative proteins than previous generations, notes Chef Cristi Shipley of FoodIQ. “They have been exposed to a less meat-heavy diet and way more fruits and vegetables than ever before,” she says.

In fact, vegetarian items in general are more commonly menued at colleges than at any other non-commercial foodservice segments or even at restaurants, according to Chicago-based research firm Datassential. What’s more, the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” are the top-two healthful menu descriptors on campuses, listed on 64 percent and 43 percent of menus, respectively.

For operators, dishes made with alternative proteins are a clear opportunity, but menuing flavorful versions of these items can be a challenge. Fortunately, less meat doesn’t have mean less flavor, as two new bean products from Bush’s Best® prove:

  • Bush’s Best® Taco Fiesta Black Beans. A fiesta for the senses, this black bean meal starter is as delicious as it is versatile. The dark, rich beans are immersed in a not-too-spicy sauce enhanced with a zesty mix of authentic Mexican seasonings, making them a natural pair for meat, seafood, vegetables or even other beans.
  • Bush’s Best® Cajun Red Beans. Bayou flavor comes knocking in this red bean easy entrée. The liveliness of the Cajun-style sauce might sneak up on you, but the many possibilities are easy to see. The flavor and versatility of these beans means that they’re an easy, ideal fit for any menu application.

These new products play to beans’ strengths as an ideal flavor carrier and as a plant-based nutritional powerhouse. Along with plenty of plant protein, beans also pack ample iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium and soluble fiber.

Additionally, these beans are fully cooked, ready-to-use canned products, which gives operators seeking labor-saving, speed-scratch solutions an advantage.

“There are a lot of potential uses straight from the can, as well as great applications as starters for more intricate recipes,” says Shipley. “Operators can create their own recipes with these beans more easily because a lot of the work has been done for them. For instance, you can turn the Cajun Red beans into a really amazing speed-scratch gumbo.”

For operators, the alternative to using canned beans—cooking dry beans from scratch—often yields inconsistent flavor and texture for all the time and labor invested, according to Shipley. “It’s easy to undercook or overcook dry beans and seasoning them can be an issue,” she says.

However, operators can be confident they will save prep time and labor, create consistent recipes and reduce costs in the long run by using these two products.

Above all, adding Taco Fiesta Black Beans and Cajun Red Beans to menus bolsters the variety and choice that students demand. Both work well as stand-alone items, as an entree base or in customizable applications such as build-your-own burrito or potato bars. Likewise, each product can be cross-utilized across dayparts an in a variety of globally inspired dishes, which can resonate with students seeking international flavors.

“For the majority of students, it is important to have access to healthier and meat-free options when they want them,” says Shipley. “They may not always make the healthier choice, but they certainly want them to be available.”

For more creative ideas for incorporating beans on campus menus, visit Bush’s Best® here.

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