In a new monthly series, menu trend analyst Nancy Kruse and NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn debate current trends in the restaurant industry. This installment takes a look at how restaurants are featuring fruit.
New techniques make for better tasting fruit offerings
NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn presents his take on fruit trends at restaurants, from local-seasonal offerings to cold-pressed juices.
As you know, Nancy, because I’m a food writer people expect me to be a fussy eater, but I’m really not. Except, that is, when it comes to fruit.
You might think my fruit snobbery would have come from having lived in the tropics or from going to culinary school in Europe, but it really came from my cheap mother.
Growing up in Colorado, we were strictly forbidden from buying watermelon if it cost more then 8 cents a pound. That didn’t just mean that all the watermelon we ate was inexpensive. Because fruit is generally at its best when it’s also at its most abundant — at the height of its season — it also meant that all the watermelon we ate was delicious.
I thought all watermelon had to be eaten with noisy and enthusiastic slurping and should generally be followed by a bath. As you can imagine, the first time I had watermelon from a hotel buffet, I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know fruit could taste like balsa wood.
So I’m particularly pleased with a trend I see not just in serving fruit, but also in serving good fruit.
Of course fruit has a health halo and many people feel better about both themselves and their food when it’s around, but now efforts are being made to make fruit taste good. That’s the part of the local-seasonal movement that I like best, but other efforts are being made as well.
A number of restaurants, as well as retailers specializing in the growing market for juice fasts, have taken to cold-pressed juices. The term is borrowed from olive oil, the best of which comes from olives that are gently crushed with minimal friction to prevent the oil from being heated and its flavor from being distorted. The same principle holds for other fruit — olive’s a fruit, too, after all.
These days, fruit is mostly juiced quickly and easily in a blender or special juicer. That heats the juice a bit and, so say cold-pressing advocates, damages both the fruit's flavor and its nutrients.
Places like Snap Kitchen, a mostly grab-and-go restaurant with locations in the Texas cities of Austin and Houston, instead use special juicers that compress the fruit rather than heating it — sort of like the iron-handled orange juicer my grandmother had. The restaurant charges $8 for a 16-ounce bottle of juice.
"It takes extra time and it’s very labor intensive,” said Andrea Hinsdale, Snap Kitchen’s dietician. “That’s why we have to charge a little bit more.”
Sweetgreen, a fast-casual salad-and-frozen-yogurt chain, also launched into summer with a new line of organic cold-pressed juices. Like many of these types of juices, Sweetgreen’s line, Sweetpress, is made from fruits, vegetables and herbs mixed together in a combination that’s supposed to be good for you, like the Detox, made with pineapple, apple, ginger and mint, or the Hydrate, which mixes cucumber, pineapple, pear, coconut water and lime. They cost $6 for a 12-ounce bottle, except for the Purify — kale, spinach, cucumber, apple, lemon and ginger — which is $7.
Recently, cold pressing found a new iteration when TCBY in June teamed with its supplier to launch new yogurt flavors. For its new Juicy Peach, Strawberry and Pineapple Splash flavors, TCBY is using “micro-shaved” fruit.
Instead of purée, the frozen yogurt giant is using pieces of fruit that are tiny enough not to gum up the soft-serve machines. And unlike puree, which can take on jam-like qualities, the tiny fruit should taste more like fruit. It also should be better for you.
Wayne Geilman from TCBY’s research and development team said that, although they have yet to test the nutritional profile of the fruit, “in theory, it should be a much better product.”
Personally, I just want it to taste good. That’s what gets me interested.
How about you Nancy? What interesting things do you see happening with fruit?
Next: Nancy Kruse's response
Fruit is best served with an element of surprise
The following is Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse's response to NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn's opinion on fruit trends at restaurants.
Gosh, Bret, you’ve sort of lost me with this one.
First off, it’s clear that we both applaud your mother. What you describe as parsimonious is completely in line with great culinary icons like Julia Child or M.F.K. Fisher, who scoffed at paying more for unblemished or out-of-season fruit. I think that your mom deserves major props for developing your discriminating palate.
But while I bow to your palate, I have to question your pocketbook. This whole cold-pressing trend, which undoubtedly yields a tasty product, seems a little yuppified to me, along with designer diets and high colonics. Six to eight dollars for a bottle of juice will surely limit growth, with the cost of both product and process restricting its potential in the mass market. Of course, I might have said the same thing about Starbucks a decade ago.
What I really love in the fruit category at the moment is the element of surprise, like the treatment of the peaches in the Caramelized Peach Salad at California Pizza Kitchen or the totally unexpected juxtaposition of strawberries with cucumbers in a summer salad at Fresh Choice.
Some sandwich restaurants are writing new rules for fruit, such as Be’wiched Deli in Minneapolis that offers sandwich toppers like apple mostarda, Medjool dates and preserved lemon — though not all in the same sandwich. Or No. 7 Sub in New York City, which apparently has yet to meet produce it can’t pickle, as witness the pickled lychees and blueberries used as condiments.
You and I are in complete agreement on the attractiveness of fruit in beverages, and I especially like the very contemporary mash-up of sweet with savory or spicy, like the Spicy Mango Mojito at Bahama Breeze or the Strawberry-Basil Lemonade made with gin at Houlihan’s, or even the Watermelon-Habanero Lemonade featured at Cosí a while back. They’re fun and frisky, I think, with or without the cold pressing.