What’s old is new again. Pickling and fermenting have been around for thousands of years, and these time-honored food preparations are seeing new life on restaurant menus.
From traditional pickled vegetables (beets, carrots, onions, etc.) and proteins (eggs, meats, and fish, etc.) to funky fermented products (black garlic, soybean paste, mushrooms, etc.), the practices help operators extend the life of foods and bring new flavours to the table.
Research by Datassential in 2022 shows pickled or fermented foods are on 55% of menus. That’s up 3% since 2019, and it’s a number that’s expected to grow as more operators look to add global flavours.
Enhance Menu Selections
Pickled cucumber chips are familiar to anyone who’s eaten a burger. Kimchi — the spicy Korean side dish made with salted vegetables napa cabbage, radishes, garlic, chile peppers and ginger — is a fermented food many dining guests will recognize. It’s also an occasional burger topping.
The trend goes far beyond burger toppings. Boston-area Gordon Food Service Culinary Specialist Derek Seigfried sees pickling and fermenting as a way to flavour almost any dish.
“You can take a product nearing the end of its shelf life and ferment it into a miso or a beverage, using those as ingredients to enhance and supplement menu items,” he said. “I’m starting to see Italian takes and Peruvian takes on fermentation.”
Italian examples include cured meats, such as salami and prosciutto, as well as fermented vegetable giardiniera. From Peru, there’s the red pepper salsa called ají, and the fermented potato pulp drink known as tocosh. The king of non-alcohol fermented beverages is China’s kombucha tea, prized for its probiotic properties and vitamins associated with health benefits.
Feature Local Flavours
Pickling and fermenting not only add a flavour twist to familiar foods, they also can be used to preserve and highlight local ingredients all year long.
“You can pickle almost anything,” said Houston-based Culinary Specialist Erin Copeland. “A simple side of pickled vegetables helps cut the fat or richness of a dish and adds a depth of flavour that’s super tasty.”
Culinary Specialist Kevin Green agrees. He helps Detroit-area restaurant operators incorporate pickling and umami flavour.
“I’ve taken shiitake mushrooms, brined and then dried them and made shiitake bacon as a salad component,” he said.
Don’t Overlook Food Safety
Food preservation requires careful attention to safety.
Here are some general tips:
For Pickling and Fermenting:
Make sure you’re using salt that is intended for pickling foods and follow a recipe so the brine has the right concentration for the amount of food pickled. Always start with safe food, ie: clean vegetables and vegetables that are not spoiled.
When fermenting, follow a trusted recipe. Keep in mind you’re trying to create good bacteria and prevent harmful bacteria from flourishing. Use clean, unscratched or cracked jars or plastic containers– never metal. Follow this link for more guidelines.