Chances are that if you’re operating a meat and potatoes kind of company, you’ve been feeling milked dry by the rising cost of beef. Beef prices rose 5 percent in 2013 and they’re expected to jump by as much as 15 percent by the end of this year. Don’t feel like rising ingredient costs mean the end of a main course superstar – steer your cooks towards alternative proteins that are rising in popularity and put beef on the back burner.
Bill Briwa, chef-instructor at The Culinary Institute of America explains, “In the long run, (substituting for beef) is a much more sustainable way to eat, economically as well as environmentally. We need to learn to eat and handle protein differently—and the rest of the world can help teach us that.”
Don’t be mistaken, today’s portfolio of menu proteins go beyond the mainstream as operators expand their protein horizons. Here are five delicious beef-alternatives that pack protein and versatility:
Pork: Technomic, a food-based research firm, claims the “real protein star of 2014 will be pork with menu items ranging from barbecue to ethnic items.” For a new take at a familiar favorite, try creating pulled bacon by brining whole slab bacon (cured and smoked, not fresh pork belly) in apple cider and bourbon for up to a week, then braising it, pot-roast style, and hand pulling it. The result is sweet, smoky and spoon-tender meat that is indulgently rich. You can also check out Balsamic Pork Tenderloin for a twist on a classic dinner-time preparation.
Swordfish: The Chicago Tribune calls swordfish and other meaty seafood “cows that swim” or “steers with gills”. Similar to a beefsteak, swordfish is meaty and grills easily. What’s more, in addition to offering menu versatility, swordfish provides a variety of nutrients for health sensitive diners who don’t want to skip on flavor. According to the National Restaurant Association consuming 8oz. of select seafood, like swordfish, provides at least 250mg of omega-3s which studies have shown can help prevent heart disease.
Lamb: In polling for Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, more than a fifth of consumers aged 18‐to 34 said they’re eating more game meat such as bison, lamb and venison than they did a year ago.” Incorporating lamb into menu planning can add a global twist to familiar favorites like burgers and meatballs. Another great way to use the protein is in Dijon Glazed Lamb Kabobs that can easily transition from backyard grilling to stove top preparation as the weather cools.
Chickpeas: Also know as garbanzos, chickpeas have a nutlike taste and a texture that is buttery and doughy. When eaten in combination with other non-meat protein sources like legumes or nuts, they provide a nutritionally complete protein comparable to that of meat, without the high calories or saturated fats. For example, The Huntington Post reports that chickpeas become a complete protein when served as hummus with tahini, which is sesame paste. This winter, try a Squash, Chickpea and Red Lentil Stew in the place of beefy stews for a protein-packed and delicious way to warm up. For an easy protein addition, chickpeas are also an excellent topper on any salad.
Chia: No longer used just to grow grassy hair on clay animals, chia seeds are becoming recognized for their nutritional qualities, which include high protein, omega-3 fats, calcium, and fiber. In fact, according to Mintel, the “use of chia seeds as an ingredient has continued to grow, with a tenfold increase in ingredient penetration globally between 2009 and 2014.” To appeal to health-conscious diners, try working chia into your menu with gluten free chia seed-crusted chicken tenders or go all the way to the sweet side of your menu with a chocolate chia seed mousse.
No matter how you plan to accommodate the increasing cost of beef, there’s no denying that these alternatives are each having their own ‘moments’. Consumers are looking to try different foods and a variety of protein to mix in with foods they are already familiar with. Take a chance on something new and put beef out to pasture, at least for a while.