Calling all restaurant owners and chefs - it is time to add a fresh and original taste to your cuisine! Eating organic is no longer a fad perpetuated by the trendy urban elite. It is a serious subject and the embodiment of a growing desire to live a healthier lifestyle, a movement that is winning over increasing numbers of restaurant owners and corporate caterers. Why and how should you introduce organic produce to your menu? What are the tangible benefits? Let’s take a look together.
More and more organic produce on our plates
Brits have welcomed organic food with enthusiasm. Increasingly conscious of the implications our food has on our health, Brits are eating organic at home and also expect it when eating out. Organic may have only represented 5% of food consumption in 2019, but it is now a growing trend, not only among home chefs but professional chefs and corporate caterers, too.
Organic legislation – forcing organic food into menus
Following public demand and the urgency of preserving our planet, other parts of the world are introducing important legislation, such as forcing corporate caterers and school canteens to introduce a minimum of 20% organic produce in their menus. Produce that is ultra-processed, over-treated, out-of-season, or grown hydroponically will be banished, leaving room for quality produce that is better for our health and our environment. Could this be a push in the right direction towards a 100% organic society?
What does it mean to eat organic?
Eating organic is about consuming produce that is better for our health, for our environment, and for the wellbeing of the animals we eat. To achieve organic certification, a product must meet a certain number of criteria set out by the law. Notably, legislation prohibits the use of synthetic chemical products and GMOs, and requires that live animals be treated respectfully. First and foremost, eating organic is, therefore, a simple way to take care of oneself and the planet.
There’s more to eating organic
Eating organic is generally part of a wider movement than just choosing fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. It can be a philosophy, a way of life, even. It is a movement that embraces self-care and environmental awareness. Choosing to eat organic can be part of choosing a healthier lifestyle, where physical exercise and a lighter, fruit-and-veg-based diet are at the forefront of the mind.
Why eat organic?
From nitrates to heavy metals and antibiotic residue, non-organic produce is treated with an array of products that leave a nasty taste in the mouth. More and more Brits are concerned with preserving their health, their planet, and its biodiversity. This is why there are turning to more regular exercise and cleaner ways of consuming that take environmental responsibility seriously.
Conventional farming and your health
Unfortunately, the synthetic products used in conventional agriculture can end up on your plate, and that has consequences. A French study published in 2016 showed that “a higher frequency of organic food consumption was associated with a reduced risk of cancer”. Similarly, regular organic eaters suffer less from cardiovascular diseases and are at a lower risk of being overweight or obese. Being naturally richer in micronutrients, organic produce boasts better nutritional value. Eating organic is therefore irrefutably better for your health!
Changing what’s on your plate to protect our planet
By eating organic, you also contribute to the protection of our planet. How? By encouraging agricultural practices that are more respectful to the environment. Conventional farming, livestock rearing, and transport associated with farming are some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Synthetic chemical pesticides have a terribly detrimental effect on biodiversity and contribute to long-lasting soil damage. Growing produce in damaged soils yields fruit and veg with insufficient nutritional value.
Eating organic to ensure animal wellbeing
The organic movement is sometimes associated with vegetarianism. While it is true that the organic “philosophy” does lend itself well to a reduction in meat consumption, eating organic is not necessarily the same as eating vegetarian. Don’t forget: meat can be organic, too! Organically-certified meat has been treated far more respectfully than other meats. Not only is it not injected with growth hormones, but livestock is fed a natural and adapted diet, and enjoys more space to live and grow. For those concerned about animal wellbeing – but who aren’t ready to completely remove meat from their diet – organic meat is, therefore, the most logical choice.
Why introduce organic produce into our kitchens?
Nearly half of all Brits eat out at least once a week, and mirroring the enthusiasm that British shoppers have for buying organic produce at the supermarket would be a wise business move. Putting organic produce front and centre of your menus is also a powerful way to give meaning to your cooking and send a message to your customers and competition. You may have to convince a few key players, but the benefits of making the transition are undeniable.
A healthy and nutritious offering
Be careful, though, because organic doesn’t automatically mean nutritious! Some ultra-processed packaged foods may indeed be labelled as “organic”, but that only refers to the raw ingredients and does not take into account how the final product is processed. Additives authorised for use in ultra-processed products seriously hinder the nutritional value they can bring and can cause numerous diseases. That’s why we prefer to buy raw produce, which is not only healthier and more nutritious, but it is tastier and the wide range of vegetables available can encourage culinary creativity.
On the hunt for fresh flavours
Organic farmers tend to seek out old varieties to replant. So, cooking with organic vegetables is a great opportunity to (re)discover forgotten vegetables and to get creative. Let your imagination take control and offer your customers a plate full of new flavours! You can always keep the traditional meat-and-two-veg option on your menu, but try taking a ‘greener’ approach that mixes colours and flavours in an inventive way.
“Good grub” that actually is good
For some, preparing a meal or grabbing something to eat is nothing more than a formality, a primitive need that requires no thought or imagination. Eating quickly between meetings or on the train, we can easily lose the taste for good food or forget the importance of a balanced diet. With a seemingly infinite number of organic varieties on offer, cooking with organic produce is an opportunity to be innovative while offering customers tasty and balanced menus. It should be a moment of culinary talent, creativity, and fun for your chef, and pure culinary delight for your guest’s taste buds.
Don’t stop there: opt for local produce, too
You can enhance your organic offering even further by only choosing quality, local produce. Sourcing your ingredients through small producers around your region helps you build loyal, trust-based relationships, ensuring the most robust quality and traceability of the goods you offer your customers. Encouraging local distribution channels is also a way to reduce the carbon footprint of your business. Think of it also as a way of avoiding the “middle man” and his cut, allowing producers to be paid what they deserve for their hard work. Finally, supporting the local economy will put your business firmly on the map. There really are too many benefits to ignore.
Quality and taste
In organic farming, large importance is placed on the nourishment of the soil rather than just the plant. This means that organic fruit and vegetables grow in soil naturally enriched by the insects living in it. Sourcing through local distribution channels means producers don’t have to pick their fruit and vegetables before they are fully ripe, a technique used to mitigate against the time it takes fresh produce to travel over long distances. Picking and preparing only the ripest produce guarantees its freshness and optimal nutritional value. Cooking with organic products is also about using fresh, seasonal ingredients that are naturally tastier and more nutritious.
A unique dining experience
For restaurateurs, introducing organic produce is an opportunity to renew menus and attract wider audiences. Chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi have revolutionised the London food scene in recent years, setting trends to meet their customers’ evolving expectations and proudly striving to serve organic vegetables and humanely-raised meats from dedicated local producers. Organic produce is hugely varied and often out of the ordinary. This variety will mean you’re never short on ideas for a dish of the day. It’s the perfect opportunity to ditch a conventional approach to cooking and offer a more modern, original, and tasty cuisine.
Organic cooking - what does it entail exactly?
Having established the many benefits of including organic produce on your menus, it is time to get into the kitchen. So put your aprons on and turn up the stove… Sliced, diced, minced, blanched, confit, sautéed… green tomatoes, red peppers, pumpkins, parsnips, potatoes, quinoa, or lentils… what are you waiting for? Mix, match, and marinate… whatever you do, dare to create a new dish. Surprise your customers, and if they like what you make, they’ll be sure to come back for more.
A marvel for the eyes and the taste buds
Eating is as much a pleasure for the taste buds as it is for the eyes. At a restaurant, the work canteen, a friend’s house, or even at home, what’s on the plate should be as pleasing to look at as it is to taste. Your passion for your cuisine should be as obvious by how it tastes as how it looks, and with organic produce, not only is the taste better but you can choose from a hugely diverse colour palette. By daring to blend different flavours, shapes, and colours, your guests will no doubt leave the table delighted.
A variety of flavours and colours
Indeed, the choice of colours and flavours of organic food is inspiring. Spices, herbs, cereals, seeds, fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat… Yellow, red, green, purple, and even blue! The list of products that can be grown organically is long, varied, and lends itself perfectly to all types of cuisine, from local coffee shops to high-end fine dining establishments. It’s a challenge that any chef can take on – just let your creativity run wild and see where your imagination takes you.
What about organic food in school canteens?
Children are fast learners. Introducing varied, original, and colourful organic produce to their plates is a sure way to win them over. Also, the earlier they experience a wider variety of foods, the more their sense of taste will develop and mature. What’s more, concocting delicious dishes with healthy food is the best way to initiate the adults of tomorrow into a more sustainable and responsible world.
There are different ways to identify if a product is organic. Across the UK, certifications are issued by different bodies and organisations, and you can still spot the EU label with its famous green leaf and stars on some produce. Organic processed food is guaranteed to be made with at least 95% organic ingredients, however, it is impossible to guarantee a 100% organic product, which is another good reason to choose raw ingredients from small, local producers.
Organic food – is it not more expensive?
Yes, organic food is, on average, noticeably more expensive. This only goes to show us how important it is to rethink our ways of cooking and consuming. Sourcing through a local producer and ordering their seasonal, non-processed produce is the first way to reduce costs. Limiting wastage and designing menus that are more “veggie” than “meaty” are other possibilities. It’s a mindset to adopt and new habits to get used to, but ultimately it is a pretty great way to preserve our health and our planet.
Did you know?
Three years. That’s how long it takes a farmer to convert to organic. This is because it’s the time it takes soil previously used for conventional farming to regenerate and rid itself of any synthetic product residue. In organic farming, it is essential to respect the changing seasons and plant produce accordingly, to maintain the richness of the soil and avoid disease and insect invasion.
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