As more people choose plant-based, more wholesome diets, they’re coming back to the Mediterranean way of eating. Consumers of all ages are favoring flavors from Italy, Southern France, and Greece — from Millennials looking for fresher flavors to aging Baby Boomers looking to eat healthier — and restaurants are responding.
With 166 units spread across 17 states, this Texas-based chain recently introduced a new Mediterranean superfood: the lupini bean. A mild tasting legume found in the southern Mediterranean basin that’s packed with fiber, protein (26 grams), B-complex vitamins and metabolism-boosting thiamin, the lupini bean is a key ingredient in the newly released Live Med Salad with thin ribbons of zucchini squash, fresh spinach, farro, cherry tomatoes and parmesan cheese tossed in a Calabrian pepper dressing. Zoës Kitchen also introduced a new feta dip with cherry tomatoes, olives, extra virgin olive oil, basil, Calabrian peppers and pita chips, and two new “piadina” Panini-style sandwiches with Mediterranean-inspired fillings, including a spinach and mushroom version with feta spread and mozzarella cheese and an Italian flatbread version with grilled ham, fresh mozzarella, mixed greens, Calabrian pepper aioli and a lemon vinaigrette.
Restaurant Chains with Mediterranean-Based Menus
- Garbanzo Fresh Mediterranean: This Denver-based fast-casual operation with 24-and-counting locations renamed and rebranded itself last year to build on its 8 years and appeal to a growing group of younger diners.
- Roti Mediterranean Grill: The Chicago-based chain has more than 20 locations throughout Illinois, Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
- Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe: With more than 36 units primarily across the Midwest, South and Southwest, this fast-casual chain takes inspiration from Greek cuisine.
The percent of consumers more likely to live past 70 and have fewer chronic illnesses, physical limitations and mental degenerative problems if they follow a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet, according to The Annals of Internal Medicine, 2013.
Q&A: Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian with Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization
FE&S: What are the hallmarks of a Mediterranean diet? What are the top ingredients?
KT: Home cooked, plant-centric meals enjoyed in the company of friends and family are the hallmarks of Mediterranean cuisine. As in most traditional diets, a staple grain anchors the elegant yet unfussy dishes, while a variety of seasonal produce fills out the plate with color and texture. Olive oil is the principal cooking fat, and is also drizzled on fish, salads or antipastos as a finishing oil. Pulses, such as chickpeas or cannellini beans, often round out the main courses, while traditional cheeses, fish, and fresh herbs add flavor, energy, and regional identity. Wine is enjoyed in moderation with meals, and fruit is the everyday dessert. Sweet treats are reserved for special celebrations, rather than daily indulgences.
FE&S: Why do you think Mediterranean-style eating is gaining in popularity?
KT: Consumers are also becoming less responsive to "eat less" messages, and are instead looking for positive models of nutrition behavior. Market research affirms this shift in thinking. According to the 2015 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council, 78 percent of people agree that they would prefer positive messages about what to eat rather than negative messages about what not to eat.
FE&S: What have you seen restaurants/foodservice operators do to incorporate more Mediterranean-inspired foods in their menus?
KT: One of the most popular restaurant concepts right now is the grain bowl, also sometimes called a "globowl," which serves as the perfect vessel for Mediterranean ingredients, such as farro, leafy greens, and other regional specialties. Restaurant operators have also broadened their interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine, outside of Italian spaghetti and Greek salads to incorporate Middle Eastern and North African condiments, spices and flavors. Offering small tapas or mezze plates to share amongst friends is also a Mediterranean food tradition gaining traction.