Encino, California-based retailer Gelson’s offer a full lineup of root-to-stem vegetables in its fresh produce department, with kale, collard greens, chard, beets, carrots and other commodities leading the way, says Paul Kneeland, the company’s executive director of fresh operations.
The biggest changes in the category in recent years, Kneeland says, have been in the explosive growth of kale and organic vegetables.
Initially, Gelson’s had trouble sourcing many of the organic root-to-stem vegetables, and they were more expensive, but in recent years volumes have gone way up and prices have dropped accordingly.
And then there’s kale.
“Obviously there’s been a craze for kale for years, but it’s still quite hot. It continues to grow.”
With the surge in demand for kale, Gelson’s opened up a significant amount of shelf space in its produce departments. In some cases space devoted to some lettuce shrunk to make room for all the extra kale.
The whole kale plant is a huge seller not only in Gelson’s produce section, Kneeland says, but also in the retailer’s deli section.
“Kale is one of our most popular salads, Jessica’s Crunchy Kale Salad, which was created by our dietitian.” Root-to-stem applications also can be found in Gelson’s chefs deli and prepared foods dishes, he adds.
Another evolution in grocery stores’ root-to-stem vegetable offerings has been in how they’re used, and as a result, what they’re called, Kneeland says.
“When it first came out, it was basically all used for cooking, so it was called the ‘cooking veg’ section,” he says. “Now leaves are being used for juicing, collards are in wraps, kale is used for juicing — there are so many more uses now.”
Value-added has also made its impact on the category, Kneeland says. Cut kale, cut collards and cut chard in bags are a growing category for Gelson’s and other retailers.
The rise in value-added and other options within a given commodity has caused a decline in demand for some bulk root-to-stem vegetables, Kneeland says. Carrots are one example.
“You have so many diff things choose from — bagged minis, bagged babys regular bagged carrots. And some people don’t want to deal with the tops.”
Many consumers, he adds, feel the same way about beets. The category as a whole is very popular, he says, but with more pre-peeled value-added options available, people see the advantage of not having to do that work themselves.
That said, for every consumer who likes the convenience of value-added, there’s one who loves the advantages they perceive root-to-stem offers.
“Other customers think it’s fresher — it’s kind of the image they have,” Kneeland says. “That could be true. And a lot of them that the flavor is so much better.”
Those customers often don’t care about having using the roots, stems, flowers, stalks or leaves on a root-to-stem product, Kneeland says. With carrots, for example, they might take the tops off right there in the produce department.
Nutrition, not waste
For Cincinnati-based retail giant Kroger, one of the main selling points to get consumers to try root-to-stem is the nutritional benefits.
“Have you considered how many vitamins and nutrients go to waste when we discard parts of our produce during meal preparation?” Kroger asks.
In the wellness section of its website, Kroger outlines five tips and tricks for root-to-stem cooking:
· Use carrot tops, stems of greens and cores of cabbage and cauliflower for stocks;
· Oven-bake potato peels with olive oil and seasonings to use as crispy salad toppers;
· Shred or shave broccoli and cauliflower stems into slaws and salads;
· Use celery leaves and radish greens in salads or soups; and
· Replace cilantro or parsley with carrot greens.
Root to stem trending
Root to stem is so hot, it made Austin, Texas-based retailer Whole Foods Market’s list of top 10 food trends.
“Between nose-to-tail butchery and reducing food waste, a few forces are combining to inspire root-to-stem cooking,” according to Whole Foods. “ Recipes like pickled watermelon rinds, beet-green pesto or broccoli-stem slaw have introduced consumers to new flavors and textures from old favorites.”
The produce butcher at Whole Foods’ Bryant Park store in New York City includes root-to-stem items on the store’s salad bar, including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and celery seasonal varieties; Melon Seed Agua Fresca; Butternut Squash with Celery Leaves and Orecchiette; and bagged broccoli slaw.
Root-to-stem food tips from food hall pioneer Eataly:
Celery root pairs well with seafood. Try a celery root purée for a sear-roasted fish filet by cutting the root and a few small potatoes into pieces, and simmer with a few small garlic cloves until tender. Purée the vegetables with some of the remaining cooking liquid, a little cream, and salt and pepper to taste.
Parsley root can be substituted in cooked recipes that call for carrots, parsnips, and turnips. Try them baked in a gratin, pan-fried in fritters, or deep-fried as chips.
Many roots play nicely with other roots and tubers. Try them try them roasted, mashed, or puréed together.
Peels, skins and rinds:
These are one of the first things to go in the garbage bin, but the pigments of produce are healthful, and the skins and peels are a concentrated source of phytochemicals, soluble fibers, and antioxidants.
For a dessert option, sprinkle the zest of a citrus fruit into a cookie or muffin recipe to add a delightful kick, or discover how to candy the rinds.
Skins also work great as sides. Spread well-scrubbed potato skins on an oiled cookie sheet, drizzle a little olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper, and bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. Top with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Last but not least, give your cocktails an extra twist by infusing the spirits with fresh fruit or vegetable peels and skins.