This past weekend I was in beautiful Monterey, California, attending the annual Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference. I found it energizing to rendezvous with friends and enjoyed some fantastic educational programs there.

Much of Saturday morning was filled with speakers talking about food trends. One of the most prominent trends is the increasing presence of vegetables at the “center of the plate.” There has been a buzz about this for many years, but it seems to have reached critical mass now.

In fact, both Chef Jet Tila of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and Gerry Ludwig, Corporate Consulting Chef of Gordon Food Service, ended their presentation with a prediction on the next big vegetable trend:

Carrots and Cauliflower.

Yes, you read correctly. They said that these two “rather common” veggies were actually cutting edge. Thick, center-cut Cauliflower can be grilled like a steak, and served as the main course. And, of course, Cauliflower is not just white anymore. You have purple, orange, & green.

And Carrots—well they come in a variety of colors and sizes, too. They will be roasted with the tops on! Yep—the latest green in the vegetable world is the carrot top. It’s an example of “root to stem” cooking.

As I listened to these presentations about veg-centric cooking, I started thinking that perhaps the produce industry’s incredible push to educate and increase fruit and vegetable consumption is really working! Even First Lady Michelle Obama promoted our industry with the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program.

And then, BAM! My happy bubble burst.

The after lunch speaker was none other than Chef Hugh Acheson, one of the hottest chefs in America. You’ve probably seen him as a judge on “Top Chef” or a contestant on “Top Chef Masters.”

Hugh had heard the morning speakers and opened his comments with his take: Want to know what has really pushed chefs to get creative with vegetables? The cost of protein.

He told us that protein costs are going through the roof. Chefs know that their food costs should be around 30 percent, so to keep from raising their prices they had to get creative. So, instead of serving an 8 or 10-ounce steak, they now serve a 6-ounce steak and put a large variety of prepared vegetables center stage on the plate. Another adjunct trend is the use of meat broth as a flavoring for vegetables.

So it is economics. And our health wins!

Hugh also shared the genesis of his newest cookbook, The Broad Fork. He is a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and gets a box of locally grown produce every week. His neighbor also gets a box. It seemed as if every week his neighbor would come over and ask Hugh, “What the hell do I do with Kohlrabi?” (I guess there was Kohlrabi in the box quite often.)

Kohlrabi prep.

A photo posted by Hugh Acheson (@hughacheson) on

So, for a year, Hugh took his weekly CSA box and developed four recipes for every single item. The result was this amazing cookbook filled with seriously delicious and very creative recipes.

So, if you want to know what the hell to do with Kohlrabi or Celery Root or Parsnips, check out Hugh’s gorgeous cookbook. I can’t wait to start cooking from it!

Karen Caplan and Hugh Acheson
Chef Hugh Acheson and me

Enjoy!

Karen

Like many people, I bought a juicer a few years ago after watching the movie, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” starring Australia-born Joe Cross. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. (You can get it on iTunes or Amazon.)

I was enamored with juicing and its positive effects on our health. Of course, I started out with great intentions for my juicer. However, juicing is a hassle and there are many things that didn’t work for me:

  1. You have to buy LOTS and LOTS of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic vegetables for me, thank you).
  2. I would make a large pitcher of green juice, and it would take me many days to drink it all. I think it lost its potency after the first day.
  3. It just didn’t feel right throwing away all the pulp from the veggies but that’s what I had to do.
  4. Cleaning up was the biggest hassle. My Breville juicer was the top of the line, but it took me longer to scrub every piece and part of the juicer than it took me to make my green drink.

So, my juicer was just staring at me every morning from my kitchen counter, and soon it was gathering dust. Eventually, I gave it to a friend.

But I still long for the benefits of juicing.

Then I went to Costco one day with my friend Lilliana. She pointed out to me this amazing gadget called a Blendtec® blender. I watched the demo person pour into the blender some coconut water, add a few leaves of kale and then chunks of frozen fruit, and in 30 seconds, she handed out samples of a refreshing and very healthy drink.

Admittedly, I was highly influenced by Lilliana who said the Blendtec® changed her life. She, too, wanted the health benefits of juicing, but hated the waste of throwing out all that pulp and the messy cleanup as much as I did.

So here is my new summer breakfast routine: 8 ounces coconut water, 2 to 3 cups of kale and/or spinach leaves (although today it was arugula as that was the only green in my fridge), one banana, and four to five chunks of frozen mango (a natural sweetener whose frozen state makes the texture more like a smoothie). Sometimes I add half a cucumber and lemon—skin and all. It may not sound like much, but it is very filling and gives me energy for the entire morning.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Blendtec Smoothie
My breakfast looks a lot like this Blendtec smoothie. Click for recipe.

And the best parts? I don’t have to throw any pulp away, my entire cleanup process is just rinsing the Blendtec under running water, and I’m out the door. No scrubbing!

Talk about the intersection of healthy and convenience! If you’re burned out on juicing, definitely try blending instead.

Karen

Pre-book New Mexico’s famous green chiles and partner with Frieda’s for a roasting event today

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Hatch Green Chile

LOS ALAMITOS, CA (July 2015) – Hatch Chiles from New Mexico are back in season from August through September, and Frieda’s Inc. has guaranteed volume and good supply. Frieda’s team also has the expertise to assist retailers in a Hatch Chile roasting program.

According to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the green chile business continues to increase. The department estimates there will be between 700 and 800 semi loads of fresh market green chiles being sold in retail stores nationwide. That number increases annually.

Chile Pepper aficionados flock to stores to grab up these chiles and shoppers look forward to Hatch Season each year as a result of the success Frieda’s retail partners have had roasting at their stores.

Exclusively grown in the Mesilla Valley near Hatch, New Mexico, these green chiles are well loved by “chile heads” for their robust flavor and the zesty fragrance released when they are roasted over an open flame.

Frieda’s will offer four heat levels of Hatch Chiles—mild, medium, hot, and extra hot—in 25-pound cases.

To inquire about Frieda’s Hatch Chile Program, please call (714) 826-6100 today.

About Frieda’s Inc.

With over 50 years of fresh produce innovation, Frieda’s Specialty Produce continues to change the way America eats fruits and vegetables. Founded in 1962 by Frieda Caplan, Frieda’s was the first wholesale produce company in the U.S. to be founded, owned, and operated by a woman, and is still a family- and women-owned business today. Frieda’s has introduced more than 200 specialty items to U.S. produce departments, including Kiwifruit, Spaghetti Squash, Habanero Peppers, Sunchokes®, Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes, Sangria and Fiore Viola Artichokes, and many more. Frieda’s featured program is “Eat One Fruit a Day That Scares You,” which encourages everyone to #FearNoFruit. Connect with Frieda’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and at Friedas.com.

 

It always bugs me when I go into a produce department and all the fruits are so large. You know what I mean—strawberries the size of billiard balls, apples and oranges (or even bananas) so big that you could split the fruit with a friend! And these big fruits don’t always have the best flavor.

I would rather have medium- or small-sized fruits with better flavor. (Honestly, they’re also a perfect portion to snack on!)

So, I was very interested to read an article in the recent Los Angeles Times Business Section entitled, “Growing flavorful fruit with less water.”

The story was about David “Mas” Masumoto, the well-known farmer (and author of the famous book, “Epitaph for a Peach.”) Mas owns an 80-acre organic farm just south of Fresno, right in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. When the LA Times writer asked Mas about the drought in California and the effects on his farming practice, he responded:

“We’ve been experimenting with this petite peach method this year, where we’re cutting back water use 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent on some select areas of the orchard to see how it responds….Can you not grow a small, water-efficient peach that has just as intense flavor? And you can.”

Flavor! Yippee! I was so excited to read this. Mas verified what I have been thinking for some time. Supermarkets have us consumers convinced that bigger is better, so they buy only large, premium-sized fruit. And they encouraged growers to develop large-size varieties (which you can do with pruning and farm practices) because the stores get premium prices for them.

David
David “Mas” Masumoto – Photo credit: Zocalo Public Square

But what happened to buying fruit based on flavor? I would much prefer a smaller piece of fruit and know that it has intense, awesome flavor.

Here is a dirty little secret of the produce industry. Consumption of soft fruit (peaches, nectarines, and plums) has declined so much in the last 10 years that many large farmers in Central California have started pulling out trees because they have a hard time making money selling their fruit. I believe the reason consumption has gone down is because the flavor and eating quality of the fruit have declined to the point that consumers don’t want to waste their valuable money on tasteless fruit. They have so many other choices like juicy watermelons and mixed melons, easy-peel citrus (like Cuties®) that they vote with their dollars. And those dollars aren’t going to soft fruit.

Based on Mas’ comment on water, a big part of that decline in flavor is over-watering in order to get bigger fruit.

So what if other fruit farmers use Mas’ methods and start cutting back their water usage and grow smaller fruits with big, bold flavor? Can you imagine juicy peaches and nectarines like you had as a child?

In an interview a year ago, I was asked, “What would you change about the produce industry?” My answer was to change the USDA grades and standards so that all imperfect fruit that never makes it to market and goes to the dumpster can be sold. I believe this could help alleviate hunger by making fruit produce more accessible and affordable.

And have you noticed that all over the world supermarkets are launching campaigns to sell “imperfect fruit?”

Well, my prediction this week is that farmers will be forced to reduce their water consumption, but will continue to farm. The unintended benefit will be smaller, more flavorful fruit.

And who knows, maybe consumption of fresh peaches, nectarines, and plums will start to go up as consumers fall in love with their flavors all over again. And smaller sizes of apples, bananas, and strawberries will encourage better snacking and encourage people to eat more of them.

Something to think about.

Karen

GFSI and CCOF inspections confirm Frieda’s high quality standards

LOS ALAMITOS, CA (July 2015) – Frieda’s Specialty Produce continues to focus on providing the highest quality to its customers, once again passing its annual Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmark audit and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) organic audit.

“Food safety is of high importance here at Frieda’s, and this is validation that we are not only just in compliance, but at the top percentile of compliance,” says Jackie Caplan Wiggins, Frieda’s Vice President and COO. “We also remain 100 percent compliant with the USDA National Organic Program. Everyone at Frieda’s is proud of these accomplishments. What that means for our customers is they know we have the strictest requirements for the suppliers we represent and for our own handling processes and procedures.”

Based on the audit in April, Frieda’s received a superior score of 99.62 percent on the PrimusGFS Packinghouse Audit, the highest global standard. Performed by PrimusLabs, this score is an improvement from last year’s score of 99.35.

Additionally, the organic audit performed in June by CCOF confirmed that Frieda’s remains 100 percent compliant with the National Organic Program set up by the USDA.

The GFSI is an initiative for the continuous improvement of food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide.

As one of the first organic certification entities in the United States, the CCOF certifies more than 2,500 organic operations in 38 states and three foreign countries, and serves over 240 supporting members—consumers, suppliers, businesses, and individuals.

Frieda’s clients may request updated certificates and final audit results. Please contact Frieda’s Compliance Department for more details.

 

About Frieda’s Inc.

With over 50 years of fresh produce innovation, Frieda’s Specialty Produce continues to change the way America eats fruits and vegetables. Founded in 1962 by Frieda Caplan, Frieda’s was the first wholesale produce company in the U.S. to be founded, owned, and operated by a woman, and is still a family- and women-owned business today. Frieda’s has introduced more than 200 specialty items to U.S. produce departments, including Kiwifruit, Spaghetti Squash, Habanero Peppers, Sunchokes®, Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes, Sangria and Fiore Viola Artichokes, and many more. Frieda’s featured program is “Eat One Fruit a Day That Scares You,” which encourages everyone to #FearNoFruit. Connect with Frieda’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and at Friedas.com.