As appeared in Plate Magazine, March 2020
Well-informed consumers are seeking out new, adventurous and healthier food experiences. Chefs are meeting this
demand with undeniably creative menus showcasing intriguing globally influenced and plant-based offerings that
feature leafy greens, locally grown vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
Whether globally influenced, plant-based or both, whole-grain rice has been an essential component for just
about every conceivable cuisine in recorded culinary history. Recognizing this versatility, chefs have found
whole grain brown rice lends flavor, texture and familiarity to increasingly popular dishes such as stir fries,
curries, salads, tacos and paella.
Compared to white rice, brown rice is minimally processed, retains its bran layer and cereal germ, and
represents a healthy promise. For these reasons (and others, no doubt), chefs and consumers are indicating a
preference for this nutty and wholesome ingredient. In fact, its appearance on menus has increased 17% over the
past four years (to 11.6% menu penetration), per Datassential.
Younger consumers (Millennials and Gen Z) are especially partial to brown rice. In other Datassential research 93%
of all consumers are familiar with the ingredient. And in fact, in their Plant-Based Eating Keynote, March 2018, 60% of consumers love or like brown rice.
Going to Grain Lengths
At Greens Restaurant, a renowned vegetarian eatery in San Francisco, brown rice is a staple. “Our clientele
is definitely health-oriented and asks for brown rice all the time,” says Executive Chef Denise St. Onge.
“Of course, we recognize its versatility, flavor and texture, and [we] use it regularly, especially in our
stir fry and curry dishes. We even specify brown rice as an integral part of our Greens To Go menu, a healthy
grab-and-go concept that operates from the front of our restaurant.”
Brown rice is also popular at Bayona and Rosedale in New Orleans. “Our patrons eat a lot of rice and
appreciate the inclusion of brown rice whenever it’s served,” says Susan Spicer, chef/owner of both
establishments. “From a culinary perspective, we're always on the lookout for interesting combinations. We
find that brown rice pairs particularly well with fish served with a citrus gastrique and ginger, as well as
Rice bowls are also appearing on menus across every category of foodservice—from fast casual to high end.
According to the National
Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot: 2020 Culinary Forecast, bowls are ranked fourth out of
133 menu trends for 2020.
Recognizing that mainstream and health-conscious consumers find bowls satisfying and delicious, chefs are
expressing their creativity by layering and contrasting intensely colorful, fresh, and marinated vegetables with
seeds, nuts, and cheeses.
When it comes to protein, these layered beauties can be topped off simply with tofu, sliced chicken, or poached
egg—or more substantially with grilled salmon, flank steak, or duck confit.
Brown rice, quinoa and various blends of whole grains are appealing to increasing numbers of health-oriented
consumers, as well as to those looking to elevate their traditional white rice-based dishes in terms of
nutrition, texture and flavor. These grains are readily available to chefs in low-cost single-grain and
grain-blend formats, allowing them to easily exploit their culinary vision in a variety of presentations.