Plate the Rainbow: Get Creative with Colorful Ingredients

Color Counts

It’s an adage we’ve all heard – Eat the rainbow! The American Heart Association has been recommending it for years. Adding colorful fruits and vegetables to meals is a hint to eat healthy—the more colors, the more variety you are consuming. But color is about more than just eating healthy. For restaurants, menu development with color is key to keep consumers interested. Colorful ingredients are social media-worthy and adding different, delicious hues to meals can be accomplished in many ways. 

A Palette of Ingredients

Colorful ingredients can be treated as a “painter’s palette” for chefs. They can also be a way to add color to items not normally known for their brightness. For example, turmeric has a deep golden color. It can be added to dressings and sauces to spruce up plates. Acai offers crimson; butterfly pea flower offers blues on its own and purple when combined with citrus. Green is everywhere, from using vegetables on their own to adding dark leafy greens to pasta mixtures for gorgeous green noodles. Using multiple colors of the same ingredient, such as bell peppers, is another easy way to add color without changing recipes. If you normally use green bell peppers on a pizza, change things up by adding red and yellow bells as well. These simple tricks can spice up menu development for any establishment.  

Local Color

Local, organic heirloom fruits and vegetables have been popular for some time now. One of the best things about heirloom ingredients, however, is the almost endless variety of color these plants produce. Virtually every vegetable comes in multiple colors, from carrots to kale. This opens up new avenues for innovation. Who says a carrot puree has to be orange? It can be yellow, purple, or even black and white. Radishes come in varieties like Easter Egg (white, purple, pink and red), daikon (white), and watermelon (pink). Add several varieties to a crudite for an easy pop of color, or take a tip from the French and serve colorful radish slices with sea salt-dusted butter for an Instagram-ready take on a classic.  

Get to know your suppliers and see what kind of colorful heirlooms they offer. Heirloom fruits and vegetables change by season, which means there will never be a shortage of rainbow options to choose from. 

Brighten Up Beverages

It’s not just about eating—you can also drink the rainbow. Mocktails and cocktails are the perfect medium to experiment with color. And it’s not just mixers, either. Some of the liquors themselves are capitalizing on the color trend. Take gin, for example. It’s no longer just crystal clear. Gin now comes in a range of pretty pale shades, such as pink, blue and purple. There is even a color-changing gin made with butterfly pea flowers. Depending on what it is mixed with, this gin changes color from deep indigo to petal pink. 

Non-alcoholic mixers are also jumping onto the trend. Think about trending fruit and vegetable drinks like kombucha and cold-pressed juices. These kinds of drinks include a wide variety of flavors and therefore colors, making them a simple trending ingredient. Consider also the world of shrubs—concentrated syrups made from fruit (or herbs), sugar and vinegar. Whether house-made or supplier-bought, shrubs take on color depending on what they are made from; even the vinegar used affects hue, though apple cider vinegar is the most common place to start. Shrubs serve as a staple for cocktails for a while now, but they are making their way into the mocktails trend. Using shrubs is a way to change things up when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks. With the wide variety of shrubs available, creating a vibrant rainbow of mocktail options is simple.

Colorful Ingredients

When it comes to beverages of any kind, getting creative with garnishes is another way to add color. The world of drink garnishes and additions has moved far past the maraschino cherry or the humble citrus slice. Muddling fruits adds color, especially when using pigment-rich berry varieties. Stone fruits offer the same tinting, as do herbs and botanicals. Even just a slight tinge creates eye appeal and uniqueness that will have consumers snapping pics for social media and ordering more every time. 

So take those colorful ingredients and apply it to your menu development. It works for every daypart. Eye appeal, social media, consumer and interest, and more await. This trend is truly your pot of gold!

Eat Well, 

Dawn Ferchak

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Dawn Ferchak

Dawn Ferchak has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. She received her BA in English Literature from William Paterson University and began her career straight out of college. Her areas of expertise include food, travel, hospitality, pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences, health and wellness, and the arts. She is a published poet and creative writer. In her spare time, she volunteers with animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations.