What are heirloom vegetables?
Heirloom vegetables and plants are “‘old school’ veggies and flowering plants that have been handed down from one generation of gardeners and farmers to the next. These heirloom crops can usually be traced back to a time before the large-scale hybridisation of produce. Hybridisation means the plants have been deliberately cross-pollinated to encourage specific traits, like a more appealing shape or colour.
According to Gardening Know How, some horticulturists define heirloom plants and vegetables as anything developed before 1951, just before the first hybrids were introduced.
Essentially, heirloom vegetables are the hipsters of the produce world, remaining distinct from their mass-produced cousins. In most cases, heirloom crops have been preserved because many believe their produce is of superior quality to what is most widely available today.
Why have heirloom vegetables grown in popularity?
As we mentioned in our article on plant-based food swaps, a recent Food Frontier report highlighted that at least 42% of Australians we’re actively eating less meat or were eating none at all (identifying as either vegetarian or vegan). This is why plant-based meat alternatives, like the HARVEST GOURMET® Sensational™ Burger, have been developed as a way to serve the growing demand for meat-free menu options. And, as you might expect, this trend towards eating less meat also puts a greater spotlight on our favourite veggies, including organic heirloom varieties.
Also, with increased awareness of the value of choosing more sustainable ingredients, more people are concerned about where their food originates. Heirloom vegetables allow a diner to trace the origins of an ingredient back to the specific field it was grown with assurance that it is totally organic.
Heirloom vegetables also have a novelty factor since they look so unique compared to regular produce. For example, an heirloom carrot might be purple or yellow instead of the standard orange people are used to seeing. Many heirloom varieties, like heirloom tomatoes, can grow to enormous sizes that you need to see to believe.
Where can you buy heirloom vegetables?
One of the best ways to source heirloom vegetables is through your local growers’ market. It can be helpful to do some research on different varieties of heirloom vegetables beforehand so you know what you’re looking for.
Some heirloom vegetables are more scarce than others, and many varieties have gone extinct over the last century. However, a small yet passionate community of organic farmers and backyard growers are determined to preserve as many heirloom vegetables as possible.
How can heirloom vegetables be valuable for restaurants?
By going with heirloom vegetables, you have the opportunity to create a unique story behind a menu item. For example, if you were to offer an heirloom tomato salad, diners would know that they are getting a vegetable with a vibrant history and unique taste. You can also use heirloom vegetables in your dishes to add some visual appeal, making a dish look so good that customers need to stop and stare (and perhaps share a photo of it on social media) before digging in.
The unique history, colour, shape, size, and flavour of many heirloom vegetables gives you an easy way to add something extra to your dishes that draws the interest of customers. You can also use heirloom vegetables in dishes that they don’t typically appear in, where they can really stand out. Make sure you take full advantage of the unique appearance of heirloom vegetables when you’re taking photos of your dishes (see our article on food photography tips for advice on lighting, composition, and more.)
If you’re planning to incorporate heirloom vegetables in your dishes, make sure you’re getting the most out of them by using boosters and concentrates in your cooking. Our MAGGI Vegetable Booster and CHEF Vegetable Liquid Concentrate are excellent options for adding an enhanced depth of flavour to any heirloom vegetables you decide to use.
Ready to start using heirloom vegetables?
Heirloom vegetables are an excellent way to make your dishes stand out, enriching them with unique history, flavour, and visual appeal. If you’re thinking about adding heirloom vegetables to the dishes in your menu, consider reading our tips for simple menu design so you can maximise their appeal without overwhelming your customers with too many options.