By Micah Cheek
Spring’s bounty will be headed to shelves in just a few months, and customers will be looking for the most Instagram-friendly options for their plates. In addition to the usual snap peas and asparagus, the more exciting options for spring produce have never been better.
Interest in foraged produce is continuing to increase. “On the specialty side the most typical produce would be morel mushrooms and ramps. Next would be fiddlehead ferns. You’ve got a bunch of peripheral specialties there [too], miners lettuce and nettles,” says Justin Marx, CEO of Marx Foods.
Morels are a traditional spring favorite in the northwest, becoming available in April. ”Morels just knock it out of the park,” says Kim Brauer, Culinary Concierge at Marx Foods. “In the Northwest, a lot of us survive winter be knowing that morels will be coming out.” Now that wild vegetables have moved from a restaurant favorite to a foodie phenomenon, they are expected to remain on the minds of consumers. “The ramps and the nettles, I’m seeing more cooks look for those,” Brauer adds. Ramps and stinging nettles will be available for their limited growing season from April to May.
Edible flowers like pansy blossoms and orchids have been a popular garnish in fine restaurants, but producers are beginning to see interest from retail outlets as well. Marx says, “As they become more affordable and available, it’ll just become more common. A lot of them have culinary merit and flavors that deserve their own merit.” Brauer notes that people want to use them as garnish for regular meals to make them feel like they have a restaurant quality meal. Squash blossoms are seeing interest as they make their way out of the restaurant and on to the dinner table. For retailers, Marx Foods usually supplies a single species of edible flower, followed by a variety if there is greater interest. Another interesting edible flower is the Szechuan button, named after the Szechuan pepper for the numbing and tingling sensation both products induce. “It’s a little yellow flower that tastes like electricity,” says Marx. Cocktail parties can also be livened up by edible blossoms, as an attractive and unusual garnish.
For Easter, the classic fresh vegetable choices are expected to remain robust, so much more so if those veggies are miniature. The cipollini onions are being joined by baby beets, carrots and radishes, says Karen Caplan, President and CEO of Frieda’s, Inc. A violaceous variety will be available for Frieda’s “Power of Purple” promotion in March. A monochromatic medley will be promoted, including purple snow peas, cauliflower, artichokes and a new breed of purple sweet potatoes.
For late winter and early spring, an increasing variety of citrus will become available. “In the winter and spring, we do a bang-up job in all the citrus categories,” says Caplan. More specialty options like Meyer lemons, Buddha’s hand (a fingered variety of citron) and finger limes have been finding their way into popular recipes. The same goes for some non-citrus tropical fruits. “Dragonfruit has just become the darling of American consumers,” Caplan adds.