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Clean Label

Chefs rely increasingly on ready-to-use fruit fillings for dynamic flavor and versatility

Dynamic fruit flavors are simple to use in ready-made fillings and sauces.

Fruits are a great option for chefs seeking ingredients that complement, contrast and elevate each other.

Naturally sweet and tart, fruits’ sugars and acids are easily intensified by heating (to caramelize natural sugars) and blending, and the merged results can benefit a wide range of savory and sweet dishes. No matter the menu category, daypart or cuisine, fruit fillings help to create a variety of delicious menu options.

Pre-made fruit fillings are a great option when you don’t have the labor or time to support scratch. They’re more adaptable and give the ability for year-round seasonality. Serving cooked apples atop a Belgian waffle works just as well as adding them to a chicken pot pie to contrast its savory seasonings. A cherry filling commonly found in pastries makes an equally excellent sweet-and-sour glaze for meatloaf or Brussels sprouts. It’s hard to beat a ready-made blueberry sauce drizzled onto cheesecake, but it’s also a standout as the backbone of a tangy salad dressing.

Cherry-Chipotle Chili

Sweet marries savory

Restaurant consultant Arlene Spiegel, who has spent 30 years of her career helping chefs to develop restaurant menus, says she is continually entertained by chefs’ new uses of fruits in traditionally savory and tart dishes. Simple items like slaws more commonly feature apples, cranberries and oranges. She says that demonstrates a chef's skill in trading some of those dishes’ traditionally high acidity for more subtle tartness in fruit. “Mexican salsas are increasingly infused with tropical fruits like pineapple, mango and citrus,” she says, “expanding the sweet-tart interplay among vegetables and fruits.”

“I recently had a quiche with smoked salmon — pretty traditional — but it also included berries with fruit compote on the side,” Spiegel says. “The flavor was unexpected, almost explosive. It really woke up the palate with those textures of acid from the fruit presented against the creaminess of the egg.”

Spiegel also points to the ongoing cocktail craze in the U.S. as an incredible opportunity for fruit filling manufacturers. Having ready-made fruit fillings makes it simple to add a bar spoon of bright, sweet flavor and dramatic color to a drink, such as a blueberry spiked lemonade with whole blueberries. Milkshakes provide an opportunity for this as well, particularly for boozy milkshake options that are growing in popularity.

“I’m finding lots of bartenders who are just fascinated with them,” she says. “That kind of flavor makes real mixologists out of regular bartenders.”

Reducing prep time

During her career, Spiegel has witnessed the migration of ready-to-use fruit fillings from desserts to savory dishes, even into imaginative cocktails. Their ease of use has helped drive that evolution, though she says product consistency is its biggest benefit.

“Using prepared fruit fillings does take down the cost of preparation and labor, but above and beyond that, consistency of that fruit product is the most important aspect,” says Spiegel.

Viewing restaurant kitchens as “small manufacturing plants” requiring consistency in flavor, texture, availability and price, Spiegel says “chefs need to take advantage of these beautiful products that are out there now. It’s just smart.”

Jeremy Ashby agrees. The executive chef and partner in Dupree Catering and Azur Restaurant & Patio in Lexington, Ky., began using prepared fruit fillings “when I saw that the quality was there and knew there was no need for me to make so many things from scratch anymore.”

Whether for catered events as large as 2,000 or busy nights serving 200 guests at Azur, Ashby finds ways to utilize ready-to-use fruit fillings to give sweet roundness and tart edges to barbecue sauces, salad dressings, marinades and glazes. To make a 40-gallon batch of his “wicked-intense barbecue sauce,” Ashby reduces garlic and chilies in stock, purees them and combines them with blueberry fruit filling. Depending upon the meat that he will baste with the sauce, he might add sherry or honey to give it nutty or sweet notes.

“My rule of thumb on any scratch preparation is to ask, ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze?’” Ashby says. “It’s not worth making everything from scratch when somebody is doing as good a job as me and selling it to me at a competitive price. If you find the right product, labor inputs are reduced, but the outcome is the same level of quality.” 

To your health

In and of themselves, fruit bears a health halo which carries through in enticing menu descriptions that guests understand. Spiegel describes those ingredients as healthful and enhancing of “every dish in a chef’s repertoire.” Ashby says thoughtful operators should try to search for products with a cleaner label or products free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, etc. for their guests’ health alone. For him personally, it’s a matter of conscience and credibility, he adds.

“If I’m moving from making a fruit sauce or filling from scratch to buying it ready to use, I’m not buying something with a big list of ingredients,” he says. “I’m looking for the manufacturer to preserve the integrity of the ingredient the right way.”

Given the great flavor, versatility, consistency and year-round availability of prepared fruit fillings, it’s easy to see the important role they can play on restaurants’ menus.

Get fruity with flavor combinations:

  • Create an incredible flavor contrast by topping every portion of your smoky, tangy chili with 1 to 2 ounces of cherry fruit filling.
  • For a unique salad dressing, blend blueberry fruit filling with apple cider vinegar and Dijon mustard.
  • Make your pork burgers memorable and moist by blending in apple fruit filling.
  • You won’t need maple syrup on your French toast when you top it with blueberry fruit filling.

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