Chefs have tapped into the versatility of watercress and are beginning to make it the star of the show.
According to Datassential, during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have been eating comfort food at record rates. It stands to reason that as the country reopens, diners will soon be looking for something a bit lighter, like it’s January and they’ve come off the year-end sprint of holiday functions and foods. Indeed, experts expect to see a shift toward cleaner, healthier ingredients and menu items.
“We’re starting to see that people are more and more health conscious, which was a trend that began long before COVID-19” says Mark DeLeo, CEO of B&W Quality Growers. “But the pandemic is putting an emphasis on antioxidants and other ways that people can use their diet to build up their immune system.”
DeLeo and others think watercress will be trending on menus soon if it isn’t already—packed with antioxidants and carrying a pleasant flavor, watercress happens to be the Center for Disease Control (cdc)’s number one “powerhouse” green in terms of health benefits, eclipsing even kale and arugula.
“We’re seeing marked increase in awareness and demand for watercress across every foodservice sector,” DeLeo says. “More and more chefs are becoming aware of this remarkable leafy green and have recognized its utility. They are finding a place for it on their menus across all dayparts, including options prepared for take-out and home delivery.”
While diners appreciate the health benefits associated with watercress, chefs enjoy watercress for its versatility. Michael Ponzio, executive chef of the Union League Club of Chicago, believes watercress is one of the most underrated greens and that chefs should be using the ingredient as far more than just a garnish.
“Watercress is unbelievable on a sandwich, a lobster roll, a burger. Don’t get me wrong—it still makes a great garnish,” Ponzio says. “But there’s so much potential with watercress. I use it in pesto, or as a purée to put on top of fresh shrimp and roasted tomatoes. It has this unique peppery flavor and slight acidity, but it still sits green and bright on the palate.”
The taste is only enhanced when the product is grown and harvested properly, Ponzio says, something B&W Quality Growers has mastered over the years.
“The quality you get from B&W is second to none,” Ponzio says. “That especially goes for their watercress, where they’ve taken the plant and given it the attention it deserves, so that when you order watercress from them you’re getting the perfect amount of stem—a small amount, but it’s still there, because you want some of it for a crunchiness—with a really nicely portioned leaf.”
Having been in business for 150 years, B&W Quality Growers exclusively sells four items: watercress, arugula, red kale, and baby spinach. The focus on those four items makes them best in class when it comes to delivering a product for chefs to work with, DeLeo says.
“We’re selective about what we do and how we do it,” DeLeo says. “We want to be the best of the best, and we’re able to do that since we’re focused on a few things rather than 100. That’s our business model, and it’s worked for 150 years.”
To find out how to get a supply of watercress from the world’s largest grower—and to enjoy more watercress tips, techniques, and recipes—visit bwqualitygrowers.com.