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Eat More Kale®: Chick-fil-A® Debuts Kale-Broccolini® Superfood Side By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS

Posted on May 10, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor


Eat More Kale®: Chick-fil-A® Debuts Kale-Broccolini® Superfood Side
By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS

Beginning in January 2016 Chick-fil-A introduced in all of its approximately 1,900 restaurants nationwide a kale-broccolini salad side dish.

The dish consists of kale and broccolini tossed in a maple vinaigrette dressing and topped with dried sour cherries. It is served with an optional blend of roasted nuts (walnuts, almonds and pecans).

Broccolini is a trademarked hybrid of broccoli and Chinese kale. According to an article on the Chick-fil-A website there is only one US grower and supplier of this cruciferous vegetable, family-owned produce supplier and Certified Women Owned® Business Mann Packing® The Superfood Side dish is anticipated to use 20% of the total broccolini supply in the U.S.

The Vegetarian Resource Group spoke with Leigh Jackson of a public relations firm representing Chick-fil-A. She contacted Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist on our behalf who confirmed by email that the Superfood Side is “all-vegetable.”

Superfood Side Ingredients
We followed up with Leigh by requesting more information about the ingredients in the new menu item. On the Chick-fil-A website we found this ingredient statement:

broccolini, kale, maple vinaigrette dressing (maple syrup, soybean oil, water, brown sugar, onion ([including dehydrated], distilled vinegar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce [water, soybeans, salt, alcohol], balsamic vinegar, salt, spice, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate added as preservatives, maltodextrin, dextrose, canola oil, yeast extract, natural flavor, calcium disodium EDTA to protect flavor), dried cherries (cherries, sugar, sunflower oil), roasted nut blend (glazed walnuts [walnuts, sugar, natural flavor, canola oil], roasted almonds, glazed pecans [pecans, sugar, natural flavor, canola oil]).

Without our asking specifically about the sugar, this is what Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist relayed to us by email about the dressing when we inquired: “Is the maple vinaigrette dressing all-vegetable?”:

The maple vinaigrette dressing would be considered vegetarian in that it does not contain any meat-, poultry- or fish-derived ingredients. We would not consider this product vegan due to the possible use of the brown sugar being comprised of cane sugar that may have been filtered through bone char.

Sugar is also listed as an ingredient for the cherries and nuts. The VRG wished to know if the statement about the brown sugar also applied to the sugar on the cherries and the nuts. In other words, we asked if the sugar used on the cherries and on the nuts had been filtered through cow bone char.

After a few weeks Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist replied:
“I have good news to share regarding the sugar that we source to manufacture the roasted nut blend; it is indeed vegan. Thus, we have confirmation from the refineries that we source the sugar from that they are not using bone charcoal in any part of their processes.”

In light of this additional information about the sugar in the nut blend, The VRG wondered if the nutritionist’s earlier response about the brown sugar in the maple vinaigrette dressing needed to be reevaluated. So we asked again: Has Chick-fil-A confirmed with their brown sugar supplier that cow bone char was used to filter the sugar?

Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist replied a second time on this point: “We did confirm with the supplier on the brown sugar in the vinaigrette [that cow bone char filtration was possible].” No further information was provided.
Regarding how the sugar used in the cherries was processed, Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist originally stated: “We did confirm that the cherries are vegetarian but not vegan.”

We then asked Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist to clarify exactly what she had intended to say about the sugar in the cherries. We wanted to know if the statement above about the cherries implied that the sugar used on the cherries had definitely been filtered through cow bone char or possibly had been so whitened.

After a few more weeks, Chick-fil-A’s nutritionist responded to us a second time about the sugar on the cherries by informing us that

The sugar on the cherries would be classified as vegetarian, but not vegan, as the sugar has the potential to come into contact with animal products during the whitening process.

Q&A with Chick-fil-A’s Nutritionist
Here are several followup questions we asked Chick-fil-A and the nutritionist’s responses all relayed to us in a timely fashion:

Q: Is the maple vinaigrette dressing optional?
A: No, the dressing is applied to the kale and broccolini in larger portions, and then portioned into the salad bowls.

Q: Are the cherries and nuts optional?
A: The cherries are added to the larger portion recipe before serving it into the bowls so they are not optional. The nuts are optional.

Q: Was an animal-derived anti-foaming agent used to produce the maple syrup?
A: The maple vinaigrette does not contain any anti-foaming agents. Per the supplier, it is considered vegetarian.

We also wanted to know about the side dish’s preparation and Chick-fil-A’s kitchen protocols. The following is what we received by email as replies to our questions below:

Q: Are the kale and broccolini prepared without animal broths, animal fats, etc.?
A: The ingredients in the Superfood Salad are not cooked.

Q: Are the kale and broccolini prepared in pots never used for meat products?
A: The ingredients in the Superfood Salad are not prepared in pots.

Q: Are the kale and broccolini pre-prepared at a central location and delivered to restaurants or is the preparation onsite at each location?
A: The kale is pre-chopped while the broccolini arrives whole and is prepared in restaurant.

Q: How are the kale and broccolini cooked (sauteed, boiled, steamed, etc.?) or are they served raw like lettuce and hand-chopped at each location?
A: The Superfood Side is served raw.

Q: Are the kale and broccolini in this side dish prepared away from all meat products on a designated meat-free surface with sanitized, vegetable-only utensils?
A:We do prep the salad in a vegetable prep area where we prep all of our salads. I don’t know if the surface is specifically “meat free” but it is sanitized. I don’t know if the utensils are only used for vegetables, but they are clean and sanitized. We have separate prep areas for raw chicken vs. the salads, so there wouldn’t be any raw chicken in that area.

Taste Test
In April 2016 the writer purchased a Superfood Side at a surburban Maryland Chick-fil-A restaurant. Here are her comments.

Kale was the major component in the Side although broccolini is listed as the first ingredient on the statement given above. Both the kale and broccolini looked fresh. They were well-coated in the maple vinaigrette dressing but there was no excess liquid at the bottom except for a few isolated drops. There were approximately ten medium-sized cherries placed on the top of the kale/broccolini that easily could have been removed by a diner. The approximately one tablespoon of a nut blend came in a separate cellophane package.

The kale and broccolini’s natural taste was overpowered by the maple vinaigrette dressing which the writer found too acidic. At least the mildly maple flavor aftertaste compensated somewhat for the acidic vinaigrette.

The cherries sweetened up the entire dish too much for the writer’s taste so she removed most of them. The nuts enhanced the overall flavor of the Side.

The Side was packaged in a #5 plastic container. Made of polypropylene, #5 plastic is becoming more accepted at most recycling centers or look here for how to recycle #5 plastic:

The contents of this posting, our website, and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made.
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