Grilled vegetables convey several flavor profiles, depending on the cooking method. Most top-quality frozen convenience meals and entrées with grilled vegetables have vibrant colors and distinct grill marks. There are some that may have apparent grilled flavor, without grill marks.

“If grilled vegetables are the selling point on your label, using a process that [physically] marks into the grilled vegetable is very important for [appearance],” says Allison Rittman, corporate chef for Charlie Baggs Inc. (Chicago), a foodservice consulting company.

Some companies apply coloring that appears as grill marks onto their products. However, strenuous processing techniques sometimes remove imitation grill marks, and the natural flavor nuances that develop when a food is actually flame-roasted or grilled are missing, also. On the other hand, the addition of colored stripes is a very inexpensive way to get grill marks, and is acceptable for foodservice products such as burgers.

Avoiding Mush Mouth

Grilled vegetables tend to lose quite a bit of crispness when cooked. “You don't want a mushy texture. You want something that is crisp, delicate and perfectly seasoned. It has to taste and appear fresh,” says Rittman. Vegetables that are Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) prohibit the formation of large ice crystals that cause cell damage and syneresis. That is more likely to occur with block frozen products.

Additionally, IQF vegetables are easier to portion out for individual meals. “IQF grilled vegetables have a brighter color, crisper texture and better flavor,” Rittman points out. Additionally, it makes formulation of frozen convenience entrées easier, as some IQF products may have been formulated to go through a freeze-thaw cycle.

If a food manufacturer or commissary cook sautées a vegetable, a heat transfer agent such as soybean or canola oil is used in the grilling process to develop the flavor. “One of the biggest problems that you see with grilled vegetables is too much oil or fat,” observes Mike Artlip CEC, CCE, department chair of the associates in applied science and the director of the Navy Food Service Management Program at Kendall College (Evanston, Ill.). “You can wring them out.” This displays one of the advantages of a dry grill. An alternative is to use a light oil spray.

The Grilling Culture

Every manufacturer has a different opinion about how something should be grilled or roasted. “For example, one person will look at a red pepper and see a little bit of charring on the side. To them that is a roasted pepper. Other customers want it almost black to be considered roasted,” says Chris Cook, vice president of sales for a grilled vegetable foodservice supplier.

Grilled vegetables are used in soups and frozen entrées, or as toppings on pizzas and sandwiches. “People like the fact that they can use vegetables to create many new, unique flavors, without just adding flavors or seasoning. Choosing the right cooking process for a vegetable depends on the final target application,” explains Sanah Boisvert, national account manager at a frozen vegetable supplier.

Grilled, fire-roasted and smokehouse-roasted vegetables are all different processes that can be described as grilled. “There are no standards of identity for these terms,” says Boisvert. “So what our company may mean by grilled may be very different from what somebody else means.”

Grilled vegetables tend to have strong flavors that, unless properly balanced, can dominate the entire product. To prevent this outcome, formulators can determine what complementary flavors enhance the grilled flavor.

Rittman says that grilled vegetables would mask the delicate flavors of a light butter sauce. A smoky, grilled vegetable would compliment a tomato sauce that has acidity and body.

“I haven't seen a lot of those flavors in frozen entrées or convenience foods yet, but I think that [smoky flavor] is the next evolution of where grilled vegetables are going,” predicts Rittman.

Boisvert's company defines grilled as an item that has been cooked on a flat grill at relatively low temperatures (in the mid-300ºF range) for a slower, gentler cook (as chefs do when they sautée vegetables). This process is designed to naturally caramelize the vegetables. There is no oil added during the grilling process, and Boisvert describes the resulting vegetables as being fully cooked, sweet and naturally golden brown. “These vegetables don't have grill marks on them,” she says.

“Caramelized vegetables provide a totally different flavor opportunity,” explains Boisvert. Caramelized onions and/or peppers are ideal to use in French onion soup, on Salisbury steak or on a Philly cheese steak sandwich.

“Making a caramelized vegetable is a very difficult, time-consuming, expensive process that most food manufacturers wouldn't entertain doing in production,” says Boisvert. “They are very traditional flavors that chefs really appreciate and now are commercially available.”

A lot of gourmet restaurant chefs use caramelized vegetables in dishes like balsamic glazed pork chops. They appreciate the added convenience.

Fire- and Smokehouse-roasted Veggies

Generally, the terms fire-roasted and smokehouse-roasted describe a cooking process that takes place over a direct, open flame. However, depending on the processor, the vegetables may or may not be cooked with oil or have grill marks on them.

Fire-roasted, smokehouse-roasted and most grilled vegetables have a more intense, pungent flavor profile than caramelized vegetables. In the last nine months or so, fire-roasted has been the buzzword in the vegetable industry. Fire-roasted ingredients have a smokier, char-grilled, more intense flavor because of the open flame. The products also look more natural because of a mix of dark colors instead of one grill mark line going across the food, notes Rittman.

Smokehouse-roasted vegetables are an intense, smokier version of fire-roasted veggies, and work best as stand-alone flavors. “[Our company] puts a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the vegetables, and we roast them at a slightly slower speed for our smokehouse roasting process,” explains Boisvert. The vegetables are naturally smoked in a process that traps the smoke--similar to cooking on a barbecue grill with the lid on. “You get a more intense, rich, smoky flavor profile and you also have grill marks on them.” Both this and the caramelizing process are unique to her company, she says.

The extremes of freezing, heating and retort processes can break down grilled flavors. Seasonings can maintain and enhance it. The demand for added value has prompted suppliers to raise the bar with the addition of vegetable seasonings like three-chili, chipotle or fajita seasonings, notes Cook.

The addition of seasonings is generally a foodservice request, Boisvert observes. “Typically, an industrial manufacturer is going to add his own seasoning at some point in the process, whereas the foodservice customer will want a product that is completely ready, seasoned and ready to go.”


Keeping green vegetables green is a difficult task. However, different suppliers have different directives to prevent color leaching. Maintaining a proper pH will deflect color leaching. Green vegetables need to be cooked in an alkaline environment and all other colors need an acid environment, says chef Artlip.

Par-cooking a green vegetable in an alkaline environment will set the color. “This is accomplished by formulating alkalinity into your marinade,” explains chef Artlip. “Then, if you cook it on a really hot grill, you get that bright green pepper or asparagus.” Citric or acetic acid and other natural ingredients like balsamic vinegar or orange juice can bring down the pH, depending on the application and its flavor profile, suggests Rittman.

She explains that some of the other ingredients in the meal could affect the vibrancy of the vegetables' colors or whether those grill marks are visible. For example, it is hard to distinguish the fire-roasted tomatoes and fire-roasted red peppers in a tomato sauce. “Although these might contribute great flavor combinations, it will look like one continuous sauce,” pictures Rittman. In contrast, a tomato sauce with grilled yellow peppers will add value because of the prominence of the peppers, the grilled marks and the contrast of color.

“I think that, although it might not always be feasible, trying to manage the processing technique can resolve color leaching,” says Rittman. Boisvert asserts that the short time and very high temperature (between 1800º-2000ºF) used to produce fire-roasted and smokehouse-roasted veggies seals in their color.

Blanching, another common vegetable processing step, also impacts color. Blanching by either steam or water is a standard process that most IQF processors use to deactivate the enzymes before the vegetables are frozen. “Unfortunately, blanching strips the color from the vegetable and increases the moisture content,” Boisvert informs.

“Our products are lower in moisture than most of the products on the market because we skip the blanching step. We start with fresh, raw produce and all of the heat comes directly from our grilling or roasting procedures.” As a result, the vegetables have less syneresis, a firmer texture and brighter colors. “If someone wanted to use grilled vegetables as a sandwich topping, such as with a grilled Philly cheese steak, this would minimize the moisture migration onto the bread.”

With a thorough understanding of grilling options and the correct processing techniques to achieve them, a manufacturer of grilled vegetables can add upscale quality and flavor to a meal that takes minutes instead of hours to prepare.

Showcase: Mushrooms, Vegetables, Sauces and Cheese Ingredients

This line of grilled, recipe-ready, premium IQF vegetables and fruits has a wide range of menu applications. Chef Sensation brand veggies and fruits are made using proprietary direct heat processes with no water blanching, for exceptionally high solid content and very low moisture. This processing method preserves important nutritional values as well as the natural color and flavor of these premium IQF/grilled products. In addition to the grilled products, the line also is available in sautéed, fire-roasted and smokehouse roasted varieties. Jon-Lin Inc., 877-566-5461,,

See why all of the most popular BBQ sauces, marinades and meat rubs contain naturally brewed soy sauce. You also have the opportunity to taste the reason why Yamasa is the preferred naturally brewed soy sauce for the finest chefs. When a fine chef prepares a meat dish, the chef wants the very best presentation, the best aroma and the best flavor. Yamasa's four-century-old brew process is a big reason so many chefs prefer Yamasa Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce. Whether it's a sauce, a marinade or a rub, the soy sauce helps to make the experience special. Yamasa, Masahiro Abe, 310-944-3883,

This company specializes in custom development to meet a wide range of formulation requirements. Ventura Foods LLC is a full line producer of sauces and marinades, with coast-to-coast manufacturing and distribution capabilities. The company strives to meet technology hurdles by utilizing industry-experienced R&D, QA and operations staff. Working together on state-of-the-art systems, Ventura Foods can design products to meet a wide range of client needs. The company also provides the best economical and practical packaging and delivery systems for all of its sauces and marinades. Ventura Foods LLC, Frank Stynes, 800-326-2253,

This dairy specialist offers production-friendly dairy sauces that let manufacturers incorporate the high-quality taste of real butter and cream into their prepared foods. Land O'Lakes' new butter sauce base, Hollandaise, Alfredo and reduced heavy cream provide clean, fresh, real dairy flavor. These ready-to-use sauces eliminate manufacturing steps, withstand pumping and mixing, and won't break or separate under heating and reheating. Custom flavor profiles are available. The company also offers process cheese, dry cheese, butter and performance blends for prepared food applications. Land O'Lakes Ingredient Solutions Group, Gary Lehmann, 800-328-1322,

Here is a perfect “secret” ingredient to expand your new product development options. Novamex's Cholula Hot Sauce is a blend of hand-picked piquin and red peppers and spices that deliver a zesty, intriguing flavor and balanced heat that does not mask food flavors. The sauce allows formulators to kick-up the flavor profiles in current offerings as well as create a host of “Cholula-inspired” signature products. From gumbos and gazpacho to barbecues and marinades, Cholula brings flavor excitement to everything you make! Novamex, Jill Schiller, 951-695-4425,

These barbecue sauce lines have distinctly different flavor profiles and different flavor varieties within each. Kraft Food Ingredients' sauces include the brands of Kraft[r], BULLS-EYE[r] and OPEN PIT[r]. Kraft products are available in Original and Hickory Smoke flavors, and the brand helps deliver consistent flavor and quality. The distinctive flavor of BULL'S-EYE barbecue sauce blends well with meats, seafood and poultry, while superior cling means less waste for processors. Great for basting, baking and roasting, OPEN PIT barbecue sauce is ideal as a base in the creation of signature sauces. Kraft Food Ingredients, Jim Wild, 901-381-6500

A new, toasted cheese flavor base made from aged cheddar cheese offered in the form of a paste concentrate with a high melt capability, adds a warm “baked-in” cheese flavor to finished products. The base is convenient to use--its instant taste results and label-friendly ingredients are easily worked into existing formulas. The base also gives stability, consistency and maximum flavor yield. Eatem Foods Co., Jim Gervato, 800-683-2836, ext. 120,

Eliminate all of the labor, waste and inconsistency of grilling or roasting vegetables for your customers. Fresh Grill's proprietary, even-roasting and flash-freezing technology assures that every piece of product yields up to 50% more than traditional frozen vegetables--by eliminating virtually all excess moisture. This means both you and your customers get what you pay for--the highest quality, useable grilled vegetables possible--not water. An on-site 1600 pallet freezer and 2 IQF rooms allow Fresh Grill to inventory the best product at the lowest price to benefit their customers. Fresh Grill LLC, Brenda Underwood, 714-444-2126,

Looking for subtle Shiitake notes for your soup? Or, need the punch of Porcini in your sauce? Phillips Gourmet Mushrooms offers specialty fresh, blanched, roasted, dried, IQF and refrigerated mushrooms for soups, sauces, pastas, or prepared meals of any kind. The company's technical experts can help make the mushrooms in a meal memorable. Whether looking to add the flavor of roasted Portabellas to your low-carb line, or searching for a signature wild blend for your pasta, call Phillips. They know mushrooms. Phillips Gourmet Mushrooms, Kate Foley, 847-459-6877,

Capitalize on hot sales from bold flavors of convenience and ethnic flavor trends with bold flavor marinade recipes. Convenience products are driving sales in foodservice and retail environments. French's Flavor Ingredients can help food processors create delicious, marinated, ready-to-cook or heat-and-eat/serve products to meet this demand. Made using Frank's[r] RedHot[r] sauces, French's mustards and Cattleman's[r] barbecue sauces, these signature marinades retain moisture while adding popular ethnic flavors to meat, poultry and seafood. For recipes, ask for Elyse Gomez. French's Flavor Ingredients, 800-4-FRENCH,

A patented, formed sauce in an easy-to-use shredded or diced form recently has been introduced. Solid at room temperature to allow for an even distribution as well as the elimination of messes from using liquid sauces, it melts easily to a creamy sauce or topping upon heating. The sauce is freeze/thaw stable and is available in a wide range of flavors for many applications. Kerry Americas, Jane Zeien, 608-363-1207

Adding roasted garlic flavor to foods such as pasta, pizza, vegetables, salads, sandwiches, eggs and more is easy! The Garlic Company's Garlic Bits are fresh, all-natural California garlic pieces roasted to perfection using a proprietary process. Just like fresh or peeled garlic (without the hassle), the bits can be added during cooking or shaken directly onto prepared foods. Sprinkle in dips, soups, sauces and marinades. With its convenient shaker top, Garlic Bits can be used to suit each individual's desired level at the table. The Garlic Company, John Layous, 661-393-4212, ext. 110