Chipotle Mexican Grill has achieved its goal of moving to only non-GMO ingredients to make all of the food in its U.S. restaurants — including all of the food at its Asian restaurant concept, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen. The company is now actively developing new recipes for its tortillas, which are the only food items on its menu that include any artificial additives.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are crops that have had specific changes introduced to their DNA that don’t occur naturally, using the science of genetic engineering. GMOs are common in the American food system. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 94% of corn and 93% of soybeans grown in this country came from GMO strains in 2014. As a result, more than 80% of foods consumed in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients, by some estimates, making it very difficult for consumers to avoid GMO ingredients in restaurants or in food purchased in grocery stores.
“There is a lot of debate about genetically modified foods,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “Though many countries have already restricted or banned the use of GMO crops, it’s clear that a lot of research is still needed before we can truly understand all of the implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption. While that debate continues, we decided to move to non-GMO ingredients.”
Chipotle became the first national restaurant company to voluntarily disclose GMO ingredients in its food in March 2013, and pledged at that time to move to non-GMO ingredients for all of its food. Most of the company’s use of genetically modified ingredients was tied to soybean oil, which it used to cook chips and taco shells, and in a number of recipes (such as the adobo rub it uses for grilled chicken and steak) and for cooking (both on its grills and for use in saut√© pans). Corn and flour tortillas also included some GMO ingredients.
Chipotle suppliers planted non-GMO corn varieties to meet Chipotle’s needs for corn tortillas, and the company replaced soybean oil with sunflower oil to cook its chips and taco shells, and with rice bran oil for other recipes and uses. Both oils are extracted from crops for which there are no commercially available genetically modified varieties. Other GMO ingredients in tortillas were replaced with non-GMO alternatives.
While GMO advocates point to higher costs associated with producing non-GMO foods, Chipotle’s move to non-GMO ingredients did not result in significantly higher ingredient costs for the company, and it did not raise prices resulting from its move to non-GMO ingredients.
Tortillas are the only food item on Chipotle’s menu that contains any additives, which include a minimal number of preservatives and dough conditioners. While the company has made significant strides in reducing the number of additives in its tortillas, it is now embarking on a quest to eliminate all of the remaining additives. The goal is to achieve a simple recipe with only a few ingredients, much like tortillas made in more traditional ways that include only wheat flour, oil, water, salt and a starter for flour tortillas, for example.
For more information about Chipotle’s ingredients and its move to non-GMO foods, visit www.chipotle.com/gmo.