Chipotle rolls out sofritas, a new (vegan!) protein, in all 74 Colorado stores today

Categories: Veggie Girl

Chipotle_Sofritas_Burrito_Vegan.jpeg
A burrito made with Chipotle's new "sofritas."
For the first time in close to two decades, Chipotle is rolling out a new protein. The Denver-born chain will debut "sofritas" in all 74 of its Colorado stores today.

In advance of the roll-out, we got a chance to try the new protein (spoiler alert: it's meat-free, but so freaking delicious that just about everybody will like it) and chat with Chipotle chef Nate Appleman about developing the tofu-based ingredient.

See also: Chipotle founder Steve Ells discusses the ingredients behind two decades in business

First things first: What is sofritas? Shredded Hodo Soy tofu (non-GMO) braised with chipotle chiles, roasted poblano peppers and assorted spices. The texture is incredibly meaty, and the flavor is smoky and rich; in fact, Appleman says, of all the proteins available on the Chipotle menu, the sofritas and the pork barbacoa are the most flavorful.

We tried sofritas with chips, rice and rolled up in a burrito, and it was everything we've grown to expect from Chipotle: flavorful fresh food made to order. Try it on its own, and you can really taste the smoky adobo and enjoy the texture of the shredded tofu. In areas on the West Coast where sofritas has already been tested, it's typically used as a meat replacement in burritos, burrito bowls or salads -- but often it's added to an order that already contains meat.

The genesis of this meatless ingredient started with a search for a new way to use...meat. "It wasn't like, 'Hey, let's start a project, and our initiative for this project is going to be a meatless alternative for the line," Appleman explains. "It all came from chorizo."

Which, he readily admits, "sounds crazy." But that's how it started.

"I was working on a chorizo for Chipotle because I believe in finding more ways to use the entire animal -- I think if we're going to be sustainable and walk that walk, we have to find more ways to use more of the animal," he says. "That was the path I was going down. So by making chorizo, we were making chicken and pork and different cuts than we normally use.

"We haven't had a new protein in nineteen, twenty years," Appleman continues. "Everything on the Chipotle menu was on the original lineup: barbacoa, carnitas, chicken, steak. And the powers-that-be said we're not sure if chorizo is the one we want to bust out of the gates with. So we thought, maybe we can come up with a different way to go about this instead of using more meat. Maybe this could turn into something that's not meat."

At the same time, Appleman was also developing the menu for Chipotle's sister restaurant, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen. And those same powers-that-be were already sold on the Hodo Soy tofu used in ShopHouse dishes. "We loved this product so much," he says. "So I took it one day and I chopped it all up like it was meat and we were all eating it thinking how great it was, and we all looked at each other and thought maybe something like this could work for chorizo. So we took the same tofu, seasoned it and cooked it just like you would chorizo. It turned out really great. We all loved it. And we actually ended up serving it at the original Cultivate, and a couple of different marketing events like that, because we liked it so much."

He noticed, though, that it didn't hold up on the line as well as he'd hoped -- it was a dry ingredient and the quality tended to deteriorate as it sat.

"Simultaneously I was working on other marketing foods and was working on this barbacoa chili," Appleman continues. "We took some of our barbacoa, our black beans and pinto beans and mixed it with this sauce I make called 'sofritas.' It was like, let's take what we already have and mix it with this really good sauce: tomatoes, adobo, peppers, onions, poblano, everything we have in the restaurant. And it turned out to be this amazing chili. So I thought, well, we developed this sofritas sauce, we might as well use it for something. So back to the ground tofu, I took the tofu and the sauce and mixed it together and we ended up having like a tofu chili, if you will."

The mix was dubbed sofritas, and has been tested in California, Oregon and Washington. "The cool thing is, the crew members at our restaurants are the ones who sell this," Appleman says. "If they don't believe in it, it's not going to sell. We started in five restaurants in San Francisco and fairly quickly it went to all 300 restaurants in California, then Oregon, Washington, and now it's coming to Denver. We have buy-in from the crew, they believe in it -- which is a hard sell, because even as an employee of Chipotle, I get the same thing every time I go. Everybody does that! So to get somebody like me to switch up and try something and believe in it is huge. It's not like we forced it to happen, it just happened."

And the crew members have made believers of the diners. "I know it's definitely taking away sales from meat, and the meat-eaters are switching to try something new," Appleman notes. "People are digging it."

But Chipotle definitely kept non-meat eaters in mind. Sofritas is prepared on a surface that's separate from any used to prepare meat, and the formula was fine-tuned to make sure it would work for plant-based eaters. "The original recipe for the barbacoa chili had honey in it, but we ended up taking the honey out because we wanted it to be vegan," he says. "We're very conscious of that -- we understand that as a vegan, as a vegetarian, you don't want your food coming into contact with meat. We get it. We talk about that in training all the time and make sure everybody understands. Perception is everything, and we just make everybody aware that it's something we care about and it's something the customers care about."

The addition of sofritas has led him to mix up his order more often, and that's a big deal to any Chipotle regular. "When I'm in an area that has sofritas, my order has changed," Appleman says. "I change up my burrito to include it. It won me over -- and that takes a lot because I ate more tofu over the last two years of working on ShopHouse than any person should eat tofu."

Find sofritas today at a Chipotle near you -- and with 74 in this state, there's certain to be a store close by, including the location at 1644 East Evans where it all started. Visit chipotle.com for more information.


Location Info

Venue

Map

Chipotle Mexican Grill

1644 E. Evans Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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48 comments
LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

Its a soy base. Women better be aware that it can impact them and their thyroids. Chipotle did this because they gave up on hormone free beef and is buying beef with antibiotics

Rob Benson
Rob Benson

Yup! Quite tasty and just the right amount of spicy.

Amy DuBois
Amy DuBois

So good. And it's prepared in its own area away from meat.

Nick Jones
Nick Jones

They're good n another nice vegetarian option.

Priya Butani Nye
Priya Butani Nye

I don't know....am not vegan but if the ingredients are prepared in the same cooking utensils, this may keep vegans away.

Sean Gronbeck
Sean Gronbeck

Yeah buddy... Next time im in Denver ill have to try one.

goin4it.2013
goin4it.2013

Yum. I like having more options, especially delicious options. I don't think a serving of soy a couple of times a week (max) is a dealbreaker, btw. If you eat at Chipotle every day, then you probably more important health problems already.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

Joshua, thanks for the info however, as a nurse, fitness trainer, sr female, and gets treated thru homeopathy and chinese medicine almost exclusively, while soy is necessary, it can cause problems Moderation in all things. As for beef, there is still a place in some diets for organic, angus.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

Its a nice option but when there are problems no one traces it back to whats in what they eat. The soy issue is serious soy powder is being used in many products instead of wheat flour soy/lentil etc. Soy is not the savior folks thought it was and the impact on the thyroid is important to be aware of

Russell Ray
Russell Ray

Great. Yet more selections to make the line even slower.

Tyra Droegemullr
Tyra Droegemullr

We have it now where I live! It is very yummy! With that said soy is horrid for the body! It will be eaten in VERY limited instances !

Kelly Watts
Kelly Watts

I agree with limiting soy in your diet, however this is a nice a nice option for the meat-free crowd. I don't think you should be eating Chipotle everyday anyway, so no big deal for them to offer this as an option.

steppesmusic
steppesmusic

Every time I go to a 'real' Mexican burrito shop (on, let's say, Federal), I almost always walk out wishing I'd just gone to Chipotle instead.  The food is fresher tasting, the recipes are smarter and more flavorful, and I'm not worried contracting various food-bourne diseases the second i walk in.

Sofritas are not something I'd be interested in, personally, but I'm sure it's still fantastic food and it will be done better than the competition does it.


Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

I hope they didn't bump anything good off the menu for that. FWIW, a lot of nutritionists are now saying tofu's not very good for you--GMO or not.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

Americans need to wake up! They are using soy base instead of meat which can taste great.However, the preponderance of soy in products is causing as many problems esp with women and their thyroid/ Got to watch the soy intake. Too bad for all the money they make, Ellis has to go and lower himself to antibiotic laden beef. If soy were the savior, there would be no almond, hemp or alternatives to cow milk besides soy. For shame on Chipotle I guess they forgot the motto" if it ain't broke, don't fix it". My wallet gets fatter the more places I refuse to dine at and alter my diet for their quick buck.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

They have to. Steve Ellis, CEO announced they would be using beef treated with antibiotics and I suspect many dumped them as a place to eat. I would

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

Chipotle restaurants.  Ick.

lady5280
lady5280

@Priya Butani Nye It says in the article that they are prepared in a separate area from the meat.

luis.calderon91
luis.calderon91

@LindaLee Law

1. Soy is NOT necessary for a healthy diet.

2. Almost any food can cause problems for some

3.  Everyone can live healthy lives without beef.


I don't know where you got your sr female training, but I'd ask for my money back if I were you.

billib
billib

@Tyra Droegemullr : Nothing "horrid" about soy, especially organic, minimally processed, organic non-GMO tofu.  See http://www.johnrobbins.info/ for the real story.  A serving a day will serve your body and soul not to mention the planet Earth.  Blessings and buon appetito !!

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@steppesmusic The only "burrito shop" on Federal that I can think of is Bubbachino's, which I will agree is about the worst place to get a burrito. The majority of other Mexican restaurants on Federal don't specialize in burritos; in fact, many of them don't even offer burritos on their menus. And don't let all that gleaming stainless steel fool you; you're no more likely to contract a food-borne illness at a 'real' Mexican place as at Chipotle. 

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@LindaLee Law To the anti-antibiotic folks out there: there's a huge difference between beef that has been raised on growth-promoting or sub-therapeutic antibiotics and a cow that's been given antibiotics for a short-term illness. There's no scientific evidence that antibiotics given in standard dosages for short-term illnesses can affect the health of someone who eats meat from that animal. The antibiotics do not persist in the muscle tissue. The main concern with antibiotics in agriculture is a greater risk of drug-resistant bacteria that cause illnesses in humans. Actual therapeutic, short-term use of antibiotics is far less likely to create drug-resistant strains than the systemic use of antibiotics across thousands of animals on a daily basis.

In either case, Chipotle's stance on antibiotics really hasn't changed, nor has it ever been 100% guaranteed. They do customers a favor by posting a notice when they are serving beef that has been raised with antibiotics. That way, you can choose whether or not to eat the beef yourself. Do a little reading. Learn the truth. Don't just parrot what you hear. 

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@LindaLee Law Because no other fast food places use beef treated with antibiotics...

monopod
monopod

@foodcrazy Compared to most fast food or fast casual food, Chipotle is the French Laundry.  What other national chain uses high-quality meat that's grilled right in front of you, and can still sell you a ginormous burrito with it for $6?  Personally, I'd rather see them succeed than yet another precious farm-to-table bistro that charges $18 for three bites of food.

cody.young11
cody.young11

@luis.calderon91 

She's a nurse, but she gets treated with homeopathy and chinese medicine? Seems like quite the paradox to me considering both are fairly opposed to one another. 


cody.young11
cody.young11

@billib Who the hell is John Robbins? Find a peer reviewed article for christ sakes. 

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@foodcrazy @monopod What's there to "get over?" Between it and Tokyo Joe's, they're the only healthy fast food I've ever found, above a list of "not as bad as they could be" entries such as Taco Bell and Subway.

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