A is for Arugula

Arugula is sprouting all over the restaurant menu. According to Mintel Menu Insights, arugula grew by 31% over the past two years. Arugula varieties of baby arugula, micro arugula, wild arugula—along with locally grown Millarckee Farm Arugula and Old Athens Farm Arugula—can be found on menus. Arugula is found “peppering” mostly fine dining restaurants, but other dining types are picking up on its appeal. Quick-service restaurant zpizza creates its Arugula salad with baby arugula, roasted candied walnuts, shredded parmesan, caramelized onions and cucumbers with its house balsamic dressing. It is also available with grilled chicken breast and avocado.

The mild, peppery flavor of arugula is an exciting addition to salads, sandwiches, pizza and risotto. However, arugula applications in sandwiches are picking up steam. Corner Bakery uses arugula in its Chicken Pesto sandwich—its most popular sandwich—with tender sliced chicken, fresh arugula and plum tomato slices with a sweet and spicy house vinaigrette on a traditional baguette with pesto mayonnaise. Dave and Buster’s serves an upscale grilled cheese sandwich called the Havarti Cheese & Pesto Panini made with Havarti cheese, basil pesto, tomato and arugula.


Gluten-free, lactose-free, pesticide-free…these claims are traditionally found on grocery store shelves, but restaurants are adding ingredients, menu items and menus with these and other “free-from” claims. According to Mintel Menu Insights, “free-from” claims are increasingly present on the menu.

The most popular “free-from” claim on menus, gluten-free items primarily help to reduce the symptoms of celiac disease (CD). Gluten is the common name for the offending proteins in specific cereal grains that are harmful to persons with CD. These proteins are found in all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro) and related grains (rye, barley and triticale), and they must be eliminated from the diet of persons diagnosed with CD.

Restaurants have acknowledged that thousands of people are living with CD and are offering gluten-free menu items. Legal Sea Foods, Outback Steakhouse and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro are just a few examples. Furthermore, these gluten-free menu items are not flavor-free. P.F. Chang’s created Shrimp with Lobster Sauce made with garlic white wine sauce with Chinese black beans, mushrooms, scallions and egg. Outback Steakhouse gives its customers tips to avoid the gluten in menu items. Outback suggests to “order veggies without seasonings or substitute with potato” as a side dish for its Chicken on the Barbie with gluten-free BBQ sauce.

Burger Bites

The burger is constantly evolving. It has been doubled, tripled and topped with a wide array of ingredients—from chili to pineapple. Who would have thought the next big trend in burgers would be to make them small? Mini burgers can be found on menus across dining types. According to Mintel Menu Insights, menu mentions of mini burgers have increased by 54% over the past two years. Between the last quarter of 2006 and the first of 2007 alone, 14 new mini burger menu items were added to restaurant menus.

These burger bites are not small on taste, often featuring ultra-indulgent beef such as Kobe, Black Angus and B3R-program beef. T’afia serves three mini B3R ranch burgers with BBQ mayonnaise. Ruby’s Diner created American Kobe Sliders with its premium Kobe beef, topped with its own Ruby Sauce and golden caramelized onions. Baltimore’s Red Maple dispensed with the beef altogether and created Lamb Mini Burgers with pickled red onion, ancho aioli on a spiced pita. In retail, the mini-burger concept has yet to make many in-roads, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database. In May of last year, Kraft added a Mini Burgers Meal to its Lunchables line under the Oscar Mayer banner. It features two grilled burgers made from 100% beef with Kraft American cheese and Wonder buns. While there have been retail introductions in other countries, the Oscar Mayer product is the most recent to hit U.S. store shelves

Salmon has historically been a major ingredient on the restaurant menu. Unlike some seafood trends, this one continues to swim upstream. Between 2005 and the first quarter of 2007, salmon species (such as Atlantic, King, wild, Norwegian, Scottish, North Atlantic, Nova Scotia and Wild Alaskan Sockeye) have increased by 26%. It has now become the “must have” fish on the menu, found on 74% of casual dining menus tracked by Mintel Menu Insights.

Because of salmon’s mild flavor, restaurants can continue to “re-create” the fish in the latest flavor trends. Max & Erma’s serves Tropical Salmon made of a grilled Atlantic salmon fillet marinated in sesame and soy, with sweet-and-sour glaze, nested over herb rice and fresh steamed vegetables. Mesa Grill created Ancho Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon with a spicy black bean sauce and “roasted jalapeño crema.”

Salmon is also being reinvented because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content. It is probably the best known source of omega-3 fatty acids, and Cheebo is not afraid to say so on its menu. Its Cedar Plank Wild Salmon is described as “rich in omega-3s.”

For more information, visit www.menuinsights.com or contact Mintel International at 312-932-0600. Mintel Menu Insights tracks menu trends and innovations from the 350 largest chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants, also featuring the nation’s top 50 chefs.