Article: On the National Menu -- November 2007
Cool as a CucumberProbably best known for their unimaginative presence in a house salad, cucumbers have been a staple ingredient about which most consumers would not think twice. However, cucumbers have become “cool” again on the restaurant menu. According to Mintel Menu Insights, this fruit is becoming the center of the salad and adding a new flavor experience to water, martinis and soup.
The popularity of Asian cuisine is a main driver in the increased popularity of cucumber. Cucumber is found more and more on Asian restaurant menus and paired with other Asian flavors. P.F. Chang’s serves a side dish of Shanghai Cucumbers made of sliced, cold cucumbers sprinkled with soy and sesame. The restaurant also serves a version sprinkled with wheat-free soy sauce and sesame seeds on its gluten-free menu. Oysters serves a Sake Martini with Ketel One vodka and Sho Chiku sake served with a cucumber twist.
Water is one of the simplest and newest ways that cucumber is making its way onto restaurant menus. Many restaurants, such as Rise in Chicago, serve a slice of cucumber in the water glass. The cucumber adds a fruity, refreshing elegance to otherwise boring tap water. Another way cucumber is going upscale is through soup. Fine-dining restaurant Clio serves Chilled Cucumber and Yogurt soup with gulf shrimp, radishes, caviar and oxtails.
Veg-outVegetarianism is catching on with American restaurants and consumers. According to Mintel Menu Insights, ingredients and menu items that claim to be vegetarian have increased by 67% between the start of 2005 and the start of 2007. Why the popularity? According to Mintel Reports, many consumers believe that vegetarianism is an implied guarantee of healthiness, care in preparation and concern for the environment. Vegetarian menu items are an opportunity for restaurants to target two consumer groups with one menu option: the group that wants a vegetarian option and the group that wants a healthier option.
Vegetarian menu items were once limited to independent restaurants. Now, however, it is not uncommon to see a vegetarian option on most chain menus, regardless of its dining type. Quick-service restaurant Sbarro offers vegetarian Stuffed Eggplant, which is described as overstuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, grated Romano, fresh parsley and spices. Nothing but Noodles offers a vegetarian version of the increasingly popular lettuce wraps made with a mix of tofu, fresh jicama and button mushrooms wok-seared in a house specialty sauce with carrots; red bell peppers and Thai peanut sauce round out the dish. The Melting Pot makes eating vegetarian easier in a group setting. It offers a selection named The Vegetarian—with fresh vegetables, tofu, artichoke hearts, portobello mushrooms, spinach and Gorgonzola ravioli.
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.