The restaurant menu has become a melting pot of cuisines from around the world. One cuisine making a move toward mainstream in the foodservice arena is Indian. According to Mintel Menu Insights, Indian cuisine experienced an 86% increase on the restaurant menu over the past two years and is projected to increase.  

Many authentic Indian dishes and flavors are appearing on restaurant menus. Popular authentic Indian flavors on the menu include red, yellow and green curry, mango, cumin, coconut, coriander and pomegranate. Red Maple serves its classic Indian Samosa filled with green curry-spiced chicken, peas and sweet potato with mint-dill yogurt sauce.

Indian cuisine is also being embraced by the casual dining market. In the past year, several casual dining restaurant chains, such as California Pizza Kitchen, have added Indian flavors and dishes to their menus. California Pizza Kitchen combines spicy curry with cooling mango in its Mango Tandoori Pizza made with grilled Tandoori chicken, mango, mild onions, red peppers and mozzarella cheese on a spicy golden curry sauce topped with fresh cilantro and a sweet mango chili sauce. Legal Sea Foods serves an authentic south Indian soup called Rasam made with shrimp, scallops and scrod in a hot and sour tomato broth served with jasmine rice.

The Green Machine

Green tea continues to be one of the “it” ingredients. Consumers can energize with a green tea soda in the morning, brush their teeth with green tea toothpaste in the afternoon and nourish the skin with green tea moisturizer in the evening. It is even possible to enjoy a green tea beverage in several favorite restaurants. Green tea experienced the most growth of all teas last year, finds Mintel Menu Insights. The popularity of green tea stems from its potential health benefits, ranging from cancer prevention to weight loss.

Green tea’s popularity is also attributed to its delicate flavor, which serves as a perfect backdrop for an array of fruit flavors. A review of Mintel Menu Insights shows green tea is being paired with honeydew, pineapple, blackberry, pomegranate, papaya and kiwi flavors. Starbucks created a unique Blackberry Green Tea Blended Crème, and Cheebo mixes fresh Sencha Green Tea with sweet pineapple, papaya and tropical flowers. Jamba Juice blended its own Tahiti Green Tea Smoothie with a combination of green tea, mangos, lemonade, orange juice, orange sherbet, non-fat frozen yogurt and ice for a refreshing pick-me-up.

Say Cheese!

Cheese remains one of the most popular ingredients on the menu. Cheese is the fifth most popular ingredient on menus, says Mintel Menu Insights, and can be found in over 19,000 menu items. Cheese ingredients also continue to show steady growth. From sandwiches to gelato, the number of menu items featuring a cheese ingredient grew 13% from 1Q 2005 to 4Q 2006.

As the popularity of cheese continues to grow, more room is made on the menu for unique and specialty cheese varieties. Iberian is the cuisine to watch in the cheese category. Cheeses from Spain and Portugal are making a strong showing on menus, and Manchego could be the next “big cheese” on mainstream menus. Along with Manchego, also look out for Cabrales bleu, Bleu de Basque, Idiazabal and Tetilla cheese to make more appearances on U.S. restaurant menus. Cheebo serves Manchego with its Pressed Slow-Roasted Pork Sandwich. Oyster’s puts a Spanish twist on its Grilled Red Pear Salad by adding Spanish sherry vinaigrette, Cabrales bleu cheese and Marcona almonds.

Happy Hour with a Boost

What would cocktail menus be without the martini? The beverage has allowed coffee and tea to move onto the cocktail menu with ease. The espresso martini is the third most-popular martini flavor on the menu, according to a Mintel search. Coffee is also incorporated into other forms of the cocktail, including Tiramisu martinis. These pack both high flavor and a jolt of caffeine. Houlihan’s shakes its Espresso Martini with Stoli® Vanil vodka, Kahlua, espresso, cream and chocolate shavings. The Rattlesnake Club uses coffee to create its Diablo martini, infused with orange, cinnamon, clove, coffee beans, coffee and whipped cream.

Tea is one of the most popular new non-alcoholic ingredients being embraced by mixologists. Mintel Menu Insights finds popular teas used in martinis include sweet tea, green tea, chai tea and chamomile tea. Tea adds a refreshing, clean sensation to martinis, while providing a small dose of antioxidants. The Rattlesnake Club created a T-Martini infused with mint, chamomile tea and hibiscus. Rialto Restaurant blends Chai liquor and Absolut vanilla with a splash of white Crème de Cacao to create a Vanilla Chai Mar-Tea-ni. Front Page News gives a Southern classic a contemporary spin by combining sweet tea, Smirnoff orange and fresh lemon juice with a sugar rim for its Sweet Tea Martini.