Pomegranate’s popularity has been elevated significantly due to its high antioxidant content and related health benefits. Its bright color and versatile sweet, tangy flavor also contribute to its popularity on U.S. restaurant menus.

According to Mintel Menu Insights, the usage of pomegranate in food and beverage menu items is increasing. From January 2005 through June 2006, more than 60 new menu items containing pomegranate were added to restaurant menus, from fine dining to quick service concepts. Pomegranate has been used to flavor salads, soups, entrées, desserts, smoothies and cocktails.

Unique applications of pomegranate in menu items include vinaigrettes, sauces, molasses and glazes. Fine dining restaurant Farallon serves Butternut Squash Ravioli with crispy chestnuts, sage and pomegranate brown butter. Evans Street Station adds a new twist to the ever more popular Chocolate Lava Cake with pomegranate-raspberry and kiwi sauces.

Pomegranate has been part of the beverage menu for decades through the use of grenadine, which is a juice primarily made of pomegranate. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the most popular beverages flavored with pomegranate include the martini, margarita, mojito, lemonade and smoothie. Pizzeria Uno serves a Pomegranate Margarita, and Starbucks recently added a Pomegranate Frappuccino Juice Blend, made with Tazo Green Tea, to its menu.

Gone Bananas!

Modern banana applications are putting a new twist on an old fruit favorite. Vinaigrettes and salsa are just some of the ways bananas are adding an intriguing flavor to menus. Houlihan’s serves a Calamari Salad featuring crisp, peppery calamari; napa cabbage; banana; cilantro and crunchy cashews in aromatic banana-ginger vinaigrette. Café Annie presents banana chipotle relish and caramelized bananas with its Seared Duck Foie Gras. Restaurants are even turning popular appetizers into mouth-watering banana desserts. P.F. Chang’s serves Banana Spring Rolls—six warm, crispy bites with coconut-pineapple ice cream, drizzled with caramel and vanilla sauces.

The most popular applications for bananas remain ever-popular dessert items such as the Banana Split and Bananas Foster. Restaurants also are transforming these desserts into flavorful cocktails! Both Dave & Buster’s and Alonzo & Berlin’s Lobster House offer a Bananas Foster Martini made with Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, Banana Liqueur, Creme De Noya and Grand Marnier, finished with cream.

Viva Mexico!

Mexican cuisine continues to sweep restaurant menus. According to Mintel, Mexican cuisine is the third most popular cuisine type offered on restaurant menus. It accounts for more than 12% of menu items, an increase of 1.5% from 2005. The fine dining restaurant segment offers the most Mexican menu items, followed by family/midscale, casual, quick service and fast casual segments. The top 10 Mexican dishes found in these segments include nachos, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, Mexican platters, quesadillas, taco salad, fajitas, guacamole and tortilla soup. The popularity of Mexican cuisine is attributed to the growing Hispanic population in the U.S. and the increasing availability of Mexican restaurants of all dining types.

Through its vast popularity and palatability, Mexican cuisine has gone back to it roots. One way the authenticity of Mexican cuisine is highly visible on restaurant menus is through the use of regional Mexican claims. Prevalent authentic, regional Mexican claims include: Veracruz-style, Oaxacan, Yucatan, Mexico City, Jalisco-style and Iroquois. Houston’s offers a Mexico City Style Soup, while Señor Fred and Salpicon get specific with their menu offerings. Señor Fred offers Birria en Estilo Jalisco, a Jalisco-style, slow-braised lamb shank in a mild red chile sauce, served with a poblano-goat cheese relleno. Salpicon serves sopes regionales—small, thick country tortillas topped with black beans and chicken with three different moles: classic Pueblan, Oaxacan black mole and a Michoacan mole verde.

The Legend of the Apple-tini

There are varying tales of the origin of the martini, but they have all brought us to today’s incarnation of the classic drink. A traditional dry martini consists of gin and a varying amount of dry white vermouth, garnished with an olive, a twist or a cocktail onion. Today, the martini is the number one alcoholic beverage on restaurant menus, and their variations are far from the traditional standard.

Mintel Menu Insights names apple as the number one martini flavor. The apple martini makes up 11% of martinis on the restaurant menu. Apple flavor varieties offer a “just picked” sensory experience through flavor and color. Popular apple flavor varieties include: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Green Apple. Maggiano’s Little Italy serves a juicy Red Delicious Apple Martini made with Crown Royal, DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker and cranberry juice. Fiore Restaurant serves a bright, crisp Golden Delicious Martini with Alize Liqueur and DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker.

Even popular apple desserts have been transformed into delectable drinks. The Cheesecake Factory has converted the traditional Candy Apple into a delicious martini. T’afia serves a Baked Apple martini made with Citadelle apple vodka, finished with a cinnamon sugar rim. Other apple favorites transformed into martinis include Apple Cider and the Caramel Apple.

Mintel Menu Insights, a part of Mintel International Group, is a key resource for analyzing trends in the U.S. restaurant industry. The database tracks menu trends and innovations from the 350 largest chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants, also featuring the nation's top 50 chefs. Trends are reported quarterly, offering insight into pricing, menu items, ingredients, preparations and entirely new menus. For more information, visit www.menuinsights.com or contact Mintel International at 312-932-0600.