Restaurant menus from quick service to fine dining demonstrate the appeal of dipping sauces. A small cup of sauce packs a big punch for restaurant operators and consumers, enhancing food flavor for many menu offerings. According to Mintel Menu Insights, more than 5,200 restaurant menu items offered some sort of dipping sauce between January and September of 2006. During this time, more than 250 new menu items included a dipping sauce. The most popular Menu Insights-tracked dishes that include a dipping sauce are chicken fingers, Buffalo wings, appetizer samplers, shrimp cocktail and mozzarella sticks.

Dipping sauces incorporate flavor and add an interactive touch to many dishes. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the top sauces used for dipping include marinara sauce, ranch dressing, cocktail sauce, barbecue sauce and honey mustard sauce. Such sauces frequently provide restaurants with the opportunity to expand their menu flavor profiles. Some restaurants may serve a meal with two or three sauces, so that the consumer can choose the desired flavor.

Many dipping sauces are accented with the spicy and sweet flavors of pineapple, chipotle pepper, wasabi, ginger and orange. The restaurant 34 New Street in Huntington, N.Y., serves fried calamari tossed in a glaze of garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, orange zest and a bit of crushed red pepper, with an orange-ginger dipping sauce. T.G.I. Friday’s serves a cool cucumber-wasabi dipping sauce alongside its crispy green bean fries.

Reinventing the Blackberry

These days, the blackberry is best recognized as a hand-held communication device. However, the blackberry fruit is boosting its profile through innovative uses on restaurant entrée and beverage menus across the country. According to Mintel Menu Insights, creative uses of the blackberry in entrées include glazes, vinaigrettes, marinades and even salsa. The Ram Restaurant and Brewery in Tacoma, Wash., uses the blackberry to sweeten its blackberry shiraz prawns, a dish that includes seasoned tiger prawns broiled with garlic butter and brushed with blackberry-infused Shiraz glaze. Sturkey's in Cincinnati serves a blackberry organic faro with its Roasted Duck Breast entrée, complete with spring wax beans and lemon paint.

Beverages also are getting a refreshing splash of blackberry. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the blackberry is sweetening teas, sodas, floats, frozen drinks and cocktails. Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., offers a blackberry-moscato float with lemon ice cream and toasted marshmallow cookies. Starbucks drizzles a touch of blackberry on its green tea blended crème, and the Hard Rock Café adds DeKuyper blackberry to its frozen rum runner made with Bacardi rum, banana liqueur, grenadine, sweet and sour, orange juice and Myer’s dark rum.