Good for the Soul

Different cultures are identified by comfort food that conjures soothing memories of a bygone era. “Soul food,” a comfort food with its earliest roots based in the Southern U.S., was a phrase coined during the 1960s to identify cuisine hailing from African-American culture. The term “soul” became popular for most things African-American, while “soul food” came to be known as a specific style of African-American cooking.

Comfort food is consistently popular with American consumers, because it soothes the soul. The continuous interest in comfort foods, combined with an increasing curiosity toward and popularity of Southern culture, is leading soul food to find its place on the menu.

According to Mintel Menu Insights, collard greens (among other greens), unique cuts of meat and bread pudding are a few components of soul food hitting the menu. The latter became a staple in soul food, because very little was wasted in the African-American kitchen. As such, stale bread became bread pudding.

This resourceful treat has become extremely popular on dessert menus. According to Mintel Menu Insights, bread pudding is the 14th most popular dessert. Creamy and sweet, it can be found across restaurant segments as the ultimate warm, comforting dessert. Southern restaurant Magnolias, in Charleston, S.C., created its bread pudding with the Southern flavor of red velvet in its Red Velvet Bread Pudding with raspberry cheesecake ice cream.

Despite the varied changes to accommodate modern palates, soul food remains true to its origins. Even stale bread did not go to waste, and similarly, all parts of the animal were used in soul food. While this trend may not explode onto mainstream chain menus, many traditional Southern restaurants are adding different cuts of meat to the menu. Magnolia’s serves traditional Pan Fried Chicken Livers with caramelized onions, country ham and Madeira sauce, while Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill offers Cow Foot available in a stew or curry.  

Not Easy Being Green--Or Is It?

Despite what Kermit the Frog may say, being green can be easy. Going green (environmentally friendly) is an enormous movement which can be seen across the board, but especially in the foodservice industry. Positive environmental changes can be made with a few adjustments, both by the consumer and in the industry. 

Mintel’s “Green Living-U.S.” report estimates 35 million Americans have gone green by routinely purchasing green products and promoting awareness about the environment. The National Restaurant Association is currently encouraging all U.S. restaurants to adopt practices beneficial for the environment.

Organic is becoming more popular on the menu, as consumer interest in green living increases. According to Mintel Reports, there is a widespread consensus that organic products actually taste better than conventional ingredients. As consumers strive for more guilt-free and health-conscious options, restaurants are creating innovative ways for developing satisfying choices to meet the unprecedented momentum of the organic trend. Mintel research reveals 46% of consumers order organic foods solely on the basis of health concerns. 

Many restaurants have amended their menus to include green ingredients such as organic, natural and local. Such additions are one step a restaurant can take to increase its green image. Green ingredients do not necessarily need to be part of the entire menu; they can be peppered in where appropriate and economical for the restaurant operation. Panera Bread serves organic American cheese on the Grilled Cheese Sandwich on its children’s menu. Mansion on Turtle Creek created its Strawberries and Basil dessert, which goes “green” by sourcing one ingredient from nearby; it features buttermilk shortcake, macerated local strawberries, Thai basil ice cream, strawberry sorbet and strawberry soda with basil tapioca.

It's All Kosher

Kosher foods are becoming more popular and important to the restaurant menu, for reasons not quite expected. It would be expected that kosher foods would increase on the menu because of increased interest in the Jewish faith or more people following Jewish dietary law. According to Mintel’s report on sacred foods, only 6% of consumers avoid certain foods because of religious reasons. Among these consumers, just three in 10 described themselves as kosher.

The main reasons consumers are turning to kosher are quality and food safety. Over half (55%) of those polled say they eat kosher foods, because they believe these foods to be safer and healthier--a sign of quality. To be certified as kosher, the food manufacturing facility needs to be inspected by a rabbi and given a kosher certification. This extra inspection, apparently, is reassuring consumers that the food is safe to eat. 

Many “green” consumers are also attracted to kosher foods. “Eco-religious certification” is a term used to describe a process that could address the issue of technology and sacred foods. Foods certified as kosher often qualify as organic, natural, sustainable and fair trade. 

Kosher cuisine is no longer just marketed to the religious. Expect to see more sacred foods, like kosher foods, exist in sync with mainstream food trends. pf

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.