It may come as little surprise that—when it comes to food flavor profiles—“bold” is still big with consumers. But, what’s really interesting is the growth of flavor fusions on menus—yin-and-yang pairings that consumers literally are eating up.
On menus across foodservice segments, one finds sweetness tempering spice and sour/tart—providing welcome balance to richer, fattier components of a dish.
Consider the maple-ancho-glazed pork chop at Lone Star Steakhouse or the mango-habanero atop fresh fish fajitas at Chevys Fresh Mex, as well as the pickled red onions on the Brisket Tacos de Primera at El Chico Cafe. These pairings not only boost the flavor complexity of a dish; they also can make chiles and spice blends more approachable and add brightness to heartier ingredients.
A survey of 1,500 consumers ages 18 and older conducted for Technomic’s newly released “Flavor Consumer Trend Report” found significant demand for more flavor combinations on menus, with more than half (52%) of consumers ages 25-34 saying they would like flavor-combining foods to be more widely available at restaurants.
Also, interest in spicy flavors has grown: 54% of consumers polled in 2013 vs. 48% of those polled in 2011 and 46% in 2009 indicated interest in hot or spicy foods.
Here’s a look at a few specific flavors poised for growth in 2014 and the creative ways in which operators are highlighting them in pairings with favorite, familiar flavors.
• Ginger. Ginger has had a breakout year on beverage menus in 2013, speeding past most other flavors in year-over-year growth in mentions on menus at emerging chains and independent restaurants. Ginger lends a refreshing heat to sweet, fruit-forward libations. Casual-dining chain Seasons 52 recently added a Ginger Agave Soda to its menu of “handmade refreshments,” and Caribou Coffee’s new-for-summer line of sparkling juices included a Lemon Ginger Pomegranate flavor.
In desserts, too, ginger is adding a twist to beloved, home-style favorites. Romano’s Macaroni Grill this summer debuted a ginger peach torta comprising peach cake, ginger streusel and a panna cotta shake.
• Vinegar. Sour flavors—think everything from pickled produce to sour beers—are gaining traction on menus especially in independent restaurants. When it comes to adding a sour snap to condiments, add-ons and sides, vinegar is responsible for a bevy of new menu choices.
Fast-casual concept Doc Chey’s Noodle House’s Korean Taco features Korean beef, pickled veggies, Korean barbecue sauce and scallions, and at Bruegger’s Bagels, pickled red onions—also a favorite topping for tacos—complement a roast-beef and Cheddar panini.
Vinegar also is a dominant flavor profile in barbecue sauces from the Carolinas, and Technomic is seeing region-specific sauces and preparations as a major new trend in barbecue. Finally, vinegar is a key component in hot sauces, such as on-trend sriracha, and 76% of consumers polled by Technomic indicated they have a favorable attitude toward hot sauce—with 25% saying they love hot sauce and use it on a wide variety of foods.
• All things tropical. Mango has only grown since McDonald’s adopted it two years ago for the McCafe Mango Pineapple Smoothie. Other tropical fruits—passion fruit, mangosteen and more—look to meet consumers’ keen interest in exotic flavors from warm climes. Growing interest in cuisines of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia will continue to drive tropical flavors on menus.