Remember when Sriracha was the buzzword dominating restaurant kitchens? Then we watched Korean gochujang and Tunisian harissa pepper-based sauces overtake menus. The widespread popularity of these ingredients has helped foodservice leaders understand the influence international flavors can have on attracting customers.
But while Sriracha, gochujang and harissa continue to find favor with consumers and operators, the foodservice community awaits the next big global hit to transform menus.
Emerging tastes—those that impact new dishes, beverages, ingredients and flavors—likely will originate from trending markets around the world. International regions that are currently garnering much of the culinary attention include Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
When considering international inspirations from these hotspots that will win over Americans—it’s clear that herbs, pastes, sauces and spices are proving safe bets. Operators can easily insert these items into tried-and-true American favorites (such as burgers and sandwiches) to add excitement and yet maintain familiarity on the menu.
Other smart menu adds are dishes or drinks that feature recognizable flavors to most Americans but that are presented in unique formats. Both options give diners a bit of an approachable adventure.
Based on these criteria, let’s review some global trends poised to inspire menus in the coming year.
Ajvar: This cooked relish hails from Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, where the smoky flavor pairs well with specialty meats and breads central to the cuisine. Originating from the Turkish word meaning “caviar,” ajvar became a popular veggie substitute for salted roe following the decreased production of caviar in the region in the late 19th century.
It can feature a range of sweet and spicy flavors, but it is typically made from roasted sweet red peppers, eggplant, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and, sometimes, paprika. It’s traditionally eaten as a side dish or sauce.
On the Menu! The Balkan Treat Box restaurant, Webster Groves, Mo., has offered Pide, a Turkish wood-fired flatbread with cheese, ajvar, kajmak, herbs and side of cabbage salad.
Baharat: Baharat is an aromatic and versatile Middle Eastern spice blend that plays an equivalent culinary role to garam masala in India or dukkah in Egypt.
Typically consisting of cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, black pepper and paprika (the latter two ingredients providing subtle warmth) baharat adds dimension to an array of dishes such as soups and stews, meat and fish, and rice and vegetable plates. That same diversity of application also is showing up on US menus, where chefs use baharat to flavor everything from dessert tarts to cauliflower steaks to cocktails.
On the Menu! Saba, New Orleans, has offered an Origin Story dish with brown butter rye whiskey, apple, baharat and amaro di angostura.
Berbere: A key ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine, berbere combines garlic, red pepper, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek and various other spices. The fiery, aromatic spice blend typically is used in soups and stews in Africa. However stateside, operators here are spotlighting the bright red ingredient in applications well beyond the typical—such as on top of smoked chicken (at Lenoir in Austin, Tex.) or infused into a baby beet salad (at Oberlin in Providence, R.I.).
On the Menu! Avec, Chicago, has offered a Lamb Burger with berbere-spiced tomato jam, tahini yogurt, cucumber and mint.
Cheese Foam Drinks: Although cheese and tea seem as odd together as peanut butter and pickles—the combination is so popular that it draws lines of customers to restaurants in Singapore and China. Cheese tea—which is green or black tea topped with a foam of whipped cream, milk and cream cheese—has earned buzz from the media and consumers alike. The drink, which goes by other monikers including milk foam or milk cap, is sweet with a savory, salty finish.
On the Menu! The Little Fluffy Head Café in Los Angeles has offered a Classic Tea with jasmine green, Earl Grey, roasted oolong or black tea with fluffy cheesecake cream.
Chile Crisp: Chile-based condiments that provide more than straight heat have been trending for years. On the heels of spicy-sweet-savory gochujang and spicy-smoky harissa is Chinese chile crisp. It has straight heat thanks to dried chile peppers. However, it also gives off a tingling, numbing sensation via Szechuan peppercorns, tinges of sweetness from sugar and cinnamon, umami enhancements from added MSG powder (and, sometimes, mushroom powder and soy sauce) and, from a textural standpoint, crunch via fried shallots and garlic. Operators are drizzling the condiment on everything from noodles to ice cream and beyond.
On the Menu! New York City’s Gramercy Tavern has offered Duck Meatballs with carrots, broccoli and chile crisp.
Halloumi: Hailing from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, halloumi cheese quickly is becoming a global phenomenon. Already popular as a vegetarian protein option for handhelds and salads at leading restaurant chains in markets such as Europe, Asia and Australia, halloumi is now poised to find a home on US menus. This semi-hard cheese also is called a “grilling cheese” because its high melting point makes it easy to fry or grill. Early stages of Americanizing halloumi include starring it in popular comfort foods, as seen at Chicago’s Mordecai restaurant, where a New York Strip steak is paired with grilled eggplant, halloumi and smoked tomato vinaigrette.
On the Menu! The Pharmacy Café, Raleigh, N.C., has offered Griddled Halloumi Cheese with roasted tomato, local greens, olive tapenade, picked red onion, lemon-rosemary aioli and spicy mixed greens on a baguette.
Hawaij: Defined as “mixture” in Arabic, hawaij is touted for its culinary versatility and anti-inflammatory properties. Two versions of this ground spice mixture are staples in Yemeni kitchens. A savory version—used mostly in soups and stews—features cumin, black pepper, coriander, turmeric and cardamom. A more aromatic version typically consisting of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves often is featured in coffee and desserts. While both versions of this spice blend are popping up on US menus, look for hawaij to gain recognition as a substitute for chai and pumpkin spice flavors in lattes.
On the Menu! New York City’s Balaboosta restaurant featured Kasata, which are tahini cookies along with white chocolate hawaiij ice cream cookie.
Hoja Santa: Native to Central America and a longtime staple in Latin American cuisine, hoja santa is an herb rarely found in US restaurants. However, operators are beginning to appreciate this leaf—sometimes referred to as root beer plant or pepperleaf—for the unique licorice-like, tarragon-esque flavor it lends to both sweet and savory food and drink.
In typical Mexican kitchens, hoja santa is sliced and added to pozole, egg dishes or moles. Many American operators today are embracing the plant in cocktails, as it provides root beer-like notes with a more healthful undertone for consumers.
On the Menu! Chicago’s Bar Sotano has offered an El Sotano drink, which features mezcal, green chartreuse, sugarcane, lime juice and hoja santa.
Katsu Sando: The katsu sando is Japan’s answer to America’s bologna sandwich or Germany’s schnitzel. The handheld offering typically features a lightly breaded and fried pork cutlet topped with tonkatsu sauce and cabbage, sandwiched between pieces of milk bread. US operators are making the comfort food their own in various ways.
Philadelphia’s Nunu restaurant took out the pork and subbed in various proteins, such as fried chicken or a plant-based protein. Atlanta’s Momonoki restaurant customized the sauce and used its own three-hour house katsu sauce. Elsewhere, the Waikiki Grill, Humble, Texas, added its own unique toppings such as lettuce, tomato, cheddar and mayo.
On the Menu! Shake Shack in New York City’s West Village offered an Egg Katsu Sando, a panko-breaded and fried egg topped with miso-honey mayonnaise. It was served on milk bread.
Lovage: It’s easy to understand the growing hype around lovage. Bearing a strong resemblance to celery in both physical appearance and taste, this quintessentially English herb is commonly featured in salads, stews and meats in Balkan cuisines.
Here at home, lovage’s herbaceous flavor often contrasts sweeter ingredients, such as ice cream and marmalade, although more traditional savory couplings also are prevalent. This perennial plant complements the budding zero-waste movement as most parts of lovage are edible. An extra bonus is that ingredient offers medicinal benefits, which include fighting inflammation and infections.
On the Menu! Oran Mor, Nantucket, Mass., has offered Roasted Oysters Bourguignon with garlic, lovage, parsley, butter and brioche.
Muhammara: Muhammara is a Syrian dip popular in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean that includes Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. It typically is made with hot and sweet red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate molasses and spices.
Operators are putting their own twists on this dip by subbing chile peppers with varied heat levels; swapping in different nuts or veggies; and featuring it as a sauce-like topping instead of a dip.
Muhammara also is easy to incorporate into today’s popular diets, including vegan, vegetarian, paleo and gluten-free.
On the Menu! New York City’s Golda restaurant in Brooklyn has offered an Egg Sandwich with muhammara, kashkaval cheese, dill and sumac onions.
Pomegranate Molasses: It’s difficult to find an ingredient that provides a bolder pop of color than pomegranate molasses (also referred to as “nar eksisi”). The deep, ruby red hue and thick syrupy texture of this pomegranate juice reduction often is used as a meat marinade or salad dressing in Middle Eastern fare to provide a tart, slightly sweet taste.
US operators are spotlighting pomegranate molasses in dishes to add visual appeal and balance other prominent flavor profiles, including spicy, smoky and herbal.
On the Menu! Los Angeles’ Bavel restaurant has offered Scallop Crudo with pomegranate molasses, citrus, serrano chile oil, charred cucumber, mint and black sesame.
Seaweed Cocktails: Known for its superfood and sustainability benefits, seaweed has been poised to trend for the past few years, extending beyond its traditional applications in sushi restaurants to snacks, poke bowls and more.
Emerging now are cocktails highlighting seaweed, such as kombu, nori, kelp, dulse and wakame. These ingredients offer up pleasantly salty, sometimes even umami flavor enhancements to drinks. Up next: seaweed desserts!
On the Menu! New York City’s Apotheke restaurant has offered Siren’s Call, a drink with gin, roasted seaweed, cucumber, squid ink, fresh-cut ginger, candy pearl and black smoked lava salt rim.
Ube: Ube is a purple yam that’s prominent in Philippine cooking. Known for its mild, slightly earthy and nutty flavor, ube typically is spotlighted in desserts such as ice cream, cakes and pastries. The Philippine iced dessert dubbed “halo halo”—which combines crushed ice, evaporated milk, ube and other ingredients—was one of the first ways US operators (starting mostly in Hawaii) began featuring the tuberous root vegetable.
As of late, mixologists from around the country have latched onto ube as a cocktail ingredient. Any food or beverage featuring the yam is highly Instagrammable, due to its bright violet hue.
On the Menu! Irenia, Santa Ana, Calif., has offered a Purple Drank beverage featuring gin, coconut rum, ube and pineapple.
Yuzu Kosho: Yuzu kosho is a fermented Japanese condiment made from yuzu citrus rind, chile peppers and salt. The spicy-tangy flavor bomb from that ingredient combination enlivens any dish. It’s typically used to cut through rich meats, but it also lends clean, umami notes to fish and vegetables.
Senia in Honolulu, for example, features yuzu kosho atop oysters; Here’s Looking At You in Los Angeles pairs yuzu kosho with mackerel; and Acorn in Denver features the ingredient in an endive and blood orange salad along with muhammara.
On the Menu! Spoken English, Washington, D.C., has offered a Chicken Kushiyaki with chicken breast, yuzu kosho and chicken kewpie.
Laura McGuire is content director at Technomic and Lizzy Freier is Technomic’s senior managing editor. Technomic Inc., a Winsight company, was founded as a management consulting firm in 1966. Since then, Technomic’s services have grown to encompass cloud-based B2B research tools, consumer and menu trend tracking, as well as other leading strategic research and analytic capabilities, to prioritize and size business opportunities. Our clients include food manufacturers and distributors, restaurants, retailers and multiple other business verticals aligned with the food industry that are looking to make informed decisions to support their business growth. Visit Technomic at www.technomic.com
If You Menu It, They Will Come…
Consumers continue to expand their palates, seeking new ethnic foods and flavors. This trend is pushing operators and suppliers to add new, exciting ethnic varieties on menus, but they must also be mindful of consumer preferences and demands when doing so. Technomic’s 2018 “Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report” found that consumers want to be informed about ethnic options to ensure that their expectations of authenticity—a term that changes meaning per person—are met.
PHOTO COURTESY OF: GETTY IMAGES
Indicators of authenticity can vary widely, from native chefs/cooks to imported ingredients and bold flavors. By offering transparency upfront, the customer can decide if the dish fits their take on authentic.
“Everyone’s definition of authentic is different, so when it comes to ethnic fare, it’s vital to clarify the flavor profile and ingredients upfront so consumers aren’t surprised or disappointed in their order,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic. “Additionally, ethnic options must feel accessible rather than intimidating and this can be achieved through providing flavor and sourcing information about each ethnic dish.”
Key takeaways from the report include:
Among the 87% of consumers who ever order ethnic fare or food with ethnic flavors:
- 32% would be willing to pay extra for authentic ethnic fare
- 44% always prefer completely authentic fare, while 23% say their preference changes based on the cuisine
- 36% like to explore regional varieties of mainstream ethnic cuisines to try new foods and flavors
Visit technomic.com to learn more.
Originally appeared in the August, 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as World on a Plate.