Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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Trend Watch Leverage the insights and data that commodity boards offer up for strategic menu development

At Tasty n Sons in Portland, Ore., both a pickled egg and a sunny-side-up egg upgrade the Burmese Red Pork Stew.
PHOTO CREDIT: David L. Reamer

Commodity boards track the latest trends around their ingredients, and are invaluable sources when it comes to menu development. Working with trend analysts, they use data to help chefs plan menu items that blend on-trend flavor profiles with ingredients that will generate flavor-forward appeal and, ultimately, boost their bottom line. Here, five boards provide data and consumer insights aimed at helping operators make trend-forward menu development strategies.

This Creamy Polenta with Poached Egg combines a comforting texture with a forward-thinking  sophistication.

This Creamy Polenta with Poached Egg combines a comforting texture with a forward-thinking sophistication.

Eggs: Cracking the Dinner Code

As chefs continue to explore the lush texture and versatility of eggs, innovation outside of breakfast hours is still at an all-time high. Technomic names stuffed vegetable entrées, barbecue pork, cheesesteak sandwiches, and rice or risotto dishes as the fastest-growing non-breakfast formats using eggs, each with growth 40 percent and above in the last year. Working with eggs helps operators’ bottom line and meets consumers’ rising demand for lean protein. “Any food that is perceived as dinner-centric would help raise the check average when paired with eggs,” says Steve Solomon, chef consultant for the American Egg Board.

The easiest way to do that is to add an egg to something that’s already on the menu, and not just burgers and sandwiches. For a $1 upgrade, Korean-Mexican eatery Seoul Taco in Chicago will add an egg to any customer’s burrito, quesadilla or nachos. Adding a poached egg to Asian bowls like ramen, udon and yakisoba has driven the rise of poached eggs on regional and local independent menus 14 percent in the last year, as reported by Technomic, and other cuisines are taking note. Sqirl in Los Angeles features a Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowl topped with a poached egg, and The Mud House in St. Louis lays two poached eggs over a spicy tomato, pepper and chickpea stew. Tasty n Sons in Portland, Ore., goes for a double by pairing its Burmese Red Pork Stew with both a pickled egg and a sunny-side-up egg.

The tartness of cherries has even influenced seasonings. This intriguing Sour Cherry, Bacon and Thyme Salt brings a medley of flavors together.

The tartness of cherries has even influenced seasonings. This intriguing Sour Cherry, Bacon and Thyme Salt brings a medley of flavors together.

Cherries: Tart Flavor Frontier

One reason to add tart cherries to your menu? Modern diners are enthusiastically exploring tart, sour flavors. Cherries’ menu penetration has grown 40 percent over the last four years, according to Datassential, bringing a pop of color, versatility and healthy indulgence to all dayparts.

Two applications experiencing notable tart cherry growth are pies and beers, says Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer for the Cherry Marketing Institute, an organization funded by North American Montmorency tart cherry growers and processors to promote Montmorency tart cherries. Turnovers and bite-sized cherry pies are miniaturizing the classic dessert. Starbucks, for instance, menus a petite tart cherry pie. Chefs are also stepping away from classic sweet cherry pie in favor of sour cherries, like the Apple-Sour Cherry Pie with Oat Crumble at Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Chicago.

As craft beers continue to rise, more breweries are bottling tart cherries. Angry Orchard released The Old Fashioned in February, which blends apples with dried tart cherries, orange and vanilla. Flying Dog Brewery released a Sour Cherry Ale in select states this May, and Allagash has been brewing its Coolship Cerise beer since December 2011, blending Montmorency and Balaton cherries with notes of oak and spice.

As consumers embrace spicy global flavor profiles, chefs can turn to tart cherries to balance out heat. The Cherry Marketing Institute’s recipes for Cherry Chili, the Tropical Buddha Bowl and Curry Spiced Nuts with Dried Cherries illustrate the complementary role that cherries can play in spicy applications.

The next pairing to watch may be salt and tart cherries, exemplifying the rising sour/salt duo that McCormick & Co. included in last year’s Flavor Forecast. A Sour Cherry, Bacon and Thyme Salt shows the potential that tart cherries have to shake up even basic seasonings.

Olives can appear in Indian dishes, such as the cassava-based Olive Sabudana Vada with Spanish black olives, roasted peanuts, green chiles and coriander.Olives From Spain ©PH. ASSET

Olives can appear in Indian dishes, such as the cassava-based Olive Sabudana Vada with Spanish black olives, roasted peanuts, green chiles and coriander.

Olives Branch Out

Spanish olives are expanding their reach across all parts of the menu, penetrating unexpected areas such as dessert. Take Dark Chocolate Cookies with Black Spanish Olives as an example. Olives are dried, then added to cookie batter for extra texture and nutrition. “Spanish olives are the new salted caramel,” says Olives From Spain’s Marketing Manager Ignacio Pérez García. “The reason they work so well in desserts is that olives gather the four basic flavors—salty, bitter, sweet and sour—making them an extremely versatile product.”

Adding an olive-infused cookie to the menu may be a clever strategy. According to Datassential, cookies have grown in every single segment since 2005. Exotic fruits are in the inception phase for desserts, according to a 2015 Datassential report, and even though olives aren’t as “exotic” as persimmons or yuzu, this information indicates that consumers are looking for new flavors and ingredients in their desserts. By pairing olives with a tried-and-true dessert flavor or ingredient like chocolate—consumers’ favorite flavor in almost every dessert category according to the report—chefs can coax consumers into trying something a little more adventurous.

Savory dishes, of course, are seeing the most innovative play around olives: Larry Baldwin, executive corporate chef at New York’s LT Hospitality, created the Grilled Octopus with Green Olive Slaw, showcasing the role that olives can play in on-trend coleslaw. Spanish Gordal olives are combined with parsley, garlic, cumin and olive oil to accompany the lemon-coated, grilled octopus.

And olives from Spain are traveling well beyond traditional Mediterranean cuisine, as demonstrated by the use of olives in Indian recipes by Sabyasachi Gorai, executive chef of Lavaash in New Delhi, India. As ambassador of Olives From Spain, he partnered with the board to create a booklet of 10 recipes that pair spicy Indian flavors with olives. His Chicken Olive Kati Roll combines black and green olives with ginger-garlic paste, roasted cumin powder, chile powder, coriander and chaat masala. And his Olive Sabudana Vada pairs Spanish black olives with sabudana, roasted peanuts, green chiles and coriander.

At The Peasant & The Pear, in Danville, Calif., the Pear Quesadilla features a spicy pear chutney, complementing the creamy Brie and mozzarella.

At The Peasant & The Pear, in Danville, Calif., the Pear Quesadilla features a spicy pear chutney, complementing the creamy Brie and mozzarella.

Pears: Easy Pairings

Roasting pears as a preparation method grew about 75 percent from 2013 to 2015, according to a 2015 Mintel study. Many roasted pear applications reflect the on-trend combination of pears and cheese. The Cheesecake Factory menus a Roasted Pear and Blue Cheese Flatbread, and Satsuma Café features a Roasted Pear and Brie Melt at its New Orleans and Los Angeles outposts. Of course, a raw, ripe pear goes well with cheese, too. For his beet, goat cheese and pear dish, Brian Clevenger of Seattle’s Vendemmia slices a ripe pear and simply seasons it with sea salt and olive oil.

Cheese and pear combinations reflect the larger trend to link pears and savory flavors, with balsamic emerging as a leader, says Kathy Stephenson, marketing communications director of Pear Bureau Northwest, a division of USA Pears that represents pear growers, packers and shippers in Oregon and Washington, the nation’s largest pear-producing region. The Pompeii Oven restaurant in Chapin, S.C., offers a Proscuitto Wrapped Pear drizzled with balsamic glaze on its appetizer menu, while the Noir Lounge in San Francisco offers a bruschetta that combines poached pears and crescenza in a balsamic reduction. Also: Varietals matter. “Identifying a pear as a d’Anjou or Bosc will create intrigue in the menu description,” says Stephenson.

While salads remain the principal application for pears, more operators are using pears to create signature beverages and appetizers. According to Mintel, from the fourth quarter in 2013 to the same period in 2014, pears in appetizers grew by an impressive 54 percent. Per Mintel, pears in beverages grew by 22 percent over the same time. The Pear Quesadilla at The Peasant & The Pear in Danville, Calif., combines Brie with a spicy pear chutney. On the cocktail menu, the Pear-Cardamom Flip, created by Dan Braun for Seattle’s Oliver Twist, combines pear with spicy jolts of cardamom, mint and ginger.

Avocado joins shrimp, pineapple,  broccoli, tart cherries and much more in this festive Tropical Buddha Bowl, drizzled with almond-lime dressing.

Avocado joins shrimp, pineapple, broccoli, tart cherries and much more in this festive Tropical Buddha Bowl, drizzled with almond-lime dressing.

Avocados Make Moves

The people have spoken: They want more avocados. According to a proprietary study commissioned by Avocados From Mexico and conducted by Technomic in March, consumers will pay an average of $1.81 more for menu items with fresh avocados, and avocado add-ons provide a sale-price increase of up to $2 across all restaurant segments.

Adding avocado to a single item may have an even bigger effect: The study revealed that customers’ perception of the entire menu improves if fresh avocados are available anywhere on the menu. “To customers, fresh avocado equates to great taste, nutrition, quality and authenticity,” says Mark Garcia, director of foodservice marketing at Avocados From Mexico.

Chefs across cuisines have taken note, from French chefs swapping out heavy butters and creams for more nutritious, creamy avocado, to Indian chefs tapping avocados to balance spicy dishes. Asian cuisine has long incorporated avocado in sushi, but operators are now using it in noodle broths. Avocado holds up under heat, adding texture to soup, and, according to Garcia, some chefs are even grilling avocado and then adding it to broth, lending the liquid a smokiness it would otherwise lack.
As far as preparation—get ready to pickle. Garcia notes the advantages of pickling avocados, from their bright green color to a flavorful, briny taste and unique mouthfeel. Avocados From Mexico has a Pickled Avocado Grilled Cheese recipe that offers inspiration. The avocado is pickled in vinegar, honey, red pepper, garlic and water before joining cheddar and orange marmalade in a grilled sandwich.

Some operators are ahead of the curve: Desi Vega’s Steakhouse in New Orleans offers a yellowfin tuna with pickled avocado, daikon spouts and wasabi aïoli on its menu. Both Zeus Café in Portland, Ore., and Pretzel Bell in Ann Arbor, Mich., pair tacos with pickled avocado. And SuperNatural Sandwiches in San Diego puts a pickled twist on the add-on, offering a pickled avocado option for $2. From a topping on deviled eggs to a spread on toast, Garcia and Avocados From Mexico predict that pickled avocados will be a condiment to watch in the near future.

 

About The Author

Laura Brienza

Laura Brienza is the author of "Discovering Vintage Washington, D.C.", and "New York’s Historic Restaurants, Inns & Taverns." She is a recent winner of the Lifetime Writers Project fellowship and lives in Los Angeles.