Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

10 Butter Upgrades For easy delivery of standout flavor, you can’t top butter

The Peached Tortilla in Austin, Texas, serves a Citrus Compound Butter as part of its bread service, flavored with lemon, lime and orange juice and zest. Fried shallots add a savory crunch.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Peached Tortilla

Chefs have been exploring the true genius of compound butters for a while now, leveraging butter’s magical ability to enrich and lengthen flavor experience while carrying trending flavors flawlessly.

They are easy to pull together, require little skill or time, and provide an operator with a custom-created ingredient that can elevate anything from baked goods to meat-centric entrées, pastas and desserts. Today, the opportunity is around modernizing compound butters, adding intriguing, sometimes unexpected, ingredients.

Modern compound butters can be your next great back-of-house tool—not only versatile enough to work across all menu parts, but easy enough to create using cost-effective ingredients.

Operators can leverage the “housemade” macro trend to their advantage with little effort, and can showcase trending flavors, like gochujang, honey or guajillo.

Read more: 10 Applications for Flavored Butter

Amp Up the Heat

Americans will continue their love affair with all things hot and spicy, supported by an ever-widening variety of options from domestic hot sauces to world-cuisine ingredients. Compound butters highlight the flavor while moderating the heat to make it less of a sweat-fest and more of a complex flavor experience.


  • Grilled Marinated Hanger Steak with broccoli rabe, celery-root mash and harissa butter
    —Five Leaves, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Trucha: Whole grilled trout on a bed of roasted seasonal vegetables, topped with ancho chile butter
    —El Maya, Chicago


New heat-based ingredients do come in a range of intensity, but butter can help augment the flavor profile while dialing back on the actual heat. Adding spicy flavor to butter not only makes it easier to add to an array of dishes, it also opens up its potential acceptance among customers interested in experiencing the latest hot (literally and figuratively) ingredient without concerns about the pain and suffering it might cause.

Sweet Syrups

Some of the most on-trend ingredients are the sweet, syrupy result of natural ingredients. From sorghum syrup to honey, maple and molasses, these syrups are often limited to toppings for waffles and pancakes. When used to create sweet compound butters, they can expand to other breakfast and dessert items, as well as more savory applications and unique dish experiences.


  • Heirloom Buckwheat Pancakes with peach syrup and sorghum butter
    —Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
  • Griddled Corn Bread with molasses butter
    —Summer Shack, multiple locations in Massachusetts


There’s no question that sweet syrups are popular, but they can be messy when offered front-of-house. Use back-of-house and they are often perceived as limited in their application. Given the intriguing nature of compound butters and their infinitely easier-to-use format, these syrups can more effectively suit far broader applications.

East Asian Power

Consumers are increasingly comfortable with a variety of flavors from Asia—such as Korean or Japanese—and are interested in experimenting. While truly authentic fare may be too far outside the comfort zone of many, butters incorporating Asian flavors from miso to gochujang can create a safe way to experiment with a trend that continues to shape American eating.


  • Bread, Butter & Jam with kimchi-miso butter and seasonal jam
    —The Peached Tortilla, Austin, Texas
  • Miso-Roasted Cauliflower
    with shio koji butter, Fresno chiles, bonito
    —Ivan Ramen, New York


For many operators not focused on cuisine from these two culinary hotbeds, incorporating Korean and Japanese flavors can be challenging. Creating a compound butter using trending flavors and applying that butter to a familiar application creates an approachable but on-trend option.

The World Beyond

Though Asian cuisine trends have enjoyed a great deal of the spotlight in the last few years, several other global cuisines have been or are poised to influence American dining in the coming years. From Turkish to Israeli to Brazilian, up-and-coming world cuisines can combine with the blank slate that is butter to help convey global flavors—think herbs, spice blends and sauces.


  • Bread: Potato-and-onion bread, leek-curry butter, soft-baked egg
    —Mott St, Chicago
  • Street Cart Chicken: Half roaster, achiote-citrus marinade, kale, fried plantain, poblano rice, tamarind butter
    —The Painted Burro, Somerville, Mass.


Despite the availability of a variety of global cuisines in urban areas, much of the rest of the country has yet to experience or have any significant understanding of these cuisines. As a result, many of the flavors and ingredients are unfamiliar. Compound butters featuring these flavors in either authentic or mash-up applications help introduce these global flavors to a broader audience, yielding a first-to-market edge.

Butter with a Buzz

Wines, beers and spirits are increasingly used in a variety of applications to impart flavor and create a more adult-focused experience for diners. These same flavors can be used to create rich and complex compound butters that make adding these liquid flavors to dishes far easier than managing bottles in a kitchen.


  • Mexican Apple Pie sizzled in Mexican brandy butter, with cinnamon ice cream
    —Cantina Laredo, based in Dallas
  • Spicy Tequila Lime Wings: Jumbo grilled chicken wings, spicy tequila-lime butter, salsa fuego, jicama slaw, cilantro
    —Taco Republic, Kansas City, Kan.


Incorporating spirits into dishes enables an operator to capitalize on their popularity beyond the bar menu. Compound butters elevate the perception of infusing spirits, making it more unique and more upscale, while preserving both the flavor and, to some degree, the alcohol in that spirit, if the butter isn’t heated after incorporation.

Well Beyond Parsley

With their changes from delicate to deep or floral to woodsy, herbs allow operators to create unique, seasonal options. Butter isn’t the only carrier for these flavors, but can help an operator preserve the flavors for use through the season and beyond.


  • The Legendary Cowboy Cut: Prime ribeye, baked potato, asparagus, rosemary-horseradish butter, mushrooms, red chile onion rings
    —Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe, N.M.
  • Sea Scallops with bacon, roasted peppers, thyme butter
    —Balzac, Milwaukee, Wis.


Parsley and butter have been a classic combination used broadly across the industry. While its popularity is still strong, both operators and patrons are ready for new herbal adventures. Herbs, like produce, allow for seasonal updates to the menu. Compound butters let operators not only create interesting and customized butters but help them preserve fresh herbs, making them more cost effective and certainly more flavorful than dried.

Fruity Goodness

Fruit can be challenging to incorporate into dairy, with the risk of curdling always close at hand, but fruit-based compound butters are far easier to work with and create delicious spreads and toppings that can help sweeten a savory dish or create a more complex sweet option.


  • Crêpes Suzette with orange butter, orange zest, Grand Marnier
    —Le Cirque, New York
  • Raspberry Butter Toast
    —Cha-an Teahouse, New York


Though vegetables have dominated the produce-forward innovation movement, fruits have their own flavor profiles to offer to a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Compound butters preserve those flavors and create visually impactful garnishes.

Nuts to That

It’s true that nuts have their own butter category, but that doesn’t mean they are opposed to working with others. Nuts incorporated into dairy butters create a flavor experience that leverages the richness of both ingredients while being bolder than either on its own. Paired further with other flavors, compound butters featuring nuts have a welcome place across the menu.


  • Quinoa, avocado, field peas, cilantro, radish, cucumber, cashew-lime butter
    —Bocado, Atlanta
  • Alaskan King Crab, grilled pork belly, chestnut-honey butter, sweet potato-crab purée, cranberry relish
    —Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.


Nut butters create their own impact, but nuts in dairy butter play on both the savory and the sweet as well as the rich elements of both. When combined with other flavors such as citrus, spices and herbs, nut compound butters elevate dishes in flavor, texture and health benefits.

A Vegetable Rainbow

By now, anyone in the industry knows vegetables are enjoying a focus hitherto relegated to vegetarian restaurants. In the spirit of veg-forward menu innovation, butters incorporating vegetables, from deep green to ruby red, have given vegetables a new platform from which to transform menu items.


  • Coffee-Rubbed Wagyu Sirloin, Peruvian potatoes, broccolini, cumin-herb sauce, charred onion butter
    —Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, Glen Mills, Pa.
  • Eggplant Lasagna with eggplant, provolone, mozzarella, tomato butter
    —Max a Mia, Avon, Conn.


There is virtually nothing that vegetable-centric elements can do wrong given the current environment of culinary innovation. Adding vegetables to butter leverages the veg-centric trend while boosting the perceived healthfulness of an ingredient formerly viewed as solely indulgent. When those vegetables are grilled, roasted, smoked or otherwise well prepared, the resulting butter—in both flavor and visual impact—is even more intriguing.

Protein Boost

Whatever tastes good with butter—which is nearly everything—will taste good in butter. Though many compound butters focus on spices, herbs and produce, proteins—from seafood and poultry to foie gras and pâté—can create butters with a distinctly high-end perception for premium signature dishes.


  • Five-Spice Duck Breast and confit leg with lentils, Brussels sprouts, currants, roasted pears, hazelnuts, foie gras butter
    —Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
  • Paccheri with lobster, scallops, shrimp, broccoli rabe, fresh chiles, lobster butter
    —City Limits Diner, White Plains, N.Y.


It can be difficult for an operator to add multiple proteins to a dish in a cost-effective way—and in a way that creates a value proposition for the customer. Too much means lost margins and too little may create patron dissatisfaction. Adding proteins to compound butters, however, creates the premium feel that multiple proteins in a dish evoke, but without the expectation of specific portion sizes.

  From the Mar/Apr 2018 issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read the full issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.



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