Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

10 Flavor Upgrades: Sandwich Spreads Condiments, spreads and dressings are the hidden heroes of today’s sandwich innovation

The Southern Pig pulled pork sandwich is layered with fennel-apple slaw, mustard barbecue sauce and mayo at The Polite Pig at Disney Springs, Orlando, Fla.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Polite Pig

Sandwich innovation continues at a breathless pace. This is in no small part due to the spreads, dressings, condiments and other flavor-boosting toppings that have been making sandwiches more distinctive today. Plain old mustard and mayo will never look the same again.


One of the first global sauces/condiments to achieve mainstream stature, pesto remains on-trend in part because the basic formula can be varied in so many different ways—from nuts, cheeses and herbs.

Menu Examples

Caprese: Fresh mozzarella, roasted tomato, kale pesto, balsamic reduction
– Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, multiple locations in Boston area

Chelsea Lo-Cal: Two eggs, turkey bacon, roasted red peppers, broccoli rabe, Greek yogurt, walnut pesto sauce, multi-grain toast
– BEC, N.Y.

Try This

  • Experiment with pesto based on different herbs—cilantro, parsley, tarragon—or vegetables such as spinach, arugula, kale, celery leaves, roasted red pepper, zucchini or pumpkin purée.
  • Fold pesto into mayonnaise, softened butter, cream or other fresh cheese, hummus or another sandwich spreadable.
Chutney Goes Mainstream

The spicy, exotic, spiced fruit-and-vegetable mixtures known as chutneys not only boost flavor, they also speak volumes about the global/seasonal/artisanal food movement.

Menu Examples

Paneer Kathi Wrap with red and green peppers, mint chutney
— Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Nashville, Tenn.

Chutney Chicken Salad Sandwich: Chicken breast, crisp celery, peanuts and mango chutney on a fresh poppyseed roll with mayo, cucumber slices, shredded carrots, tomatoes and lettuce
– Uptown Cafe and Catering, Tallahassee, Fla.

Try This

  • Consider promoting a seasonal housemade chutney on a favorite sandwich, utilizing different fruits and vegetables in season.
  • Coriander chutney, boldly flavored with ginger and chile, is an Indian classic that can make the switch to mainstream sandwiches and burgers.
Tasty Tapenades

A Provençal specialty of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers and olive oil, the original tapenade hits all the right flavor notes for today’s creative sandwich builds. It can be varied with different ingredients for added impact.

Menu Examples

Turkey Tapenade: Olive tapenade, avocado, tomatoes, pesto aïoli, Bibb lettuce
– Parlor 1255, San Francisco

T.L.C.: Cucumber steaks, roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onion, spinach, olive tapenade, served on toasted pumpernickel
– The Brown Bag Delicatessen, Columbus, Ohio

Try This

  • Boost the flavor factor of vegetarian sandwiches (such as grilled vegetable, portobello mushroom, falafel, or goat cheese, tomato and cucumber) with a schmear of tapenade.
  • Make the olive mixture more interesting with the addition of artichoke hearts, sun-dried or oven-roasted tomatoes, dried figs or currants or chopped nuts.
Better Than Basic: Mayo/Aïoli

This favorite condiment and its garlicky compatriot are endlessly variable, with the addition of flavor builders that can take them upscale, signature or anywhere else in the world.

Menu Examples

Woodrow’s Whiz Wit: Shaved ribeye, truffle whiz, caramelized onion, cherry pepper mayo
– Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop, Philadelphia

BBLT: Double bacon, lettuce and tomato with black pepper balsamic mayo on toasted sourdough
– Penelope, New York

Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich, red chile buttermilk, lime kimchi slaw, gochujang aïoli
– Keoki’s Paradise, Koloa, Hawaii

Try This

  • Mix olives, capers, pickles, sun-dried tomatoes, specialty mustard, balsamic, or another full-flavored ingredient into mayo or aïoli for an easy upgrade—or consider allowing customers to pick their variation.
  • Explore mayonnaise-based sauces like rémoulade, gribiche (chopped hard-boiled egg yolks emulsified into oil), or Louis sauce (heavy cream, chile sauce, minced onion and bell pepper, Worcestershire, garlic, and lemon juice and zest).
Dressing Up with Dressing

Using salad dressing on a sandwich—think Reuben and its iconic layer of Russian—makes a lot of sense; operationally, it’s easy and promotes cross-utilization, but the effect on flavor and customer familiarity may be even more significant.

Menu Examples

Blackened Haloumi Sandwich: Spicy Cajun-blackened grilled haloumi on a telera roll with fresh spinach, cucumbers and blue cheese dressing
– Seva, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Green Goddess Chicken Sandwich
– Willy Street Co-op, Madison and Middletown, Wis.

Try This

  • Substitute plain or flavored ranch dressing for the mayonnaise in egg, tuna or chicken salad sandwiches.
  • Use a flavorful ginger-miso dressing in a vegetable wrap sandwich for an Asian twist.
Try a Little Tahini

This smooth, full-flavored condiment made from ground sesame seeds is a staple ingredient in hummus, baba ghanouj and halvah, but it’s also moving out on its own as a sandwich spread.

Menu Examples

Shawarma Bomb: Chicken, Sriracha sauce, jalapeño, pickle, tomato, onion and tahini sauce
– Hummus Café, Morrisville, N.C.

Steak Sandwich: Prime cuts of tender seasoned steak wrapped in a pita with tahini
– Jerusalem, Denver

Try This

  • Boost the flavor of tahini—and turn it an inviting green color—with the addition of chopped herbs such as parsley, dill, chives, cilantro and/or mint.
  • For a healthy kids’ menu item, offer an open-face pita, tahini and sliced-apple sandwich on multigrain bread with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
Be Jammin'

These condiments bring a modern balance of flavor to sandwiches, especially those made with rich fillings. Savory jams fit nicely in this category, introducing a warm, homey, artisanal feel to any sandwich menu.

Menu Examples

Morning, Noon & Night Melt: Bacon, ham, two fried eggs, apricot-bacon jam, American cheese on sourdough
– Kings, multiple locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio

The European: Sharp cheddar, arugula and blueberry-tarragon jam on baguette
—Succotash, Kansas City, Mo.

Try This

  • Try using marmalade, with its pleasantly bitter edge of citrus peel, on hearty meat-based sandwiches, such as brisket or ham.
  • Experiment with seasonal fruits in jams, jellies, and other preserves, from rhubarb and strawberry in the spring to fall’s pears, quince and apples.
Bring on the Yogurt

This tangy, healthy ingredient of the moment is showing up in sandwich spreads that are branching out beyond the usual tzatziki seen in gyro shops.

Menu Examples

Turkey Gyro LTO: Thinly sliced roast turkey, lettuce, onions and tomatoes, cool tzatziki sauce and traditional gyro seasonings on soft pita
– Arby’s, all locations

Spinach Falafel Shawarma with beet tzatziki, arugula and pickles
– Sofra Bakery & Cafe, Cambridge, Mass.

Todd: Smoked Portuguese pancetta, seasonal lettuce, tomato, honey Dijon yogurt sauce
– City Sandwich, New York

Try This

  • Give a shout out to Greek yogurt—extra thick, extra flavorful, and still on-trend.
  • Flavor yogurt with garlic, Parmesan, basil and hot pepper or with avocado, ginger, soy and wasabi to dress chicken, fish or vegetable-filled sandwiches.
Classic Sauces for Modern Sandwiches

There’s probably no easier way to class up a sandwich than by dressing it with a rich, smooth, perfectly made classic French sauce. With more attention paid to Mediterranean flavors, the timing couldn’t be better.

Menu Examples

Le Royale Burger with Cheese, foie gras Bordelaise, Gruyère melt, onion confit, black truffle
– Pubbelly Noodle Bar, Miami Beach, Fla.

Shaved Roast Beef, sauce Béarnaise, fried onions
– DoveCote Brasserie, Orlando, Fla.

Try This

  • A workhorse mother sauce like béchamel can be endlessly varied (with cheese, sautéed mushrooms and onions, mustard, etc.) to suit a sandwich’s other ingredients.
  • Using a hot sauce on a cold or room-temperature sandwich adds a surprising element of contrasting temperature.
Worldly Influences

From a gochujang-spiked mayo to an Aleppo ketchup, globally flavored condiments add sophistication, value and a touch of the exotic to the familiar sandwich, making them the ideal vehicle for introducing new, bold flavors.

Menu Examples

Harissa Grilled Chicken Sandwich: Grilled chicken breast with slightly spicy harissa aïoli and Swiss cheese, on a housemade bun with lettuce, onion and pickles
– The Farm Bistro, Cortez, Colo.

Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Cabot sharp cheddar, tomato, kimchee aïoli
– Wardon Hall, South Boston, Mass.

Bacon, egg and harissa sandwich
– 112 Eatery, Minneapolis

Try This

  • Romesco (a Spanish sauce of nuts and red peppers) adds color and flavor to vegetarian, fish and chicken sandwiches.
    Toss chicken salad in nam pla (Thai-style fish sauce) for an umami-laced Asian twist.
  • Toss chicken salad in nam pla-spiked mayonnaise for an umami-laced
    Asian twist.


About The Author


A freelance writer and editor living in the Portland, Maine, area, Joan Lang has been writing about food for more than 30 years, beginning her career in the financial and B2B press. She formed her own food and editorial consulting firm, Full Plate Communications, in 1989. She is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and holds degrees in architecture and journalism.