Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Best of FlavorTop 10 Trends

10 Produce Points Produce adds fresh and wholesome cues, but with the right treatment, it can add premium value to your menu.

Like great fashion designers, chefs are searching the globe for the best materials to highlight their unique styles and haute skills. The American consumer is looking for seasonal, fresh and interesting flavors. What better way to meet in the middle than produce?

As the farm-to-table movement expands, previously foreign fruits and veggies are making their way into our local specialty markets from small farms. Rare or esoteric greens and berries are snapped up by foragers and rushed to the kitchen as fast as their bikes can pedal.  But, even everyday kale or strawberries can achieve premium status with the right wording, technique and presentation.

We’ve pulled together a list of ten recent trends for giving produce supermodel status on the menu:

Bring in a touch of adventure with exotic fruits and vegetables. Consider specialty produce as a traveler’s postcard, giving your diners a premium snapshot of global flavors.

Try this: Replace apple with jicama in a late-summer slaw for a mildly sweet, slightly exotic twist.

Menu Examples:
Wagyu hanger steak: wasabi potato fritters, stewed candy onions, porcini demi, truffle oil
– Sola, Chicago

Beets, avocado, cucumber, harissa, popcorn
– Barley Swine, Austin, Tx.

Give produce street cred by pulling from street-food favorites. Upgrade corn to Mexican street corn, move kale to India with kale pakoras (spicy kale fritters) and channel Thai hawkers with a green mango salad dusted with chile salt.

Try this: For a fruit salad with a roadside feel, dust watermelon, mango, pineapple and cucumber with chile powder and salt; finish with lime juice.

Menu Examples:
Artichoke chips with green garlic aioli
– The Thomas, Napa, Calif.

Poutine: Chorizo, widmer cheddar curds, sweet potato timber, corn gravy, okra
– Triniti, Houston

The perceived value of tropical fruits runs high. Look to coconut, pineapple, mango and guava for flavor profiles that bring so much more than just sweetness to the table.

Try this: Add pineapple or mango chunks to salsa for a premium and tropical turn.

Menu Examples:
Sorbet: White peach, pineapple lime, lychee
– Blue Water Grill, New York City

Mango Crisps: Deep-fried mango slices with sweet honey, powdered sugar and whipped cream
– The Tropical, Tulsa, Okla.

Add these to smoothies, salads and side dishes for a brightly glowing health halo. And take credit for their super strength by calling them out on the menu. Goji berries, acai and pomegranate bring in exoticism, but don’t forget about the unsung heroes here like sweet potato, kale, blueberry and others.

Try this: In your better-for-you efforts, find creative terminology or menu icons to identify the power of super foods.

Menu Examples:
Goji Vegan: Roasted sun chokes, english peas, cashews, shitake mushrooms, bok choy, organic brown rice, avocado, hemp seed, goji vinaigrette
– Abbey Park, Milton, Conn.

Antioxidant Mix Salad: Spinach, parsley, almond, red onion, poached apples, and whole-wheat croutons tossed with strawberry pomegranate vinaigrette
– Freshcraft, Denver

For consumers, fresh and produce walk hand in hand in the land of premium. Don’t underestimate the power of the word, and use it liberally — but honestly — to call out freshness cues on your menu.

Try this: Look to fresh descriptors that imply a source connection — terms like market, farm, garden and field resonate freshness.

Menu Examples:
Avocado Tarragon Margarita: Don Julio Reposado tequila, market-fresh avocado, tarragon, fresh-squeezed lime juice, housemade sour mix and a splash of blood orange
– Pepper Smash, Plano, Tx.

Wood-oven baked lasagna —farmers market vegetables, ricotta, mint, breadcrumbs
– Coco 500, San Francisco

Highlighting a very close attention to technique sends a message of culinary expertise and also elevated flavor.

Try this: Consider those techniques that bring out unique textural and and a flavor contrasts — grilled citrus, melted leeks — and call these out on the menu.

Menu Examples:
Flash-Fried Spinach, with lemon, Parmesan
– Pachamama’s, Lawrence, Ks.

Charred Rainbow Carrots, garden lettuces, spiced almonds, young goat cheese
– Coco 500, San Francisco

Bright, lively, fresh flavors go a long way to convey premium values. Look to finishes of cilantro, lime, grapefruit, lemon verbena and mint to add a pop of clean flavor.

Try this: Add fresh orange segments over grilled fish or chicken for a colorful premium cue

Menu Examples:
Butter Lettuce Salad: Palace Hotel’s Green Goddess dressing, avocado, ruby grapefruit, nasturtium
– Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco

Tomatillo Soup: Smoked avocado, hominy, fresno peppers, chicharon and cilantro
– Tilia, Minneapolis

From pickled strawberries to pickled peppers, this homestead-worthy form of preserving is a great expression of artisanship. It also lends character to produce, transforming an everyday green bean into menu distinction.

Try this: Use sous vide to quick-pickle sandwich garnishes, such as red onion and radish

Menu Examples:
Pulled Pork Sliders: House-smoked 72-hour pork, maple barbecue, pickled onion slaw
– Sugar & Plumm, New York City

Liberty Ranch duck with Romano beans, corn purée, bacon and pickled nectarines
– Bay Wolf, Oakland, Calif.

Move beyond tomato and basil and look to the herb garden for more sophisticated flavor pairings. Rosemary or thyme offset pears in an unexpected but perfect way. Tarragon with beets. Carrots with chervil.

Try this: Run a fresh peach and basil hand pie on your dessert menu as a late-summer LTO.

Menu Examples:
Roasted Brie Toasts: Caramelized spring onion, rosemary-roasted grapes
– Rush Street, Chicago

Baby Turnips with Cherries and Tarragon
– Restaurant Zoe, Seattle

Move over lime wedge. Add a fresh and unexpected infusion or garnish to your beverage line up with garnishes like blueberries and raspberries, or fresh, whole fruit and herb infusions like cucumber and cilantro.

Try this: Switch out the maraschino cherry for a mini fruit kebab of in-season produce.

Menu Examples:
Maple Berry Smash: Johnny Drum Green Label Bourbon, fresh lemon, fresh mint, maple syrup, early summer berries
– Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, Calif.

Strawberry Rhubarb Chia Water: Filtered Water Infused with Fresh Rhubarb, Strawberries, Mint, Parsley, Lime, Ginger and Chia Seeds
– LYFE Kitchen, Palo Alto, Calif.

About The Author


Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.