Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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12 Emerging Global Flavors A dozen of the intriguing ingredients showing up on American menus

Trends from new menus
 include (clockwise from top left): crudités at Resto in New York; Delicata squash at Santa Monica Yacht Club; okonomiyaki at New York’s Okiway; and carrot toast at New York’s Avant Garden.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nader Khouri

We often say that the world is a small place, more connected than ever through the wonders of technology and the proliferation of travel. That connectivity has launched the era of global flavor discovery in foodservice, where ingredients as far-flung as coconut milk and Sriracha are no longer out of reach or out of context on American menus. But as we look over the next flavor horizon, thinking that perhaps we’ve exhausted crossover potential, we realize that this world is indeed a very large place. And because it’s a large place that’s rich with so many complex, layered, fascinating food cultures, the journey will truly never end. The sweet spot in foodservice is, of course, finding the next global flavor profile that is approachable enough while still igniting curiosity and encouraging transaction. Here are 12 ingredients and flavors that we think are primed and ready for that important task. Interestingly, a pattern here is in spicy profiles, no doubt a response to the continued interest in fiery flavors, but also an indicator that heat is indeed a familiar bridge to global ingredients.

1. Tiger’s Milk

Leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, is a thin, sharp, flavorful liquid that you get when you marinate raw fish in citrus juice flavored with chiles, onion, salt and pepper. It is key to Peru’s ceviche, and it not only serves as the marinade, but is often happily slurped up after the fish has been eaten. Chefs here are adding their own flavor twists to tiger’s milk, helping to either signaturize their raw-fish offerings or even use it with other proteins. For example, at La Perla in Fort Worth, Texas, chef Fabián Alvarado marinates churrasco in Peruvian tiger’s milk, adding a tamarind-soy sauce, then serves it in the Carlito’s Bowl over chorizo-charro bean soup, lime-cilantro rice and Oaxaca cheese.

  • Cebiche Nikei: Ahi tuna, red onion, Japanese cucumber, daikon, avocado and nori, tamarind leche de tigre
    —La Mar, San Francisco
  • Mango Tiger: Fresh-diced salmon marinated in lime juice, mixed with a mango and yellow pepper infusion, and served in a cold Mason jar with diced red bell peppers, onions, corn and topped with plantains
    —La Panza, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

2. S’Chug

Bright, herbaceous and often screaming hot, this Middle Eastern condiment traditionally sees cilantro, garlic, coriander seeds, jalapeño and olive oil. S’chug, (also referenced as s’hug, zhug and shug, among others) adds a sharp, spicy counterpoint to grilled meats, dips and soups. It’s similar to chimichurri in its fresh, forward profile, but with dialed-up heat. At the build-your-own concept Roti Modern Mediterranean, the red s’chug, which can be added to any order, is tomato-based with an abundance of red chiles, garlic and aromatic spices. The concept is also testing a green s’chug that uses cilantro, parsley and basil as its base.

  • Lamb Kebab with baba ghanouj, Israeli salad, fried eggplant, s’chug, ranch labneh
    —Yalla, Krog Atlanta
  • Avanti Hot Taco Brunch with organic sprouted corn tortillas stuffed with garlic pâté, lime-dressed napa cabbage, topped with s’chug
    —Avanti Cafe, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Menoodles at Izakaya Japanese Pub and Plates in Houston features a tonkatsu broth and a spice blend made of pequin pepper, guajillo and árbol chiles.

3. Pequin Peppers

Also known as bird chiles, pequin peppers are small, fruity, smoky and hot. They grow wild in Mexico and are great in fresh salsas, flavored oils and vinegars and pickles. Dried, they kick up the heat factor in house spice blends.

  • Menoodles with a tonkatsu broth and a spice blend made of pequin pepper, guajillo and árbol chiles
    —Izakaya Japanese Pub and Plates, Houston
  • Kale & Cheddar Pizza with pepperonata, mozzarella and chile pequin
    —Tazza Kitchen, based in Richmond, Va.

4. Dried Lime

Preserved lemons have caught some attention here, and now dried limes are finding their footing, propelled by a big flavor story. In the Middle East, small limes are boiled in a salt brine, then dried until rock hard. They’re then either used whole or pulverized, depending on the application. Whole limes deliver an infusion of the intense, concentrated lime flavor to soups, stocks and stews. Dried lime powder adds serious zing to a number of preparations, including marinades, rice dishes and grain salads.

  • Grilled Asparagus with flaked salt cod, pretzel croutons, lemon truffle vinaigrette, dusted with powdered dried lime
    —The Radler, Chicago
  • Basil Caramelized Sea Scallops with pan-roasted cauliflower, red onion, pine nuts, dried lime beurre blanc
    —Divan, Atlanta

Ben Pollinger, executive chef at Oceana, offers this Poké Trio, a triple offering of tuna, hamachi and salmon prepared Hawaiian poke-style, with shoyu and togarashi.

5. Shoyu

This naturally brewed, wheat-based, Japanese-style soy sauce is a little thinner, sweeter and less opaque than its Chinese counterpart. Often seen in seaweed salads and poke bowls, shoyu offers another way to deliver umami and build craveable flavor. At Wisefish Poké in New York, build-your-own poke includes sauces of wasabi shoyu and spicy citrus shoyu.

  • Shoyu Chicken: Garlic, ginger, chicken thigh
    —GoGo’s, Detroit
  • Ol’ Skool Ramen: chicken shoyu broth, chashu, ajitama, menma, scallion, white pepper, nori, pepper
    —Ramen Tatsu-ya, based in Austin, Texas

6. Dukkah

Derived from the Arabic word meaning “to pound,” this seasoning is a blend of toasted nuts, seeds and spices. As with most iconic dishes, the ingredients vary from street vendor to street vendor and from family to family. A traditional blend consists of sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, pepper and nigella seed. Riding in on the popularity of eastern Mediterranean flavors, chefs here are putting their own spin on this finishing seasoning, using almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and peanuts, and adding fresh herbs like marjoram and mint.

  • Roasted Butternut Squash with dukkah
    —Moruno, Los Angeles
  • Mission Style Bowl with shiitake, edamame, shaved Brussels sprouts, Japanese eggplant, smashed cucumber, Sichaun dukkah and tahini dressing
    —Whole Heart Provisions, Allston, Mass.

Ohio-based Melt Bar & Grilled serves an Awesome Noodle Salad with either a Peanut Sesame Dressing or a Sweet Thai Chile Lime Dressing. Both dressings feature sambal.

7. Sambal

The next big thing from Southeast Asia, sambal is a hot sauce starring chile peppers and salt, maybe onion, lime juice, lemongrass, sugar, garlic and oil. Some variations introduce shrimp paste and/or fish sauce. Fiery, complex and ultra hip, regional variations make it a versatile condiment and mix-in for today’s menus.

  • General Tso’s “Cracker Jacks”: Sambal-caramel popcorn, lime, peanuts
    —Flyte World Dining & Wine, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Brussels Sprouts with sambal and soy
    —Ampersand Wine Bar, Chicago

8. Gochugaru

This Korean red pepper powder (also referenced as gochugarou) is traditionally made from sun-dried red chile peppers. Used in Korean gochujang, soups, stews, kimchi and side dishes, it’s hot, sweet and a little bit smoky. At The Birdhouse in Nashville, Tenn., Korean fried chicken wings can be tossed in four sauces, including a Gochugaru Hot Sauce. And at Rich Table in San Francisco, the Hon Hamachi Crudo with guacamole, tempura and fermented jalapeño features gochugaru in the jalapeño component, providing a subtle zing to the creamy avocado and rich fish.

  • Gochugarou Chile Popcorn
    —Forbidden Root, Chicago
  • Kimchi Collard Greens with benne seed and gochugarou
    —Mason’s, Nashville, Tenn.

9. Sansho

Consider this the Japanese cousin of the Sichuan peppercorn. Boasting a sharp, citrusy flavor, sansho is the unripened seedpod of the Japanese prickly ash, ground into a fine powder. In Japan, it’s often used to season grilled eel and some noodle dishes. Here, chefs are using it as counterpoint to sweet-savory combinations, capitalizing on its intriguing global profile.

  • Sansho Citrus Chicken Wings
    —Nojo, San Francisco
  • Japanese Fried Chicken with sansho pepper salt and spicy mayo
    —Mei Jin Ramen, New York

Ohio-based Melt Bar & Grilled serves an Awesome Noodle Salad with either a Peanut Sesame Dressing or a Sweet Thai Chile Lime Dressing. Both dressings feature sambal.

10. Togarashi

Togarashi is a Japanese seasoning that’s moved from exotic to adventurous, with more chefs tapping into its flavor potential. It sports a custom blend of seven spices, which may include sansho, dried citrus peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds, ginger, garlic, shiso and nori. Sprinkled on avocado toast, crusted on salmon, this spice blend ratchets up texture and flavor. At Barton G. in Los Angeles, The Devil’s Egg is topped with a togarashi bacon crumble, crisp garlic and fresh black truffles.

  • Seared Togarashi-Crusted Ahi Tuna with jade pearl rice, baby bok choy, yuzu-miso sauce
    —Celadon, Napa, Calif.
  • Handmade Twin Crab Cakes: Jumbo and super lump crabmeat combined with red bell pepper, lemon zest and cilantro, finished with panko bread crumbs and served with a creamy togarashi-lime sauce
    —Benihana, multiple locations

11. Tumeric

The breakout spice of the moment, turmeric is getting a boost because of its health-and-wellness attributes. Pungent, floral and slightly sweet, it has long been used in curries and mustards, but is now informing veg-centric dishes, power smoothies and soups, among other menu items. At Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen, Calif., chef Ari Weiswasser features turmeric as a main component in his vadouvan spice blend, which he uses to spice walnuts that are fried and tossed in a spring salad with baby kale and pickled green strawberries. Specialty coffee drinks are turning up the superfood quotient with offerings like iced turmeric lattes starring cashew milk, freshly grated turmeric and palm sugar.

  •  Root 1 Juice with carrot, ginger, turmeric, lemon and a pinch of cayenne
    —Unbakery & Juicery, Kansas City, Mo.
  • Cauliflower Soup with coconut and turmeric apples
    —Ella Dining Room & Bar, Sacramento, Calif.

12. Calabrian Chiles

Hailing from Calabria, Italy, these small round peppers pack a fruity, piquant spiciness while bringing with them an on-trend regional Italian flair. Lending spicy complexity atop pizzas and in pasta dishes, the chiles are also making creative plays in non-Italian fare, as with the Cornmeal-Crusted Snapper with Calabrian chile, dill, country ham and peas, served at The Optimist, an upscale seafood restaurant in Atlanta. Moving mainstream, the flavor profile made it into Olive Garden’s new sandwich lineup as a Spicy Calabrian Chicken Breadstick Sandwich, in which fried chicken is tossed in Calabrian chile sauce and served with a Gorgonzola sauce.

  • Fried Calamari with crispy fennel and Calabrian chile aïoli
    —Riverside, Hood River, Ore.
  • Tuna Crudo with heirloom tomatoes, Hass avocado, yellowfin tuna and Calabrian chile pesto
    —Tanzy, Boca Raton, Fla. and Scottsdale, Ariz.


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