Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development




By Flavor & The Menu
April 19, 2021

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Flavors on the Road
Going the distance with takeout and delivery

The sauce component in a build often delivers the signature flavor for that menu item. Chefs understand its potential, using sauces to introduce a craveable mouthfeel and lift the experience into singular status. Modern menu development sees an exploration of global pantries for bold, on-trend flavors that mash up well with everything from barbecue sauce to hollandaise. There’s also a a reimagining of nostalgic sauces, with chefs updating them with deft flavor touches.

When honing a brand’s off-premise strategy, assertive flavor building in sauces is critical. This aggressive approach compensates for the muted tones that are inevitable in delivery and takeout. Temperature and texture often take a hit during transport, and, of course, no matter how clever the packaging and the marketing, the hospitality that serves up the dish and represents the brand is only a soft backdrop in off-premise dining. Heat, of course, opens a direct pathway to punching up flavor in the sauce category, helping compensate for loss of other attributes and delivering a flavor-forward, unique and memorable experience.

Here are five ingredients that offer big flavor. When incorporated into sauces, they find balance, nuance and unique flavor stories.


A Mexican specialty, this pickled fruit (most often sour apricots) is seasoned with lime, spices and chiles. Combined with a sweet counter, chamoy brings complex tones to sauces that is ideal for modern flavor play.

Salmon Crudo with chamoy-honey sauce, pickled onions and mango
Paraiso Taqueria, Washington D.C.

Spicy Watermelon Slushie: Watermelon slush with chamoy, Tajín and fresh watermelon chunks
Zero Degrees Company, based in Orange County, Calif.


In the U.S., sambal oelek, with its sharp, lively mix of ground red chiles, vinegar and salt, is the most common version of this Southeast Asian hot sauce. Look to other sambals, like sambal jeruk, with green or red pepper and makrut lime, too.

Tempura Kurobuta Bacon with a maple-sambal dipping sauce
Whiskey, Bellevue, Wash.

Chili Scrambled Eggs: Buttery scramble, tomato-kimchi salsa, sambal emulsion, avocado, grated Parmesan on sourdough
Hole in the Wall, multiple locations in New York


Bright red, long and slender, this Mexican chile pepper packs a punch yet brings a subtle earthiness and nuttiness to sauces that makes it a great choice when building bold, interesting flavors into menu items.

Tempura Cauliflower Florets bathed in a lemon-garlic and chile de árbol sauce
Ambli, with three locations in Denver

Skirt Steak with fire-grilled skirt steak, chile de árbol chimichurri, refried black beans, crispy tostones
TacoCraft, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.


Tangy, sweet, smooth and familiar, honey mustard sauce offers a familiar foundation for creative flavor combinations.

Smoked Brisket Sliders: Sliced beef brisket topped with smoked jalapeño-honey mustard sauce and dill pickle chips, over housemade coleslaw on garlic toasted brioche buns
Quaker Steak & Lube, based in Westlake, Ohio

Guava-smoked Bone-in Honey Ham Steak with smashed garlic fingerling potatoes, Sumida Farms watercress and honey mustard-pineapple gastrique
Shor at the Hyatt Regency Waikīkī Beach Resort & Spa, Honolulu, Hawaii


An ideal balance of sweet, savory and spicy, the kung pao profile, with its sticky glaze-like quality, makes a great addition to modern sauces, dialing up craveability.

Kung Pao Seafood: Calamari, scallops, shrimp, mahi-mahi, bell peppers, onion in a kung pao sauce infused with Japanese whisky, over steamed rice
Veranda E, Naples, Fla.

The Yoda Taco: Sweet and spicy chicken, Chef Rob’s kung pao sauce, peanuts, sticky rice, crispy carrots, all in a double-shelled (crunchy corn and soft flour) taco
Agave & Rye, Covington, Ky.


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