Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Desserts: 5 Ingredients to Watch Flavors and formats driving dessert innovation

Given its versatility, matcha can be used in an incredibly broad array of desserts, including ice cream desserts, cakes, cookies, breads, and doughnuts

While health, wellness and functional foods dominate many food-based conversations, people still love dessert. The question is how to fit dessert into the modern diet and continue to innovate against the evolving American palate. Explore the whole pantry, seek out international inspiration, and dive into history to inform the modernization of your dessert program. Here are five trending ingredients and formats to consider in dessert ideation:

1. Salt

Here, think beyond the seemingly ubiquitous salted caramel and consider salt as a key ingredient or condiment. As an ingredient, salt enhances the natural flavor of other ingredients, but as a condiment it can enhance the visual appeal and set the stage for a unique dessert experience. This is particularly true when using vibrantly colored salts such as pink, black or grey. Salt is now called out as a key driving ingredient or topping in puddings, crème brûlées, cakes, tarts and cookies/bars.

2. Dragon Fruit

One of the on-trend flavors for 2019, dragon fruit will show up across the menu but it’s ideally suited to desserts. Dragon fruit, or pitaya, is a gorgeous fruit in its whole form with a unique, pink, exotic exterior and a speckled interior. The flesh has a mild flavor and the crunchy seeds carry a nutty flavor. The fruit is often used to create beautiful pink to rose colors in foods and beverages. Look for dragon fruit to show up in both dessert beverages as well as ices, tarts, bowls, puddings and sorbets. Familiarity has certainly been bolstered by the launch of both the Dragon Drink and the Mango Dragonfruit Refresher at Starbucks.

3. Matcha

This ingredient is not necessarily a new trend in desserts but it is picking up steam and moving beyond both world cuisine operations and niche offerings. With its vibrant color, global origins and health halo, matcha lends desserts a unique aura and intriguing appeal. Matcha desserts also appeal to the growing demand for options that are more subtly sweet and more complex in flavor. Given its versatility, matcha can be used in an incredibly broad array of desserts, including ice cream desserts, cakes, cookies, breads, and doughnuts.

4. Kolache

In its infancy in this country, kolache (or kolacky) appeal to consumers wanting just a little something sweet. These pastries, originating in Eastern Europe, are made with a light, puffy dough typically holding a fruit or cheese filling. Kolache can be baked in a babke-style form or small to medium-sized pastries. Though fruit and cheese are traditional, filling options are endless and can range from sweet to savory or a unique combination of the two. Additionally, operators can leverage seasonal flavors, produce and herbs to constantly reinvent the simple base. Consider adding these as a snack, a thank- you gift, or a portion-controlled dessert option.

5. Blackcurrant

Far more commonly used in European and British desserts, blackcurrants are gaining a greater presence in U.S. foodservice. Difficult to source fresh, but available in several other processed forms, blackcurrants add a strong, tart, somewhat musky fruit flavor, as well as a rich, deep blue-purple color. Fresh blackcurrants have high levels of pectins and acid making them ideal for jelly and jam production. Consider using fresh fruit or blackcurrant products to create ice creams, sorbets, tarts, cheesecakes, frostings and mousses.

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About The Author


MAEVE WEBSTER is a leading consultant and thought leader for foodservice manufacturers, operators and other professionals. She has spearheaded hundreds of major industry studies during her 20-plus years as a foodservice specialist. Today, Maeve focuses her consultancy on helping manufacturers, operators, commodity boards and marketing firms understand, prioritize and leverage food and consumer trends. Key areas of focus include consumer behavior, trend analysis, product design/testing and menu optimization. Maeve specializes in helping her clients not just to understand data but to also pull out the most critical threads and stories within the data that can inform both tactical and strategic decision-making. In addition to running her Menu Matters consultancy, Maeve owned and operated a café in Bennington, Vt., for four years. It was awarded “best coffeehouse” in Bennington each of the years it was in operation. She has an MBA from the University of Illinois Chicago and a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. She is a regular speaker at industry events and a contributor to major media outlets and industry publications, including Flavor & The Menu.