Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development


How Wraps Are Putting Flavor Front and Center

Exploring the carrier’s untapped potential

How Wraps Are Putting Flavor Front and Center

Exploring the carrier’s untapped potential

By Jasmine Westbrooks
June 18, 2024

By Jasmine Westbrooks
June 18, 2024


Often conflated with traditional sandwiches, wraps represent a distinctive carrier that has, until recently, been overlooked. A menu might include wraps as a “healthy” alternative due to its lower carb content, but rarely are they presented as flavorful options. But attitudes are evolving, as demonstrated by a recent spate of wrap releases from fast-food giants.

In fact, these “wrap battles” could be the next big category competition, harkening back to the fried chicken sandwich wars and the better burger race. Last year, Wendy’s debuted a Grilled Chicken Ranch Wrap reminiscent of McDonald’s beloved Snack Wraps, which were discontinued in 2016. A few months after Wendy’s move, Burger King introduced a trio of limited-time Royal Crispy Wraps (Classic, Spicy and Honey Mustard). The wraps were so popular that they found a permanent home on the menu, and Burger King added a new flavor, Fiery Buffalo, to its lineup earlier this year.

Innovation trickles both up and down; this fresh interest in wraps among larger chains points to trend potential for smaller operations. At the same time, many enterprising independents and micro-chains have long embraced—and found success in—the carrier. “Wraps have already come a long way from the Atkins diet days,” says John Bailey, co-owner of six-unit Longboards Wraps & Bowls, based in Kansas City, Kan. “In a wrap, the only constraint is what we can fit in the tortilla. In our eyes, even though the burrito came first, it is just one variation of a wrap.”

Part of what makes wraps so appealing as a carrier is their understated presence. Generally neutral in flavor and thinner than sandwich slices, wraps allow the taste of the filling to shine through unencumbered. Their addition to the overall dish—whether texture or flavor—is subtle. “A lot of times when you eat a sandwich the bread competes or gets in the way of the ingredients and often overshadows the experience,” says Jason Kupper, chef and co-founder of Twisted Gyros in Hillsboro, Ore. “Wraps as a concept is nothing new, but what you put inside of them is what sets you apart.”

The default wrap may be a tortilla, but the category has expanded to include other variations, like pita and naan. The possibilities for both carrier and filling are near infinite as creative chefs and menu developers are proving. Wraps also offer a familiar—and portable—format to present unexpected flavors and global cuisines.

Amp Up the Fillings

Photo Credit: Longboards Wraps & Bowls

The menu at Longboards features dozens of permanent and seasonal wraps, including fan favorites like the ultra-indulgent Mac Lethal (left) and the globally inspired Argentine (right).

The menu at Longboards is extensive, with about two-dozen signature wraps under three broad varieties: Cool Wraps, Grilled Wraps or Quesadilla Wraps. The brand also ideates hundreds of specials, which, Bailey says is where the innovation really takes place. Among its most beloved specials are the Sushi Wrap, the Argentine and the Mac Lethal.

Bailey describes the Sushi Wrap as an interpretation of the California roll, with nori, shrimp, rice, surimi, guacamole, cucumbers and housemade wasabi mayo. It’s all nestled inside two spinach-flavored wraps with a side of soy sauce for dipping. Visual cues also play an important role in this maki-inspired wrap. “When you cut it in half, it looks like a giant sushi roll. We put it on the grill to heat it up, and we make the grill marks look like a fishbone,” he says. “We’ve been making it since around 2007, and it has really picked up in popularity these past few years.”

Longboards’ quesadilla-style wraps are a marked departure from the norm. “It’s a bit flatter and squarer, so the flavors tend to be a bit more intense,” Bailey explains. “We put it on the grill to toast it and warm everything up on the inside.” One quesadilla wrap that has found a dedicated following is the Argentine, which introduces guests to a specific Latin American cuisine they may not have experienced. It features steak, shrimp, pico de gallo, mozzarella and a housemade chimichurri sauce.

Per Bailey, the Mac Lethal is perhaps the most creative item on the menu. Named after a Kansas City rapper, the wrap only graces the menu a couple times each year. The build uses another menu item, the Mac Wrap (three-cheese andouille sausage mac and cheese in two wheat tortillas) as a starting point and then adds chicken, bacon, egg, brisket, tortilla chips and a housemade lemon-garlic aïoli. “The wrap is a feast,” Bailey declares. “The combination of ingredients definitely stands out, but a big part of our innovation in wraps is to take them and do something different in a way that applies additional meaning to it.”

Give Pita a Chance

Photo Credit: Twisted Gyros

While Twisted Gyros serves classics like chicken shawarma and falafel, the menu also features unconventional wraps, like the Bulgogi Beef Pita (left), the pork-packed Bacon on Top of My Bacon (center) and the spicy Mango Habanero Chicken Pita (right).

While technically more of a pocket than a wrap, pita has an established reputation as a versatile carrier for a number of gyro and kebab variations. But pita’s potential stretches beyond Greece and the Middle East. Because of its casual, on-the-go nature, pita also provides an approachable format for elevated ingredients and flavor profiles.

“As a small-business operation, we wanted to retain many of those same fine-dining elements on the kitchen side, but when it came to the guest experience we wanted to offer more accessibility and have a broader clientele than what we were previously exposed to,” Twisted Gyros’ Kupper says. The menu includes classics like chicken shawarma and falafel, but it also ventures into new territory through creations like the Mango Habanero Chicken Pita, with fresh mango salsa, greens, shredded cabbage and cilantro, and the Korean Bulgogi Beef Pita, with crispy onion, cucumber, shredded cabbage, pickled carrot, lettuce, scallion, toasted sesame seeds and gochujang sauce. “It’s an umami bomb in the best way possible and really emphasizes just how far we can take the humble pita bread and make it a vessel for global eats from around the world,” he adds.

Another menu standout is the Bacon on Top of My Bacon, which Kupper says “has taken on a life of its own as a fan favorite.” The dish begins with the traditional Greek Pita (lamb gyro, pickled red onion, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, feta cheese, pickle, crispy onion, tzatziki, hummus and “twisted” garlic sauce) before loading in pork belly, crispy bacon and bacon jam. “On paper, it might not make sense, but when we made one and ate it for the first time, a lightbulb went off and we knew we had a keeper. There is something special about the flavor explosion that happens when you bite into it and get that perfect balance of sweet, savory, smoky and salty.”

These strong flavor elements find a welcome home in the pita, which keeps the hefty filling in place while imparting subtle flavor and textural elements. “The pita bread we use is already delicious on its own so when we add our globally inspired fillings, it’s just taking it to a whole new level,” Kupper says. “Pita offers a light, fluffy and airy vessel while also adding flavor and texture from that slight char and crispiness it gets from time spent on the grill just before being assembled.”

Explore Unconventional Carriers

Photo Credit: NaanStop

NaanStop’s upcoming seasonal special, the Mumbai Meatball Wrap, will showcase turkey-based kofta, grilled peppers, grilled onions, corn salad and chutney.

Like tortillas and pita, naan has a neutral taste, making it an ideal base for an array of flavor combinations. It also boasts a distinct texture—slightly fluffy with “the right amount of chewy stretch,” says Neal Idnani, founder and CEO of NaanStop, a three-unit fast casual in Atlanta. This makes for a heartier wrap with a one-of-a-kind mouthfeel. “The bread alone is a star that doesn’t just carry fillings but can also amp up the flavors of the ingredients inside our wraps,” he adds.

Because of its thicker consistency, naan has traditionally been prepared as a flatbread, not a wrap, but more restaurants are beginning to explore its handheld potential. “Sometimes other wraps can be drier and tear easily. Naan allows the flavors of the ingredients inside our wraps to shine through without detracting.” Instead, it’s a subtle—but crucial—flavor builder. The restaurant serves different variations, including garlic, cheese-stuffed and bullet naan, made with fresh chiles, cilantro and garlic.

The build-your-own menu features three base options: rice bowl, salad and naan. Although the rice bowls are the most popular option—something Idnani credits to their familiarity—naan comes in a close second. “It’s a whole Indian meal in the palm of your hand. Our guests love the convenience of their favorite Indian flavors wrapped up in naan,” he says.

Among the filling options at NaanStop are chicken tikka masala, gobi, chola, lamb and Punjabi dal, while toppers include spicy cabbage slaw, grilled veggies and a selection of chutneys. The brand also features seasonal options; this fall, it will introduce the Mumbai Meatball Wrap, which comprises ground turkey kofta, grilled peppers and onions, corn salad and a helping of chutney.

While wraps remain mostly within the purview of fast casual and quick serve, the category’s newfound buzz suggests the time may be right for expansion into other service levels. Just as casual concepts are taking cues from fine dining, so too can the latter borrow inspiration from the former. “There have been huge shifts in fine dining. It’s becoming more accessible and most menus now offer dishes that were traditionally considered street food, so those two worlds are blending,” Longboards’ Bailey says. As an example, he cites matelas, which literally means “mattress” in French, but is more commonly referred to as a French taco. “It’s really just a wrap cut in half, but it puts French culinary history and capability into a tortilla and could lead to some incredible wrap-based dishes we’ve never imagined before. It will be exciting to see.” And if the ongoing wrap battle is any indication, the innovation is just getting started.

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