The word “jam” is cloaked with nostalgia, inviting a sense of comfort—even as its flavors electrify with creative combinations of sweet with savory, sweet with salty and sweet with sour. Unexpected and supremely satisfying, savory jams work as spreads, thickening agents, glazes and dips.
Flavor is what catapults savory jams into the firmament of winning menu trends. Savory jams offer tremendous opportunity for flavor innovation while staying neighborly. Maybe it’s a hot pepper jam stirred into a vinaigrette for flavor depth and viscosity. Or a bacon jam folded into a premium mac and cheese. Look to Tara Kitchen in Schenectady, N.Y., where shrimp are sautéed with tomato jam, harissa and garlic. Savory jams elevate sandwiches, too. At Coppervine in Chicago, Executive Chef Chip Barnes adds succotash jam (charred corn, onion, bell pepper, cayenne, sugar) to his grilled pimento cheese sandwich.
As flavor drives the bus on this trend, the wheels that keep it moving forward include the heritage of preservation, the burger boom, continued flavor exploration in condiments, and the blurring of dayparts. Savory jams are intuitively linked to handcrafted, made-with-love premium cues—housemade or not. “It’s the farm-to-table movement in a jar,” says Erin Hargis of Food IQ. “Savory jams preserve the fresh produce of summer and reveal those flavors again in the dark days of winter.”
Indeed, savory jams extend the seasons all year long, providing important ties to craftsmanship and preservation while offering new and exciting ways of delivering great flavor experiences.
Another driver is the fluidity of dayparts, where lines between each have been blurred. What better bridge from breakfast into all-day breakfast or snacking than a savory component to a traditionally sweet, familiar jam? Condiments have proven their mettle as champions of new flavors—savory jams share good company with gourmet ketchups, Sriracha, mustards and gochujang.
Operators wondering how to give their guests memorable small bites are finding success in charcuterie plates dotted with mostardas and other savory jams, for instance. Or maybe sliders made special with a slather of red onion and bacon jam. “The blending of breakfast with lunch hours, the rise of snacking, late-night dining indulgences and the proliferation of bar snacks have created an opportunity for chefs to feature savory jams via new eating periods,” says consulting chef Rob Corliss. The continued pushing of boundaries in the better-burger movement makes savory jams a hero here, too. There’s perhaps no easier way to express premium flavor attributes than through a savory jam on a burger.
Savory jams bring with them culinary credibility. They speak to modern values—authenticity, craftsmanship and flavor discovery. “If done right, savory jams elevate the quality and add integrity to the menu,” says Paul Virant, chef-owner of Vie in Western Springs, Ill., and author of The Preservation Kitchen (Random House, 2012). A preservation guru who makes a variety of pickles, preserves and jams, he sees savory jams as a way to build flavor and relay a restaurant’s expertise. “They remind people of what we do really well. They signal culinary craftsmanship.” He makes a fermented green tomato and apple jam, applying it to a number of dishes, like roasted beets tossed in the jam and pork loin glazed with it. “It’s kind of salty, sweet, vegetal, appley,” says Virant. “It’s not funky like other fermented products. We’ve soured the fruits and vegetables first so it’s more acidic than funky.” That craftsmanship—even if not made in house—makes savory jam an easy trend to execute. Savory jam brings its housemade halo to any menu item it touches.
At Superba Snack Bar in Los Angeles, savory jam conveys housemade values in a BLT made with braised bacon, tomato marmalade and mustard frill. A green tomato jam at River Oaks Restaurant in Memphis helps extend chef José Gutierrez’s love of this seasonal specialty. He uses locally sourced green tomatoes, honey, sugar, ginger and vanilla, and serves the jam with an appetizer of field-green empanadas.
Tom Van Lente, executive chef at Two in Chicago, preserves beloved and short-lived spring ramps in a savory ramp jam, serving it on a cheese board. He also runs a seasonal mostarda (local rhubarb, lemon juice, lemon zest, whole-grain mustard and strawberries) on a charcuterie platter. “Savory jams show time, effort and love,” he says. “They also help illustrate sourcing of good products.” His last point can easily apply to operations that out-source savory jams—high-volume operators can tap into the valuable cues of craftsmanship by featuring good-quality and intriguing savory jams.
Condiments by nature act as flavor accents, but savory jams have the potential to wholly transform a dish’s profiles in magical, seductive ways. “We’re seeing jam show up in unexpected places, including burgers and sandwiches,” says Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential. “We’ve also seen savory jams in non-traditional applications, like bacon-chile jam in a Brussels sprouts salad, for example, and savory tomato jam offered as a dip for fries. Savory jams invite experimentation.” They also transcend borders, adapting well to a variety of cuisines and menu focuses.
Working the Flavor
“Savory jams are non-threatening, and can move laterally from simple to complex to global,” says Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides. “The sweetness calms the heat if you’re putting in peppers. It can take the sting out of savory or balance the saltiness in ingredients like bacon. The jam part is the blanket around the bolder combinations.”
The godfather of savory jams is bacon jam. Riding on the coattails of the almighty bacon, this smoky, salty, sweet spread offers a great introduction to the wonders of the deep, nuanced flavors inherent in savory jams. At Coppervine, Barnes serves a char-grilled prime burger with a bacon-onion marmalade. “It’s all about layering the flavors in the jam,” he says. “You get the sharp acidity from the balsamic vinaigrette and the whole-grain mustard, the smokiness from the bacon, and you reinforce the sweetness with brown sugar. The cooked-down onions add texture, and then I add espresso to reinforce the bottom end, giving it a bitter note for depth.”
At Oak Tavern in Miami, guests can order a small plate of a Bacon Marmalade Crostini topped with Echo Mountain blue cheese. “Savory jams give operators a chance to show off culinary expertise,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. “We see so much opportunity here with snacking—spread over toast, inventive pairings as spreads or dipping sauces, on flatbreads. They help operators offer variety: It’s easier to change up a condiment or sauce than a whole menu item.”
Tomato jam and onion jam round out the top three as popular entry points into this trend. Maybe a charred tomato jam replaces out-of-season tomatoes on a sandwich. Or maybe it’s offered as a component of a premium bread service. At Montrio Bistro in Monterey, Calif., chef Tony Baker serves an onion bhaji with a tomato-jalapeño jam. Onion jam plays nicely into the sweeter side of things because of the natural sugars that emerge when onion is caramelized. Operators can also tap into regionality through specific types or add interest by calling out shallots, leeks or scallions. At The Mill in Spring Lake Heights, N.J., pan-seared Atlantic salmon is served with a caramelized shallot jam.
Savory jams amplify more than just flavor on the menu. They dial up the emotional connection guests hanker for, and they deliver on authenticity cues. As Barnes says: “Savory jams offer a great way for us to play with flavor, cook with integrity and share those values with our customers.”