Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Eliza Amari
January 2, 2020

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Certainly, everyone wants to be inspired. What does that look like in modern menu development? For a number of operators, it takes shape in a strategy that pulls a few emerging or fringe ingredients into more familiar flavor combinations—a term Datassential has cleverly coined “fusebiquity.” That’s a surefire way to draw attention and capture the imagination. We asked a handful of commodity boards—committed to helping brands ideate trend-forward dishes inspired by their ingredients—to share standout collaborations.

A few of them think big and reach for the stars, shining a light on the possibilities rather than suggesting menu-ready solutions. Others follow the “fusebiquity” strategy, nudging diners toward adventure within friendly formats. All five of them succeed at providing inspiring innovation.

Granita Surprise

A bouquet of flavors, colors and textures, this Blueberry Granita Salad (main picture above) showcases an avant-garde application of blueberries in granita form (or frozen vinaigrette). The salad is built with pleasantly tart cranberry hibiscus, sorrel blooms, dianthus, purple radish, lucky clover, French breakfast radish, and an herb emulsion. The real surprise to this dish is the blueberry granita, prepared using a pre-chilled food processor on frozen blueberries, which are then seasoned with salt and sugar for a unique topping.

“Light, fluffy and refreshing—blueberry granita is an ice-cold surprise for the senses. The blueberries add a rich purple color that makes for a beautiful visual presentation,” says Jamie Simpson, executive chef at The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, who developed the recipe for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

With this granita, Simpson helps operators think about blueberries in a new light. “The beauty of this blueberry granita is that it has applications across the menu,” he says. “By switching up the seasoning, it can be applied to salads, appetizers or desserts. Try topping oysters for a sweet-and-salty contrast or incorporating rosemary for a savory addition to dessert.”

Manic Sundae

Patrick McDonnell Photography 2019

This Halo-Halo Street Sundae features roasted Valencia peanut ice cream swirled with sweet-and-salty fish-sauce caramel.

Before World War II, Japanese immigrants brought kakigori, a shaved ice treat, over to the Philippines. A large number settled close to the Quinta Market in Manila, and over time, the dessert took a distinctive Filipino turn, morphing into a street food treat called halo-halo.

Today, modern iterations abound. This one stands out with an ideal layering of sweet and salty, varying textures, temperatures and flavors, along with huge visual appeal. The eye-popping Halo-Halo Street Sundae, with roasted Valencia peanut ice cream swirled with sweet-and-salty fish-sauce caramel, is a perfect example of modern translation. Opting out of the traditional sweet-bean base often found in the classic version, this one features a base of shredded coconut in syrup. This is followed by layers of fresh mango, guava jelly, lime jelly, tapioca balls, shaved ice, evaporated milk, peanut butter ice cream with fish-sauce caramel and ube purple yam ice cream.

“We used peanut butter ice cream in our version for texture, flavor and mouthfeel, instead of toasted rice and mashed ube or sweet beans,” says Patrick McDonnell, chef consultant for the National Peanut Board. “The granular texture of fresh-roasted and ground peanuts and peanut butter work in a similar way as those traditional ingredients, and the heavy cream and caramel appeal to the American palate. It’s sweet, salty and indulgent. The talking point is the swirl of fish sauce in the butter and cane-sugar caramel. The caramel is in no way fishy, but it does add a complex umami flavor to the build.”

This dessert naturally lends itself to customization. It also invites inventive flavor play, giving chefs free range to build their own signature halo-halo sundaes.

Rind of a Different Kind

Flashpoint Innovation

Smoked Idaho potato “chicharrones” are a creative vegetarian take on crispy pork rinds.

Smoked Idaho Potato “chicharrones” are a creative vegetarian take on crispy pork rinds, which are having a moment in foodservice, popping up in fun applications as imaginative textural components. Here, smoked potatoes that are dehydrated and fried to puff up like a chicharrón are dusted with black onion ash and nori, then served alongside a togarashi aïoli. Apart from the visual appeal, the ash and nori add umami notes, and the togarashi aïoli brings nuanced heat. The potoato chicharrones are ideal as a snack or a shareable base for toppings, “loaded-nacho” style.

“This has a very crispy, puffed texture, but with the delicious flavor of Idaho russet potatoes. Think of it as the classic potato chip, upgraded,” says Adam Moore, chef consultant for the Idaho Potato Commission. “The uniqueness of the Idaho potato chicharrón is that it borrows existing craveable qualities from traditional pork chicharrones—poppability and texture—but with the flavor of a potato.”

This cutting-edge format can easily be modified into various shapes and sizes to provide signature concepts. Moore suggests a few variations, including shaping the chicharrón into the size of a burger bun to become a full-sized potato chip on a burger; adding different flavors and inclusions into the base product for an infused chicharrón; or tossing them with proprietary seasonings to turn them into a signature offering.

Function Is Fabulous

Almond Board of California/Phillip Fryman

Nutritional yeast adds a “cheesy” quality to almond hummus at The Mockingbird in Nashville, Tenn.

The almond hummus at The Mockingbird in Nashville, Tenn, created by Brian Riggenbach, executive chef/partner, doubles down on the promise of nutrient-rich ingredients. For the hummus base, he swaps chickpeas out for California almonds, which are first boiled then puréed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, tahini and a mix of spices. A dash of soy sauce lends a flavor kick, while a dose of nutritional yeast introduces a pleasant “cheesy” quality along with health benefits. Topped with a gremolata of chopped, toasted almonds, herb oil and confit garlic, this shareable delivers big flavor with pleasing contrasts in texture.

“One of the great things about hummus is that it is a blank slate for so many different ideas, like spicy peppers, roasted garlic or citrus,” says Riggenbach. “Since we are a modern diner with global twists on comfort food, there are always ways that we can put a unique spin on favorite items. This is a dish that is approachable enough with a delicious update.”

Egg Salad Redux

American Egg Board

Thin strips of scrambled eggs creatively enhance a Cucumber Egg Strip Salad, tossed with edamame, cashews and scallions.

Eggs lend themselves to continuous transformations in format and delivery. This creative Cucumber Egg Strip Salad pairs thin sheets of scrambled eggs, sliced into strips, with finely sliced English cucumber. Tossed with edamame, cashews and scallions, this textured and protein-rich salad is topped with toasted sesame seeds and dressed with a miso vinaigrette. Boasting flavor-packed, fermented notes, the dressing features Fresno chile, ginger, white miso, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil.

“What’s exciting about this dish is the simple, clean flavors. The richness of the eggs and the punch of miso in the vinaigrette boost those flavors, creating a wonderful amount of interest in each bite,” says Phaedra Ruffalo, senior director of market development for the American Egg Board. The balance of clean and simple with the more complex and dynamic flavors of the dressing keeps the dish on trend, appealing to today’s diners, who, more and more, seek flavor complexity.

“One way an operator might modify this dish is by adding a ‘ramen egg’ on top of the salad. The soft-boiled egg with a custard-yolk center marinated with soy, vinegar and sugar would complement the miso and the salad’s crisp flavors,” says Ruffalo.

About The Author

Eliza Amari

Eliza Amari is special projects editor for Flavor & The Menu.