Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Rob Corliss
August 29, 2019

Simple, creative and forward-thinking touches can take dessert from a standard offering to an impactful and memorable item. Modern strategies like incorporating savory, smoked, spicy and sour flavors into desserts, or using strong visual cues such as tableside theatrics or dramatic plate presentations help move the dessert menu forward while driving purchase intent.

Here, we look at seven familiar dessert formats. With a few inspired tweaks, they can take steps to become signature menu items.

1 Ice Cream/Frozen Custard/Sorbet

Artisan touches have been the trend norm with these menu stars. Next steps encompass curating a heart tugging collection and story that speaks to a prime season, special occasion, gluten-free/dairy-free/vegan, or a connection to culinary nostalgia.

Japanese Lemon Crush: vanilla frozen custard, coarsely blended with tangy housemade yuzu lemon bars, topped with almond whipped cream

Huckleberry Hound Ice Cream: (dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan) unsweetened gingered coconut milk ice cream with wild huckleberry jam swirls

2 Chocolate

The consumer love for chocolate makes this a must-have and a menu leader. Next steps encompass accentuating chocolate’s gravitational pull at our cravings by applying trending flavors to proven combinations.

Ruby Slippers: ruby chocolate-coated fresh strawberries dusted with hibiscus powder and edible glitter

Babka Bread Pudding: chocolate babka and espresso bread pudding drizzled with creamy tart cherry sauce

3 Cookies

Cookies are primed for deluxe flavors that still resonate with mainstream taste preferences. Next steps encompass doubling down on the comfort with the introduction of complementary dessert classics that are bold in texture and sensory appeal.

Red Velvet Cookies: soft-baked red velvet cake/cookie dough base studded with chocolate cookie crumbles

Double Chocolate-Caramel Lava Cookies: semi-sweet chocolate cookie dough base with dark chocolate chunks and oozing smokey caramel inside (that erupts with every bite)

4 Cake and Pie

Maintain a traditional American regional or classic essence while flipping the script to make these more multi-sensory. Next steps encompass contrasting textures, global spice influences that spark attention and the introduction of favorite cocktail flavors. Also, think about personalized portions and strategically menuing slivers versus slices of cake.

Fried “Hot” Apple Pie: fried handheld apple pie turnover, where the apples are flavored with the numbing spice of cayenne/Sichuan peppercorn

Cocktail Icing Shots: combine the best of two—the icing on cakes and trending cocktails. Serve in mini cups with a tasting spoon, and menu as a solo item or in flights:

  • Buttered Rita: buttercream icing blended with red dragon fruit margarita flavor with pink sea salt sprinkled on top
  • Chocolate Sangria: chocolate icing blended with red wine sangria flavor with minced fresh fruit on top
  • Creamed Bee’s Knees: cream cheese icing blended with bee’s knees flavor and candied orange peel with bee pollen sprinkled on top

5 Doughnuts/Churros

Mini features along with unique glazes and coatings (or dipping sauces) and crunchy toppings are a nice play here. Next steps encompass savory surprises and non-traditional batters and fillings—all with a focus on high quality.

Chamoy Churro: churros (folded into ovals/heart shapes), lightly dipped in a tamarind glaze, then sprinkled with chamoy seasoning

Coffeecake Doughnut: cinnamon swirled coffeecake-doughnut batter base, fresh-fried and lightly top-dipped in icing glaze, then sprinkled with a traditional brown sugar-nut crumble coating

6 Pudding-esque

Pudding and custard may be old-school comfort, but unusual combinations and presentations of familiar ingredients has brought this to new-school fun. Next steps encompass temperature plays, savory/sour flavors and the next evolution of plant-based pudding thickeners (ie. bloomed chia, basil and hemp seeds heightened with puréed roasted-caramelized-grilled fruits and vegetables).

Warm Cocoa Pudding: warm dark chocolate pudding topped with cacao nibs and raw coconut shavings, maybe with long and crisp plantain chips as garnish

Sweet Potato Crème Brûlée: a savory-sweet indulgence featuring slow-cooked sweet potato-gingersnap custard with traditional burnt sugar bruléed crust and a topping of bourbon-pear compote

7 Shakes

Shake flavors will continue to mature and evolve thanks to honed culinary alchemy. Next steps encompass an opportunity to incorporate floral/botanical flavors, elegance personified, oat milk and plant milks and perhaps fermented flavors.

Maple Oat Shake: creamy oat milk blended with vanilla ice cream, pure maple syrup, brown sugar and spice, then topped with toasted whole oats

Strawberry-Rose Lassi: plain yogurt, milk and fresh strawberries blended with rose syrup and cardamom, topped with candied flowers

About The Author


ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 30 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and owning the culinary consultancy ATE (All Things Epicurean) since 2009. Based in Nixa, Mo., ATE has an energizing passion focused on flavor innovation and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness. Rob is also a regular contributor to Flavor & The Menu. [email protected]