Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Katie Ayoub
November 6, 2019

Tropical fruits carry a special passport, granting them access to land on menus any time of year. Seasonality doesn’t restrain them, thanks to their stance as exotic produce from sun-drenched destinations. Chefs and beverage directors have long relied on that year-round versatility, but a quick look across foodservice signals a swell of innovation that maximizes the intense, distinct, lingering flavors and vibrant colors of tropical fruits.

Familiar varieties like pineapple and mango are showing up in unexpected places, in unexpected ways. For example, Chicago’s Flora Fauna flavors its Crispy Fried Mushrooms with a pineapple-rum mustard. At Oxomoco in New York, smoked mango topped with chile and lime is offered as a snack. Also, lesser known tropical fruits, like passionfruit, guava and dragon fruit, are moving beyond tropical-themed dishes and beverages. Primrose Table in Nashville highlights passionfruit in a shrimp and linguine dish, tossed in vermouth-cream sauce, pears, tomato and Thai chile—both surprising and enticing.

Here are five categories where tropical fruits lift the flavor experience beautifully.

Shareables/Appetizers

Interesting, unexpected flavor combinations are a safe bet in this category, promising a adventure without too much commitment. Chefs are using tropical fruit here strategically, with interesting techniques or flavor combinations. At Al’s Deli in San Francisco, chef/owner Aaron London adds smoked pineapple to the standard tomato-cucumber salad.

Yellowtail & Pomelo Salad with young coconut, crispy rice, fried shallot
Proxi, Chicago

Duck Confit Boudin Cake with grapefruit and guava gastrique, pickled mirliton squash
Bijoux, Miramar Beach, Fla.

Dragon Fruit Ceviche with tuna, pecans, lemon and hibiscus
Bazaar by José Andrés, Miami

Breakfast/Brunch

There’s a world of opportunity here, where chefs can pull in flavors from all over the world and serve them up in familiar, comforting fare like waffles, pancakes, toasts and more. Tropical fruit acts as a sweet-tart counterpoint to a number of breakfast favorites, brightening profiles while adding a touch of the exotic.

Berries & Yogurt: House coconut yogurt, strawberries and blueberries, lime, toasted coconut and almonds, palm sugar
True Laurel, San Francisco

Guava & Cream Cheese-Stuffed French Toast
Pinch Kitchen, Miami

Adobo Fried Chicken with ube waffles, pink guava butter and honey
Gaya Gaya, San Diego, Calif.

Desserts

Fruit in desserts is a natural. Tropical fruits kick things up a notch, especially when used in intriguing ways. Of course, they also bring those gorgeous colors and fresh flavors—particularly inviting during bleak winter months.

Dragon Fruit Budino with pistachio granola
Fiola, Miami

Passionfruit and Honey Vanilla Cream Bun
Wayfarer Bread & Pastry, San Diego, Calif.

Lemongrass-Mango-Corn Tortilla Gelato
Superiority Burger, New York

Non-alcoholic Beverages

The days of seltzer and lime are long gone, thanks to tremendous innovation in this category, along with a consumer base that is thirsty for more. Tropical fruits find a natural home in non-alc, thanks to their satisfying, refreshing flavors. They are key players in helping beverages stand out as great choices rather than ho-hum stand-ins for boozy drinks.

Lemon and Passionfruit Energy Juice: Fresh passionfruit, lemon juice, yerba mate concentrate
Porteñas, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Treat Yo’Self with turmeric, carrot, orange, pineapple, mango, lime and ginger beer
Circa, multiple locations in Washington D.C.

Blackberry Coconut Fizz with coconut crème, blackberry, honey, lime juice and bitters
Vena’s Fizz House, Portland, Maine

Cocktails

Modern cocktail development sees tropical fruits at play with unusual partners, dialing up differentiation while delivering a memorable flavor experience. At Flora Fauna in Chicago, flavor combinations include pineapple, passionfruit and habanero; salted guava; and banana, mango and turmeric.

Dead Sea: Guava, mezcal, mint, lime and salt
Miss Ada, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Funky Town Shandy has lager, sprite, passionfruit, and lemongrass
Dog Haus, based in Pasadena, Calif.

Team Builder: Pimm’s, Jamaican rum, china-china liqueur, lime, mango, mint, tres leches orgeat syrup flavored with cinnamon and allspice
Etta, Chicago

About The Author

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Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.