Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

What’s Next in Taco Innovation Trending flavors and ingredients that are impacting taco menu development

Chefs are maximizing the popularity of tacos while making them work for their restaurant brands with creative flavor combinations.

Tacos may seem a ubiquitous item on American menus, but until 2008 less than one-fifth of restaurants in this country featured them. Beginning in 2008, tacos took off—driven by food trucks, immigrant growth and experimentation. The advancement of tacos since then has been steady—and so has the innovation within the format. Some of the “new” tacos are faithful to Mexican culinary traditions, but many are driven by chef innovations that thoughtfully and intentionally combine the taco format with elements pulled in from a number of global cuisines or popular American flavor systems.

5 Ways to Taco Glory

Considering tacos for your menu, or looking to renovate your current taco program? Options abound, with these five categories capturing the fastest growing trends in tacos:

1. Produce

Tacos have not been immune to the produce-forward movement. Today, some are either filled with plant-based ingredients to create unique and craveable vegetarian and vegan options or inclusive of unique produce to offer complexity and complement the starring animal protein. Play with seasonal produce and take into account regionally appropriate options, but also consider these top trending taco ingredients: kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and peas.

2. Sauces/Condiments

As with all formats, sauces are some of the easiest ingredients with which to experiment. If nothing but the sauces change they can shift the flavor experience while keeping the item approachable for less adventurous patrons. Furthermore, sauces are some of the first ingredients from world cuisines to enter the U.S. market and register with consumers. Some of the most on-trend sauces in the taco category include: Sriracha, Sriracha aïoli, lime vinaigrette, kimchee and pineapple salsa.

3. Proteins

While plant-based proteins are certainly trending across foodservice, animal proteins remain a key element to many taco creations. There is, quite literally, no limit to the types, varieties and preparations of proteins that can be used in tacos. Price and availability must be taken into consideration, but some of the fastest growing proteins within tacos: are seared ahi tuna, Atlantic cod, pork (in all cuts), lamb and blackened shrimp.

4. Cheeses

Many cheese currently trending in tacos are influenced by Mexican culinary traditions, others are driven more by overall popularity beyond that format. When creating within the taco category, first turn to cheeses currently featured on the menu to avoid stock and ordering complexity, but these growing cheeses featured in tacos may spark inspiration: goat cheese, Cotija, blue, queso fresco and Parmesan.

5. Herbs and Spices

Arguably, flavor begins with the right balance of spices and herbs. Mexican cuisine offers many familiar and less commonly known spices and herbs to consider, but chefs need not limit their inventiveness to the more traditional options. As ingredients from proteins and cheeses to sauces and vegetables evolve, so too will spices and herbs. The fastest growing among these flavor builders are: fennel, coriander, saffron, oregano and marjoram.

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About The Author


MAEVE WEBSTER is a leading consultant and thought leader for foodservice manufacturers, operators and other professionals. She has spearheaded hundreds of major industry studies during her 20-plus years as a foodservice specialist. Today, Maeve focuses her consultancy on helping manufacturers, operators, commodity boards and marketing firms understand, prioritize and leverage food and consumer trends. Key areas of focus include consumer behavior, trend analysis, product design/testing and menu optimization. Maeve specializes in helping her clients not just to understand data but to also pull out the most critical threads and stories within the data that can inform both tactical and strategic decision-making. In addition to running her Menu Matters consultancy, Maeve owned and operated a café in Bennington, Vt., for four years. It was awarded “best coffeehouse” in Bennington each of the years it was in operation. She has an MBA from the University of Illinois Chicago and a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. She is a regular speaker at industry events and a contributor to major media outlets and industry publications, including Flavor & The Menu.