10 Big Trends for Chefs and Menu Developers

Presented at National Peanut Board’s 2018 Millennial Summit
By Flavor & The Menu, www.getflavor.com

America’s ever-changing menu trends are a key component in the evolution of the foodservice industry. Chefs and menu developers are able to capitalize on the dynamic nature of food and flavor preferences as a point of differentiation and an opportunity to customize their offerings for a unique food and beverage experience. At Flavor & The Menu, we think the following trends present big opportunities.

1. Indian Mash-Ups

We’ve been watching Indian cuisine closely for the last few years, rooting for this universe of flavor-forward builds to take hold. What’s giving Indian more momentum is the fast-casual space, which has embraced its flavors and forms while making them more approachable. Going forward, we see the opportunity in pulling from the Indian pantry without the restraints of authentic replication—a Madras curry sauce should still taste like a Madras curry sauce, but it can top a loaded fries dish.

2. Spicy Yogurt

Certainly driven in part by a fascination with all-things Eastern Med, combined with its better-for-you positioning, yogurt is a great carrier for bold flavors, delivering craveability through pairings with harissa, chimichurri, sambal, smoked poblano—the possibilities are endless.

3. “Sea-cuterie”

Poke has proven that mainstream diners have a broad acceptance of fish and seafood in new formats. Next up, we see seafood items that match the social, shareable vibe while thrilling with flavor and texture, from pickled shrimp to smoked trout dip to salmon pastrami, either sharing charcuterie plates or commanding platters of their own.

Bub City's Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake
(photo credit: Bub City)

4. Next-Level Texture Treatments

Today’s chefs are going further afield in their quest for signature texture treatments. We’re seeing creative brittles (like pepita, pine nut or five-spice peanut), popped grains, fried chickpeas, frizzled beets and leek hay. These are getting creative play in bowls, veg-centric offerings, chicken wings, desserts and even beverages, upgrading the overall experience.

5. Plant-Based Purées

Hummus has had major play both on retail shelves and on trending menus over the past couple of years, offering chefs endless signaturization opportunities. Chefs are also exploring the potential of other plant-based blends, like avocado, beet, cauliflower, and carrot, bringing vibrant colors and flavor notes to new formats.

6. Med-Centric Meats

Think shawarma, döner kebab: The flavor-rich meat blends of the Eastern Med are ripe for menu development opportunity here, being modernized by eastern Med fast-casuals like Naf Naf and Spitz. This momentum may even see an uptick of modernized interpretations of the now-classic gyro sandwich.

7. Sorghum

As chefs and consumers are looking closer at grains, sorghum is stepping into the spotlight. This versatile grain is used in whole-grain form in bowl builds, as flour in waffles and other batters, as a sweetener in syrup or molasses, and even popped as a textural topper. Sorghum’s gluten-free status comes as an added bonus to its trending Americana halo.

8. Falafel

Yet another pickup from the Eastern Med momentum, the humble yet delicious falafel has all the makings of a trend-forward menu star: It’s a familiar platform; it’s easily signaturized with additional base elements; it’s a trending plant-forward build; and it has the chickpea boom in its favor.

9. Tacos 3.0

The taco is a perfect expression of modern American flavor innovation, where every ingredient builds toward craveability and differentiation. Veg-centricity has a home here, with shaved Brussels sprouts or cauliflower as new favorite fillings. Next-level tacos pull inspiration from all cuisines, proving a perfect platform for modern global mash-ups.

10. Playful Cocktails

Cocktail culture can take itself pretty seriously. A counter culture is taking shape, where levity and playfulness are an important part of the mix, as is Instagrammability. Brunch is a big driver here, where fun, social and boozy all like to hang out. Punch bowls, frozes and boozy milkshakes also lead the charge, and new opportunity lies in frozen takes on classics, like the negroni slushy.

Header image: Creative Dining Solution's hummus trio (spring pea and spinach, beet, charred carrot) at Za'atar Hummus Bar
Photo credit: Flavor and the Menu

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