When it comes to flavor, today’s dishes are less about which flavors and more about how much. Thanks to the popularity of Asian food, such combinations as sweet-heat and salty-sweet have been spiking menus for years. Chefs and operators are continuing to search global-food hotspots for ways to layer flavors together and entice consumers’ taste buds in new ways, from tangy-heat to smoky-sweet.
Technomic’s 2015 Flavor Consumer Trend Report reveals that increased interest in newer flavors has shortened the amount of time it takes for ingredients to move from emerging on menus to mainstream. As consumers’ appetite for new flavors grows and accelerates, “it will be critical that operators and suppliers stay ahead of flavor trends,” Technomic’s report notes. The research firm forecasts growth for aji amarillo, a South American spice, as well as gochujang, a spicy, salty paste made from fermented soybeans, dried chiles and garlic found in Southeast Asia.
While ghost peppers have had mainstream sightings at national chains such as Wendy’s and Red Robin, Africa’s bird’s eye chili, or peri-peri, could be the next hot thing. Nando’s, an international fast-casual chicken chain making fans as it moves into more locations in the United States, combines the chiles with citrus peel, onion, pepper, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika, smoky pimiento and green herbs for a spicy-tangy-smoky result.
According to Technomic, 40 percent of all consumers and 52 percent of millennials say they would like more restaurants to offer foods that feature a combination of flavors. Similarly, a recent report from the Hartman Group finds that most consumers want a break from “routine flavors” each week. When they do, 23 percent of want distinctive new flavors; 15 percent want new ingredients and 13 percent seek distinctive global cuisine. More and more menus try to hit all three targets.
At V Street, a popular vegetarian restaurant in Philadelphia, vegetables are the star, but bold flavors and condiments from Asia, Latin America and the Eastern Mediterranean win strong supporting roles.
“When you start with simple grilled vegetables or proteins, the dips, spreads and sauces define the dish,” says David Kamen, project manager for the Culinary Institute of America's Consulting, part of The Continuing Education Division. Technomic’s industry research shows that limited-service restaurant segment is particularly important to flavor innovation: 63 percent of consumers are very likely to try new flavors at sandwich restaurants, where condiments, dips and sauces offer experimentation at relatively low commitment levels.
Back at V Street, Asia show its influence in the Char Sui Seitan, a dish glazed with black vinegar—which is aged for smoky, earthy flavors—and topped with peanuts and kung pao-style cucumbers. Mediterranean flavors influence V Street’s menu in the charred eggplant sabich, a sandwich stuffed with harissa-cured tofu and whipped tahini. The restaurant’s namesake V Street Peruvian fries are served with Latin sauce of aji amarillo spice, cilantro, dried olive and peanut. Kamen points to vinegary chimichurra and citrusy mojo as other globally inspired sauces that combine fresh and dried spices to give grilled proteins or vegetables a Latin touch.
“Dried, smoky elements also provide a “secret” taste that people can’t place, but they like it,” says Kamen. “Big, bold flavors show depth.”
This post is sponsored by The French's Food Company