10 ingredients poised to trickle down from independents to chains
Consumers expect to try something they haven’t tasted before when they visit an independent restaurant, reported Technomic at its MenuMonitor conference in Chicago last week. With the leeway to experiment and explore—and customers who will pay for that innovation—inventive indies tend to hatch trends that eventually make their way to mainstream chain places. Many of the flavors and ingredients that are energizing chain menus today, like Sriracha and ghost peppers, were driving independent restaurants yesterday.
MenuMonitor presenters predicted 10 ingredients that are poised to trickle down from independents to chains.
This spice blend of sumac, sesame seeds, oregano and/or thyme is used extensively in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. Chefs are experimenting with it in rubs, pesto-like pastes, condiments and teas. Chains may want to try za’atar in a sandwich spread or salad dressing.
A thick, North African sauce or paste made with cilantro, ginger, cumin, paprika and other herbs and spices, chermoula traditionally is used as a marinade for seafood, but can also flavor grilled meat, rotisserie chickens and vegetables, or be stirred into a dip.
Made with copious amounts of red pepper, this fiery spreadable pork sausage often serves as a condiment for bread. But chefs also use it as an accompaniment on charcuterie platters or a condiment for a mixed grill. Technomic predicts it will have a larger role at breakfast and on sandwich menus.
The flavor of these tender, young fern fronds resembles a blend of asparagus, green beans and okra. Used to be that fiddleheads were sourced mainly from foragers and available for a few short weeks in the spring. Now they can be purchased frozen or pickled to use year-round as cocktail garnishes, salad toppers or a plate enhancer.
Chayote, a vegetable in the squash family, is a poster child for no-waste root-to-stem cooking. Every part is edible. Chayote can be sautéed to serve as a side dish or added to a stir-fry, shredded into a slaw, julienned for salads and even juiced for healthy sipping.
6. Maple syrup drinks
Like agave, maple syrup is gaining ground as part of the natural sweetener trend. Mixologists are offering cocktails and mocktails sweetened with the syrup and pastry chefs are using it in custards and ice creams. Technomic suggests chains look at maple water as a beverage option and consider maple milk for kids’ menus.
7. Coffee tonics
The fizzy drinks made with coffee, tonic water and ice are showing up in hip cafes and espresso bars, served as morning energizers or afternoon refreshers. Coffee tonics may be the next iteration of cold-brew coffee, now a given at most coffee and bakery chains.
Snout-to-tail cooking has prompted chefs to look at underutilized cuts of pork and turn them into sought-after signatures. The formerly overlooked collar, cut along the animal’s clavicle, is rich in flavor and adaptable to grilling, braising and barbecue for a cost-effective center-of-the-plate item.
9. Evening pancakes and waffles
A southern favorite, fried chicken and waffles, has moved onto upscale menus in the Midwest, North and West. Expect to see more breakfast-for-dinner crossovers, as savory pancakes, French toast and waffles make their way into appetizers and entrees at midscale chains.
Consumers are increasingly embracing sour flavors. Sour beers, drinking vinegars and tart citrus juices such as yuzu are common ingredients at independents. Verjus—made from unripe fruit, primarily grapes—is a tart but mellow ingredient that chefs are using like vinegar to flavor food and drinks. It could make an intriguing addition to a sauce, condiment or dessert on a chain menu.