With the new year already in progress, 2017 trend forecasters have finally quieted down. Now innovative operators are getting down to business, incorporating those trends that will best fit their concept and entice customers. As menu planning gets underway for the months ahead, these are the ingredients you’ll need to bring the top trends to life.
Chick-fil-A introduced broccolini to the QSR audience in early 2016, offering it as a component (along with kale, dried cherries, roasted nuts and maple vinaigrette) in its Superfood Side. The hybrid green vegetable—a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale—has since catapulted to national fame, up nearly 19% in menu mentions in a year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data. The long-stemmed vegetable with a slightly sweet flavor is not only packed with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, but it fits into the zero-waste trend called out in many 2017 forecasts—the tender stems can be chopped and used raw or cooked just like the florets.
Filipino topped several forecasters’ lists as the next global cuisine to emerge in the mainstream. Although Filipino dishes are characterized by several distinct flavorings, sweet-sour tamarind is one of the most versatile—especially when it’s sourced as pulp. Commonly used in the Filipino soup sinigang, tamarind pulp is also called for in Indian and Thai preparations, making it a cost-effective ingredient to add to the global pantry. Cocktails and mocktails are another trending end use. According to Technomic’s Flavor Lifecycle Report, tamarind is still at the introductory stage, so operators who get it onto the menu soon will be ahead of the culinary curve.
The widespread mention of Southern foods on trend forecasts is pushing buttermilk to the top of operators’ order lists. The dairy ingredient, a Southern staple, is a kitchen workhorse: It can be used as a brine or marinade to tenderize fried chicken, as the liquid in biscuit dough or waffle batter, or as a tangy addition to creamy dressings and sauces. As Southern cuisine is projected to become more regionalized in the year ahead—Appalachian is next on the horizon—buttermilk will continue its rise. And there’s still room on menus for more of those wildly popular fried chicken sandwiches.
“What’s the next Sriracha?” is the perennial question posed by industry folks. Harissa and gochujang are strong contenders, but they were up there last year, too. Coming down the pike is sambal, a spicy Southeast Asian condiment that increased 13.5% on menus in 2016, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. The multipurpose condiment—a coarse blend of chilies, brown sugar, salt and vinegar—often includes fish sauce, ginger and garlic in the mix as well. It can go on a condiment bar as a Sriracha alternative, but innovative operators also are adding it to aioli, bloody marys and marinades.
5. Legume-based 'meats'
Vegetable butchers and innovative chefs are creating vegan meats that look just like the real thing. But these are not the soy- or seitan-based analogs that foodservice kitchens had to rely on in the past. Today’s meat alternatives are crafted from chickpeas, lentils and beans into vegan sausages, ribs and meatballs and look very close to the original. Beets in the mix cause some burgers to “bleed” just like a juicy burger, and sorghum grains replicate specks of fat. While fine-dining chefs are creating housemade meat alternatives, other operators also have more authentic versions to source—and appeal to both vegans and carnivores.
6. Maple syrup
Natural sweeteners continue to trend upward, and while maple syrup got some attention last year on food menus for its place in vinaigrettes, glazes, barbecue sauces and desserts, this year it’s all about beverages. Operators of bars and restaurants are turning to maple to flavor cocktails and mocktails. Menu mentions of maple syrup in beverages have risen more than 15% on the alcoholic side and 10% in the nonalcoholic category. With mocktails a top trend to watch in 2017, according to the American Culinary Federation chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association, maple syrup should see more play in the kitchen and bar.
Consumers have embraced falafel, shawarma, tzatziki and hummus. Now operators are taking a deeper dive into Middle Eastern foods, exploring the niche cuisines of Egypt, Israel, Turkey and other countries. Dukka, an Egyptian seasoning blend, is a coarsely ground combination of toasted nuts, seeds, sumac and spices such as coriander and cumin. A sprinkle on top of a dish imparts texture, flavor and authenticity. Dukka can also be incorporated into baked goods or served as a condiment on a cheese board.
Flatbreads are certainly mainstream now, but menu callouts for alternatives to pita, tortillas and lavash may just entice a customer to try a new wrap, pizza or appetizer. Based on its data analysis, Pinterest predicted what users would be “pinning” in 2017. Naan pizza, made with the Indian flatbread as a base, was up there in the food category—an endorsement that may make it worth keeping naan in stock.
Smoothie bowls, the next iteration of drinkable smoothies, are proliferating as a healthy breakfast, lunch or snack option. Juice and smoothie bars, frozen yogurt concepts and healthy fast casuals are capitalizing on the smoothie bowl trend, while other players are in R&D mode. Younger consumers in particular are looking for functional ingredients such as acai in these menu items. Acai is recognized as a superfood, contributing antioxidants and phytonutrients. While acai berries are native to Brazil and not widely available in the supply chain, acai puree is easy to source. Whatever it’s blended into turns a shade of purple, tapping into another 2017 trend on several lists: purple food.