Asian, Latin and Mediterranean have dominated the "ethnic" category on menus for at least a decade. Now, Datassential's data analysis of U.S. Chains and Independents in 2012 revealed that niche ingredients and flavors within these big three are emerging.
"Ethnic doesn't just mean teriyaki chicken or pad Thai. Instead, operators are moving past such traditional flavors and experimenting with new ingredients and dishes," the report stated. One example is Ram Restaurant & Brewery's Hog Heaven Burger with Korean-style pickled vegetables, daikon radish and cilantro. Other trending ingredients include:
- Thai chili sauce, which has seen a 26% increase on the menus Datassential tracks. Its main ingredients are garlic, red chilies, fish sauce, tamarind paste, sugar and lime juice
- Sriracha, which grew by 24%. This spicy-hot blend of chilies, garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar showed up in such items as Hard Rock Cafe's Shanghai Smokehouse Sandwich LTO. It includes Asian-style homemade pickles and Sriracha mayonnaise drizzle
- Habaneros, the small, spicy orange-red peppers used in Caribbean and Latin cuisine, rose by 19% in menu mentions
- Chimichurri, the herbal green sauce popular in Argentina and other South American countries, has grown by 15%
- Mediterranean condiments, such as tzatziki and tapenade, have seen increases of 13% and 10% respectively