Menu trend predictions start pouring in every year around now, and while this year is not like any other in recent memory, the forecasters are not skipping a beat.
To start off our annual trends roundup, we’re taking a look at the flavors emerging in 2021, compiled from recent reports by Technomic, McCormick Flavor Solutions, WGSN, AF&Co. + Carbonate, and Whole Foods. With the pandemic blurring the lines between restaurants and grocery stores throughout 2020, retail trends are increasingly impacting foodservice and vice versa.
Here are five flavor trends that rose to the top.
Flavors with health benefits
The pandemic has raised consumer awareness about ingredients that boost immunity and promote wellness. Several flavors fall into this bucket and will increasingly impact menus, all the forecasters agree. Vitamin C-rich superfoods including yuzu and Buddha’s hand—an exotic citrus fruit—will show up in beverages and sauces. Monkfruit, a low-calorie natural alternative sweetener, and sea buckthorn, a plant with berries that have a sour orange-tropical fruit flavor, are two ingredients said to have health benefits. And expect turmeric, cacao and green tea to continue their ascent.
A deep dive into umami
Chefs are exploring more umami applications, both to intensify the flavors of those ever-popular comfort foods and introduce customers to new ingredients. Umami is that savory “fifth taste” that occurs naturally in ingredients like soy sauce, mushrooms and seaweed. Branching off from these ingredients, expect to see more tamari, fish sauce and fruit vinegars; new mushroom varieties such as enokitake and candy cap; and kombu and hijiki, both in the seaweed family. Seaweed as a seasoning is taking off from the izakaya trend, the Japanese gastropubs that serve tapas-like dishes.
Revisiting Chinese-American cuisine
Chinese restaurants and pizza concepts aced delivery many years ago, so it’s no surprise that these foods are top quarantine choices. Both also have wide appeal for families and are designed to be shareable. Going into 2021, Chinese-American cuisine is poised for a comeback—with some updates. Today’s consumers are looking for more ingredient transparency, cleaner preparations with less oil and salt and perhaps a few more spicy notes. And favorites such as General Tso’s chicken can be adapted with new flavors to go in a different global direction.
Global taste traveling
With actual travel restricted, consumers are turning to food to take them on a global adventure. Mexican, Italian and Chinese are still the big three culinary “destinations” but look for chefs to take a deeper dive into these cuisines and venture out to other parts of the world. Mexican recados, for example, is a sour orange and annatto-flavored Yucatan spice paste that originated with the Mayans and can be used in meat marinades. Churros are usually served as a sweet snack or dessert, but savory applications are emerging. And the Southern Italian condiment known as salmoriglio is an herbal blend of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and fresh oregano that pairs well with seafood.
West African and regional Indian are two lesser-known areas to watch. In the former, blends such as suya spice (peanuts, ginger, cayenne and smoked paprika) is emerging, and for the latter, look for kashmiri, a fragrant spice mix from the Kashmir region of India similar to garam masala.
Coffee moves out of the cup
Several trendologists point to the extension of coffee into nontypical foods and beverages and unique formats. Housebound consumers are grabbing coffee-flavored snacks such as granola bars and smoothies, as well as brewing up java in more convenient formats. Coffee concentrates, single-brew bags resembling tea bags and packaged espresso products that make individual cups are going to continue to make inroads with the work-from-home movement extending into 2021. Meanwhile, bars are mixing brewed coffee into cocktails and tapping coffee-flavored spirts. It’s part of the hot cocktail craze—another pandemic trend that is evolving in response to the rise of outdoor dining through the winter.