5 menu trends that could soon become mainstream

By Patricia Cobe

The ingredients and flavors trending at independent restaurants often inspire menu ideas at more mainstream operations. To track what’s happening now in food and beverage, Technomic examined more than 50 menus from indies across the U.S., ranging from food trucks to fine-dining destinations. Here are five emerging trends to watch, gathered from the researcher’s most recent Independent Insights report.

1. Toum

Chefs are exploring sauces and condiments from every corner of the world to introduce global flavors to the menu. Toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce made with lemon, olive oil and salt, is the latest to catch interest. It’s showing up as an accompaniment to poultry at Suraya in Philadelphia, where a whole grilled poussin is soaked in a sumac-flavored marinade and served with charred potatoes and toum, and at Maydan in Washington, D.C., which menus a whole chicken with turmeric, coriander and toum. Similar to aioli, this simple-to-prep sauce is a low-labor way to add a different Mediterranean twist to dishes.

2. Maitake

Mushrooms are trending as an ingredient thanks to the meaty flavor and texture they can impart to plant-based items and blended burgers. The somewhat exotic maitake variety, also known as hen of the woods, are ruffled and edged in white, making them an attractive addition to a saute or stir-fry. These mushrooms also boast a rich flavor and assorted health benefits, such as boosting immune function and lowering blood pressure. At Pitchfork Pretty in Austin, Texas, the kitchen grills maitake and tosses them with snow peas, pickled radish greens and fresh milk curd, while In Situ in San Francisco menus them Asian-style, with housemade tofu, warm asparagus and sesame.

3. Lovage

This leafy green vegetable resembles celery in appearance and taste, but the flavor of lovage is a bit more potent. Chefs are preparing lovage in salads, stews and even desserts, using its stalks, leaves and seeds to add a bold vegetal accent. The dessert menu at JuneBaby in Seattle lists Grandma’s Pound Cake with lovage ice cream, and Five Fifty-Five in Portland, Maine, serves up a chicken pate with rhubarb compote, orange and lovage marmalade.

4. Schmaltz

Move over, duck fat—chicken fat is now spreading on menus. Schmaltz originated in Eastern and Central Europe, and with cuisines from the Balkans and Germanic countries on the upswing, stateside chefs are discovering its attributes. Restaurants are using the rendered poultry fat as a substitute for butter and other “real” fats in cooking or as a bread spread at the table. Some of the more eclectic applications include charred beets with chicken schmaltz, goat cheese and preserved lemon at Geist in Nashville, and rutabaga cooked in schmaltz with Dungeness crab, quince and miso at Canlis in Seattle.

5. Calamansi

A cross between a kumquat and mandarin orange, this small citrus fruit most commonly appears in Southeast Asian and Filipino dishes and drinks. Although calamansi can be used like a lemon or lime, its pulp is more sour in flavor and needs to be balanced with less acidic ingredients. At Temple Street Eatery in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the kitchen serves crispy tempura shrimp with a calamansi aioli spiked with jalapenos. Best Girl in Los Angeles goes in a sweeter direction with its coconut pandan tapioca dessert flavored with calamansi and topped with tropical fruit and macadamia nut crunch.

4Noncommercial Segments