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Keeping an eye toward the future of flavors, P&Fnow presents Mintel’s occasional US restaurant menu surveys (Menu Insights), seeking out which taste trends might move from the dining table to the store shelf.
Berries have always been seen as a powerful force on the dessert menu. Known for their sweetness and versatility—not to mention purported health benefits—they are frequently seen as key ingredients (i.e., strawberry shortcake) or garnishes (i.e., chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and fresh berries). Their flavorful properties have also earned them a stronger following across other key menu categories as well.
According to Mintel Menu Insights, a resource that tracks national restaurant trends, entrees using berries as an ingredient grew 65% in 2006. Some innovative restaurants are incorporating them into entrees, salads and even side dishes. Pancakes are the leading menu item featuring berries as an ingredient, with a growth of 10% from the previous year. Breakfast has long been a key arena for berry consumption, outside of the dessert realm. Now, berries are breaking out into less traditional areas. As Americans look for ways to adopt healthier eating habits, berries are seen as a healthy alternative to sugars and other sweeteners. Their diverse flavor and texture also allow for better manipulation in blending with other menu elements.
Popular flavor varieties in entrees include strawberry, cranberry, blueberry and the more general “berry.” A clear superstar among the menu segments in overall berry growth is the salad category. (See T-1 for salad flavor profile details.) Even though they were not the top item, they still led in overall growth with a 91% increase. Several restaurants have added berries to their signature salad mix. The Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey, serves its arugula salad with mulberries, pine nuts and green almonds. The Rock Bottom chain has a Pacific Coast Shrimp Salad that consists of shrimp sautéed and skewered with lemons on mixed greens, combined with avocado, fresh seasonal berries, asparagus, hearts of palm, dried apricots and fresh Roma tomatoes—it is all tossed in their homemade dry-hopped Pale Ale vinaigrette and topped with candied walnuts. A very interesting flavor profile.
Moving beyond the ever-popular strawberry, restaurants have used berries to add their signature stamp to the flavor. At Dallas’ Mansion on Turtle Creek, a Carpaccio of Texas Venison is served with huckleberries and olive oil. Roasted Duck Magret is on the menu at Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, served with plums, pickled blueberries and fava beans in gastric sauce. Phil Stefani’s in Chicago serves its Australian Lamb Chop wrapped in speck prosciutto with white asparagus and caramelized pearl onions, complete with a merlot and elderberry reduction.