Flavor Trends: On the Menu in 2008

Wondering which flavors and ingredients will rule in 2008? From fast food to fine dining, Mintel Menu Insights has identified five restaurant menu trends likely to explode in the New Year. Echoing American’s growing health concerns and desire for more natural foods, these flavors and ingredients will breathe new life into flavors across the country.

1. Superspices

Just beginning to receive recognition, “superspices” have been shown to contain more antioxidant power than already-popular superfruits. In 2008, expect spices such as cinnamon, ginger and anise to grow on restaurant menus as people seek out their health benefits. 

Cinnamon is already common in breakfast and dessert entrees, but it will likely appear more in 2008. Baker’s Square serves a Maples Inn Signature Blueberry Stuffed French Toast that contains (antioxidant-rich) blueberries in blueberry sauce topped with cinnamon. The superspices work well in sweets, but they can also enhance the flavor of savory entrees. Clio Restaurant demonstrates this by enhancing its luscious Foie Gras Terrine with Concord grape, yogurt and candied anise.

2. Ancient Grains

Ancient grains such as kamut, quinoa and millet have begun to make a comeback in the United States as the whole grain lifestyle catches on for many Americans. These grains will likely accompany more and more entrees on fine dining menus in 2008, bringing with them a worldly appeal and many essential nutrients. 

The Rattlesnake Club’s Rack of Michigan Spring Lamb comes roasted with a garlicky hazelnut crust, zinfandel essence and spring onion oil. It is accompanied by red pepper millet and a ragout of artichokes and dandelion. At the Gotham Bar and Grill, the Seared Striped Bass is enhanced by numerous “ancient” ingredients including quinoa and an heirloom tomato vinaigrette.

3. Classic Cocktails

Simple, refined and always elegant, the classic cocktails of the ‘40s and ‘50s have never truly gone out of style. But 2008 should show a rebirth of these classics as bartenders and restaurant owners take a step back from the flashy drinks of recent years. 

Fine dining establishments have always featured the classics, such as the Sidecar at Peninsula Grill. Containing Courvoisier, Triple Sec and fresh lemon, it comes with a sugared rim on the rocks. Even casual dining restaurants are upping their classic appeal. T.G.I. Fridays keeps a Tom Collins that is made with vodka or gin, sweet & sour and topped with soda on its menu.

4. Fresh Herbs

As pure and natural as they can be, fresh herbs add clean, exceptional flavor to everything they touch. In 2008, bolstered by health concerns and natural food trends, fresh herbs should increase heartily on casual and fine dining menus alike. 

Lunch favorite Corner Bakery serves a Tomato Mozzarella sandwich that features plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, sweet roasted red peppers and fresh basil on ciabatta ficelle. Fine dining restaurant Mi Nidito enhances its Vegetable Veracruz with fresh cilantro as well as fresh eggplant, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and hot and sweet peppers.

5. Flavor Specificity

As Americans take greater interest in the foods they eat, restaurants have responded by making their menus more specific. No longer does a cheeseburger just come with “cheese;” rather it’s topped by a specific type of cheese from a specific locale. The year 2008 should show increasing detail in menu descriptions and ingredients. 

Fine dining tends to feature the greatest precision, with Annisa serving a Sautéed Filet of Barramundi accompanied by artichokes, baby leeks and a black trumpet sauce. I Love Sushi restaurant also surpasses a mere “mushroom sauce,” surrounding its Kani Tofu with crab and seaweed by enoki mushroom sauce.

Mintel Menu Insights tracks trends through data sourced from the 350 largest US chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants. Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) tracks new product launches, trends and innovations internationally. For more information, visit www.mintel.com or call 1-312-932-0600.

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