I bet this has happened to you. You’re in a brainstorm and someone sets up the challenge like, “We need to come up with new tortilla chip flavors: shoot.” Suddenly, you feel like a deer in headlights. It may be the case that you frequently hear about up-and-coming flavors, but you’re not sure if the time is right. Or maybe flavor trends are off your radar altogether.
While there are no bad thoughts to throw out at the ideation table, the best ideas fit your brand and your target consumers. In other words, a cutting-edge flavor that’s just popping up in high-end eateries may not be right for an audience with more conservative palate (at least yet). To that end, we’ve sorted some popular flavors based on their place in the culinary landscape, from Emerging (think food trucks, craft breweries, niche fine dining concepts) to Mainstream (think QSR and traditional grocery shelves).
When pencil tapping and intermittent coughs fill your next ideation meeting, put some these promising flavors on the table and see where they take you.
While the seeds of evergreen cacao trees are used to make one of the most ubiquitous ingredients on earth (chocolate), the fruit is now a rising star. Billed as a superfood in health food stores everywhere, cacao is chock full of antioxidants and nutrient-rich minerals. Commonly used in the form of “nibs” (crumbled beans) or powder (pressed and dried nibs), the flavor profile takes all the rich, bitter, slightly fruity notes of dark chocolate to a deeper level. You’ll soon see it featured in everything from lattes to stews.
Also referred to as “beefsteak plant” or “wild basil” in the states, shiso is a vibrant green or purple herb with an elusive flavor. It delivers elements of cilantro, mint, basil, citrus and radish in a bright and fresh bite. Traditionally used in Japanese and Southeast Asian dishes like sashimi and noodle bowls, chefs are broadening use to drink menus and conventionally western applications like pesto.
Like cacao, it’s easy to wonder where the pink peppercorn has been hiding all these years. Spoiler: it was Peru. These dried berries deliver fruitier and spicier heat than their (unrelated) black counterpart, and they serve as a richer and more chile-esque substitution. Find them punching up salads, chicken breasts and ice cream at a gastro pub near you.
Emerging from Thai and Southeast Asian cuisine, lemongrass is fast becoming a hit tropical flavor and fragrance across the country. True to its name, you can expect bright citrus notes, but those are enfolded in an array of floral and herbal lightness you can’t replicate with lemons or other, more exotic citrus fruits. Salad, entrée, tea and dessert menus rejoice!
The Sriracha of Tunisian cuisine, harissa is the spicy and smoky complement to countless North African dishes now making its way into kitchens and condiment stands across the globe. Unlike our other trending flavors, harrissa is not a single ingredient but instead is a blended paste made from spices (typically caraway, coriander and cumin), fresh ingredients (often lemon, tomato and garlic), hot peppers (varied by location) and oil.
A close relative of ginger, turmeric is a brilliant golden orange root hailing from Southeast Asia but used throughout the continent for thousands of years as a spice, a medicine (still considered a superfood) and even a dying agent. The bitter, pungent, warm, mustard-like qualities of turmeric make it a great addition to all sorts of savory dishes, while a pinch of the powdered form can add an undercurrent of earthiness and color to all kinds of beverage menus.
The immortal dill pickle is an expected accompaniment to sandwiches and burger topping, but it’s now showing up in places we wouldn’t have expected only five years ago. Coinciding with a broader pickling uptick, dill pickle flavoring offers an accessible, expansive answer to the artisan trend. Today, dill pickle lovers can have their pick of formats in almost any retail and foodservice channel—from dill-pickle-flavored pretzels on grocery shelves to house-made pickle potato chips from casual dining, to pickle juice slushies from the Sonic drive through.