Flavours to watch

Instagram, food festivals and TV chefs are accelerating the speed at which unique flavors and ingredients hit the mainstream. Consumers now expect operators to update menus more frequently with on-trend ideas. To keep ahead of the curve, operators have to stay on top of new flavor trends without abandoning the old.

So what flavors and ingredients will power menus in 2020 and beyond? This fourth annual data-driven report, compiled in partnership with Technomic, reveals the answers, pinpointing flavors and ingredients that are poised to pop across menus in all segments.

New plants pop up

Plant-based and plant-forward items surged on menus in 2019, and there’s no sign of this trend slowing down in 2020. The term plant-based has grown 81% over the past year at leading chain restaurants, according to Technomic Ignite menu data, with much of the buzz radiating from the Impossible and Beyond brands of burgers and other meat substitutes. Impossible has grown 300% in menu mentions over the past year, while Beyond mentions have increased by 70%.

But plant-based menu items that more closely resemble real vegetables than burgers are also on the rise. More veggie-centric entrees are showing up on menus, with cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms and more subbing for animal proteins in the center of the plate. And veggie replacements for grains and dairy products are on the upswing too. There are large crops of vegetables still to explore to tap into this trend.


Mushrooms’ meaty flavor and juicy texture have made them favorite meat substitutes and enhancers. The popularity of the blended burger (a combo of chopped mushrooms and beef) and grilled portobellos as a center-of-the plate item has sparked an exploration of more exotic mushrooms on menus.

Get ready to see more mushrooms featured on menus in 2020.

Underutilized and foraged ingredients

With strong consumer demand for plant-forward bowls and burgers, chefs are looking beyond quinoa and couscous for grains that can be used as a base. Lesser-known, sustainable crops such as fonio and buckwheat are on the rise. And healthful plants found in the wild, such as dandelion greens and gooseberries, are now being cultivated and distributed. 

Plant-based swaps

Trendy diets such as Whole30 and paleo have turned consumers away from carbs and popularized lookalike substitutions for pasta, rice and other starchy sides. Nondairy milk alternatives, which appeal to vegans and many health-conscious consumers, also are more prevalent. Oat milk is joining almond, cashew and other nut milks on menus.

Global keeps going

Consumers continue to crave ethnic dishes, so operators are digging deeper into Asian, Mediterranean and Latin cuisines to unearth innovative flavors and ingredients. Chinese, Italian and Mexican are solidly in the mainstream, but 18% of 18- to 34-year-olds are seeking emerging ethnic foods and flavors, as per Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report. In fact, 40% of younger consumers say they’re visiting a wider variety of restaurants now than two years ago to try new or unique flavors, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. Unique flavors can give non customers a reason to visit and draw in regulars who want a taste of something different.

Indian flavors

Trend forecasters have been predicting Indian to be the next “hot” ethnic cuisine to take off stateside. While Indian-centric fast-casual concepts are beginning to expand and Indian stations are common in college dining, 2020 may be the year that Indian flavors catch on in both authentic and nontraditional applications. Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report reveals that 34% of consumers have tried Indian food and like it, plus they find the cuisine to be unique and exciting.

International breads

Introducing a global ingredient in a familiar platform is a low-risk way to get buy-in from customers. Sandwiches are a natural platform for ethnic breads. Operators are turning to breads from India, the Middle East, the Balkans and Southeast Asia to differentiate the sandwich menu with unique twists. But these breads are also accompanying appetizers and sides and serving as a base for pizza on mainstream menus.

Asian noodles

Customizable noodle bowls have been trending in college dining, fast casuals and other foodservice operations for a couple of years. The recipes are often inspired by Japanese ramen, Vietnamese pho and other Asian bowls. These are continuing their ascent, now joined by Asian noodles in other applications, appearing on menus that are decidedly non-Asian.

At the bar

Flavor innovation is not only happening on the food side of the menu—there’s a lot of activity around beverages, too. Mixologists are freshening up cocktails with vibrant flavors and ingredients, some of which are borrowed from the kitchen. There’s a concurrent trend toward lower-proof and zero-alcohol drinks, including hard seltzers in a range of flavors, fruity spritzers and housemade lemonades and other refreshers. In fact, 47% of 24- to 34-year-olds are ordering low-alcohol cocktails more often than they were three years ago, according to Technomic’s 2019 On-Premise Intelligence Report. And it’s the huge flavor boom powering the explosion of beverage options.

Mixologists are freshening up cocktails with vibrant flavors.

Herbals and florals

Lavender, hibiscus, elderflower, jasmine, rosemary and mint are infusing beverages with herbal and floral notes. In addition to their more delicate flavor, herbal ingredients convey healthfulness and create craveability with 37% of consumers, finds Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. The report also predicts that floral flavors will be an area of opportunity with the growing interest in plant-based products.

Peppery cocktails

Along with herbal, floral and bitter flavors, cocktails are featuring more peppers and spice. The peppery ingredients are often used to balance sweeter fruity flavors or extend a spicy Mexican or Asian menu theme to the drinks list.

Crafted coffee

In general, bolder coffee formats are trending, with strong espressos, cold brews and Americanos on the upswing. But mocha—a blend of chocolate and coffee— is also growing as a flavor in hot and iced coffee. Technomic finds that younger consumers seem to prefer sweeter, dessert-like flavors in their coffee drinks: 43% of 18- to 34-year-olds find mocha appealing, and 49% favor caramel. 

Bolder coffee formats are trending.

Sauce it up

The customization craze has fueled the demand to broaden the selection of condiments and sauces offered in the front of house. Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report reveals that these products can be traffic drivers; 29% of diners consider which sauces and condiments will be available when deciding on a restaurant to visit, and that number increases to over 40% for younger consumers and males. But sauces and condiments are also a convenient way to signaturize a dish in the back of house. A change in the flavor profile of a barbecue sauce, for example, can be the impetus for a new limited-time offer, while a spicy condiment can easily elevate the house burger.

Fresh barbecue flair

Like chile peppers and spice blends, barbecue sauce flavor profiles are getting more diverse and bold. As chefs take a deeper dive into global and regional American barbecue, they are sourcing or creating sauces that match those styles. And consumers are increasingly seeking authentic ingredients and flavors like these, according to Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report.

Sweet and spicy Asian sauces

In 2019, Korean gochujang was widely touted as the hot sauce that would be the next Sriracha. Well, Sriracha isn’t going away so fast: It’s now getting blended with other flavors. And sauces from Thailand, China and other countries are joining the Asian lineup. Hot sauces are especially appealing to consumers ages 18-34; 28% use them frequently on a variety of foods, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report.

Dessert sauces

The lack of a pastry chef in many kitchens means operators are turning to purchased desserts more frequently. Sweet sauces and toppings are a low-labor way to add a signature touch to cakes, pies and puddings, but these ingredients are also showing up in more savory applications.

Sweet sauces and toppings are a low-labor way to add a signature touch to cakes


Consumers in every generation crave spicy flavors, but that preference varies by degree.  Younger diners and men show more interest in very spicy sauces, while older consumers gravitate toward mellower, more moderate heat, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. Interestingly, Gen Z is partial toward fruity and salty flavors, says the report. But operators are turning to more than just hot ingredients to impart a pop of flavor. Spice blends—combinations of earthy, smoky, savory and/or hot flavors—are also on the rise. In response, operators are getting more adventurous with seasonings, trying unique flavors and combinations to prevent palate fatigue.


The quest for different and more complex sources of heat is leading chefs to varieties of chile peppers from around the world. They’re moving beyond jalapenos, chipotles and serranos—Mexican chiles now well-known to consumers—to peppers from Africa, Spain, the Middle East, South America, Korea and other locales. And they are using techniques such as pickling and roasting to layer on flavor.

Instant intrigue

The herb and spice shelf is expanding in commercial and noncommercial kitchens as chefs experiment with new ways to pump up flavor. Turmeric is trending in step with the interest in Indian dishes and functional foods—the spice is essential to many curries and is touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Spice blends can instantly add global accents to rubs, marinades, salads and sautes. Za’atar, which has a base of ground red sumac berries, imparts a tangy Middle Eastern flavor to food. Also gaining ground is tamarind, used in cuisines as diverse as Filipino and Pakistani for its sweet-sour notes.

Original article sourced from https://www.foodservicedirector.com/

Scroll to Top