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4 surprising ingredients trending on restaurant menus

Eateries are drumming up menu excitement with new foods, formats and combinations.
trending ingredients
Illustration by Winsight staff

As restaurants continue to try and figure out how and what consumers want to eat in 2022, new foods, formats and flavor combinations are emerging on menus. Technomic’s recent U.S. On the Menu roundup reveals both familiar and far-out trends that are having an impact.

These are some of the standouts, gathered from Technomic Ignite menu and company data.

Haupia, which comes from the Hawaiian word “hau” for cool and “pia” for arrowroot, is a gelatinous coconut milk-based dessert traditional to Hawaii.

It’s reached the mainland in the form of Chocolate Haupia Pie, a dessert featured at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants. The polished casual chain layers chocolate ganache and coconut haupia mousse with a topping of toasted coconut sauce to create the pie.

Fast-casual Kneaders Bakery & Café also pairs chocolate with haupia in Chocolate Haupia Tarts.

Harissa in black and green color variations is joining the house-made sauce lineup in independent restaurants. Usually red in color, harissa is a blend of hot chile peppers, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil, and is typical in Tunisian and Moroccan cuisines.

The popularity of fiery flavors is broadening the use of classic harissa into a variety of Middle Eastern cuisines and other applications, such as hummus and sandwich spreads. And chefs are playing around with different ingredient combinations that turn the blend different colors.

At Saba, a modern Israeli restaurant in New Orleans, the kitchen blends king trumpet mushrooms and grilled spring onions with herbs and spices to create black harissa. It’s served with a grilled ribeye steak. Italian-influenced Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles serves grilled yellowtail with fava bean puree and green harissa. It can be made with green chile peppers as a base, with the addition of fresh herbs, spinach and/or scallions to pump up the green color.

Flax is the latest seed being cultivated on menus, mostly in health-focused concepts. Flax seeds are rich in Omega-3 fats, believed to promote heart health. They are also a good source of plant protein and fiber, which aids in digestion. 

At Playa Bowls, a fast casual specializing in fresh fruit bowls and smoothies with health-boosting components, pumpkin-flax granola is a key ingredient in Gingerbread Protein Bites, a grab-and-go snack.

Breakfast-and-lunch chain First Watch menus Superseed Protein Pancakes, which incorporate flax into the signature multigrain pancake batter; hemp, kasha, pepitas and sunflower seeds are part of the mix, too. The pancakes are topped with bananas, berries and yogurt.

With its great nutritional profile, flax is classified as a super seed, along with hemp, chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. It also adds textural interest to recipes, which may be why flax is growing 50% as an ingredient in appetizers and 25% in desserts.

Popcorn is showing up as a topping for desserts, breakfast items and appetizers. It’s a versatile and economical way to add a bit of whimsy and crunch to the menu, and salty ingredients have wide appeal. Technomic reports that 39% of consumers find salty flavors appealing and 41% like the combination of salty with sweet.

STK, an upscale restaurant chain, plays off this appeal in its Junk Chalice Ice Cream Sundae. The oversized sundae has a base of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauces and topped with brownies, candies and popcorn.

Like First Watch, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, uses pancakes as a canvas for new ingredients. For the chain’s Poppin’ Bacon Pancakes, buttermilk pancakes serve as a base and they're topped with caramel, bacon and caramel-coated popcorn.  

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