February 11, 2020
Global Flavors Enhance Snacks, Desserts and Comfort Foods
Emerging ingredients in familiar forms can generate product trial, menu excitement.
New Year, New Formats: How to Infuse Comfort Foods with Global Flavors
Menu innovation often involves putting a new spin on familiar dishes and experimenting with emerging flavors and ingredients—particularly those found in global cuisine.
Many operators have discovered that customers are more willing to try new flavors if they appear in dishes that are already familiar and beloved. Offering such items as shareable appetizers or snacks gives guests a low-risk way to explore new taste experiences—without committing to a full entrée they may or may not like. These pairings also give operators a platform for testing new ingredients—and for using existing ingredients in different ways.
Bringing ethnic cuisine to American palates can manifest in countless ways. Here are a few recent examples of innovative offerings with global influences.
A&W Sriracha Cheese Curds
One of the keys to introducing new flavors or global cuisine is to use familiar forms so the dish isn’t completely foreign to customers. A&W Restaurants recently introduced Sriracha Cheese Curds, made with Wisconsin white cheddar cheese and Sriracha seasoning. The item allows customers to sample a trending ingredient on a food they likely know well already. For those customers already familiar with Sriracha, it also offers a fun change of pace.
Spot Dessert Bar Yuzu Eskimo
Asian dessert shops, which often combine Asian ingredients in familiar forms (such as cake or ice cream), have been gaining traction around the country. Spot Dessert Bar’s two New York-based locations offer a variety of such items, including the Yuzu Eskimo—a citrus cream bar with an OREO crust. The combination of a familiar form (the ice cream bar) with an emerging ingredient—identified as “citrus” in the menu description—may make the offering more approachable to consumers unfamiliar with the flavor of yuzu.
Fox & Hound Crispy Thai Ribs
Another way to introduce innovation to the menu is to borrow from global cuisines. This limited time offer from casual dining concept Fox & Hound allowed customers to experience Thai flavors through a classic comfort food: baby back ribs. The battered and fried ribs were marinated in Thai sweet chili sauce and topped with sesame seeds. The Asian-influenced variation on sweet-and-spicy BBQ sauces likely appealed to rib lovers unfamiliar with the flavor profile of Thai sweet chili sauce.
The Cheesecake Factory Cheeseburger Spring Rolls
This hybrid combines the flavors and form of two cultural favorites—cheeseburgers and Chinese spring rolls—in an appetizer stuffed with Certified Angus ground beef, melted cheese and grilled onions. Several restaurants around the country have reimagined egg rolls with Jewish deli-style fillings, including pastrami and corned beef. New York's RedFarm, for example, is known for its Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls, while the appropriately named Asian Corned Beef in Detroit offers its signature Corned Beef Egg Rolls.
Find more appetizer and snack inspiration in the Mondelēz International Foodservice Culinary Center.
Interest in global flavors and ingredients remains strong in 2021, as consumers continue to seek out new flavor
experiences at foodservice operations.
Snacks, desserts and appetizers can be an effective vehicle for introducing consumers to emerging global flavors and
ingredients. According to Allison Rittman, corporate research chef at Austin, Texas-based consulting firm Culinary
Culture, consumers are often more willing to experiment with new flavors if they can sample them in small
quantities—and in forms that are familiar, such as pizza bites or chicken wings.
“Those categories tend to lend themselves to flavor exploration that’s a safe risk,” Rittman explains. “People might
be willing to try a new spice on a chicken wing, but maybe not on a pizza that the whole family is going to eat.”
After a year in which many in the industry were focused on implementing safety protocols and optimizing their menus
for takeout and delivery, restaurant operators are expected to spend 2021 prioritizing menu innovation, with
on-trend flavors and ingredients leading the way. A&W Restaurants, for example, recently capitalized on the growing
popularity of Sriracha sauce with the introduction of a Sriracha Cheese Curds limited time offer that combines fried
Wisconsin white cheddar cheese with Sriracha seasoning.
Adrienne Cheatham, a private chef who contributes culinary content for the Institute of Culinary Education, says the
shareable nature of snacks, desserts and appetizers makes these dishes ideal for flavor experimentation when
consumers are enjoying meals at home with family. Replacing the paprika on a deviled egg appetizer with berbere—an
Ethiopian spice blend that imparts a peppery, tangy flavor sometimes compared to a fiery barbecue seasoning—is one
way to achieve this, she suggests.
Rethinking comfort foods
Consumers have enjoyed familiar comfort foods during the pandemic, and they are ready to explore these items in new
forms and with new ingredients.
Rittman cites fried pickles as an example of a snackable, bite-size comfort-food item that could be given a twist by
adding some Nashville hot sauce to the batter. “People know Nashville hot sauce and they know fried pickles, but
maybe they have never had the two together,” she explains.
Comfort foods with a better-for-you twist also could spark consumer interest in 2021, Rittman continues. Some consumers may view french-fried avocados, for example, as a healthier version of a familiar, comfort-food format.
“People might want their comfort foods to be a little healthier but still feel like they have indulged,” she says.
Comfort foods such as egg salads and potato salads also offer opportunities to introduce new ingredients and
seasonings, Cheatham adds.
Flavoring proteins with global seasonings is another way to add variety to a menu in a familiar form, such as a
sandwich. Cheatham suggests seasoning a turkey breast with berbere or za’atar, for example. “It can be just a little
on the outside of the meat, so people get a small taste,” she says.
When it comes to desserts, consumers are also interested in global cuisine and globally influenced flavors and
ingredients. A recent report on 2021 flavor trends from T. Hasegawa, a company that specializes in flavor creation,
reveals that international flavors and ingredients in both dairy-based and baked dessert items are attracting
Dairy-based desserts featuring spicy ingredients and flavors with a health halo—including turmeric, acai, cardamom,
matcha, yuzu, tahini and dulce de leche—are especially appealing, the report continues. Similarly, “offering more
international bakery options for at-home consumption, like churro, dulce de leche or matcha, can appeal to consumers
looking for internationally inspired options.”
Operators’ quest for menu efficiencies and streamlined inventories to reduce costs also lends itself to menu
innovation. “We’re seeing a lot of cross-utilization,” Rittman says, noting that restaurants are looking to make the
most of the ingredients they already carry rather than adding more ingredients.
“A lot of the larger chains [are] looking for ways to use the ingredients they have on hand to create one new SKU
instead of bringing in a bunch of new SKUs to create a whole new dish, which is what they have traditionally done,”
One way operators might do this is to repurpose cookie piece inclusions normally used in a milkshake dessert item in
a whole new dish, such as a brownie or miniature bundt cake.
The pandemic also appears to have accelerated a trend in which consumers are increasingly moving to smaller markets,
including suburban and rural areas, and taking their culinary preferences with them. The shift has created what
Datassential has dubbed “hipsturbia” enclaves outside of large urban areas, where consumers with sophisticated
palates are seeking restaurants that offer global cuisines.
Datassential reports that opportunities may be emerging for cuisines that currently are offered mainly in large
urban areas—such as Indian, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern—to move into smaller markets. This migration allows
operators in these markets to experiment with emerging flavors and ingredients before they become mainstream, rather
than waiting for them to catch on in large metropolitan areas.
“The demand will be there to have these kinds of foods and options outside of just ‘tier one’ city centers,” says
Jack Li, Datassential’s CEO. “There’s going to be more opportunity to spread innovation into these areas—[something]
you really didn’t have to do it in the past.”
The opportunities for restaurant operators to incorporate globally influenced flavors and ingredients are only
expanding, as consumers continue to seek adventurous eating opportunities. As consumers move from dense urban areas
into suburbs and smaller cities, they’re bringing their global food preferences with them, expanding the
geographical opportunities for such fare.
Bite-size snacks, desserts and appetizers are ideal vehicles for flavor experimentation, as they allow consumers to
sample new ingredients without committing to a full entrée.
Mondelēz International Foodservice offers resources for operators seeking to capitalize on flavor and ingredient
trends, including this roundup of foodservice trends for the year ahead.
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