National Restaurant Association Hot Culinary Trends infographic
Click to view the full What's Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast.
(source: National Restaurant Association)
The National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C., recently released its annual survey of 700 professional chefs — members of the American Culinary Federation, St. Augustine, Florida — to predict food and beverage trends at restaurants in the coming year. This annual “What’s Hot” list provides a glimpse of food, beverage and culinary concepts that will be the new items on restaurant menus the coming year. Consumer packaged goods companies, including meat and poultry processors, often use these findings to guide them in product innovation.

The Top 3 food trends on this year’s list are new cuts of meat, such as shoulder tender and oyster; house-made condiments; and street food-inspired dishes, including tempura, kabobs, dumplings and pupusas. Other leading food trends for innovation inspiration include ethnic-inspired breakfast items (e.g., chorizo scrambled eggs), the use of uncommon herbs (e.g., chervil, lovage, lemon balm, papalo, etc.), authentic ethnic cuisine, ethnic spices (e.g., harissa, curry, peri peri, ras el hanout, shichimi, etc.), Peruvian cuisine, heritage-breed meats, African flavors, ethnic condiments (e.g., sriracha, sambal, chimichurri, gochujang, zhug, etc.) and even ancient grains (e.g., kamut, spelt, amaranth, lupin, etc.). Think bowl meals.

“Local, vegetable-forward and ethnic-inspired menu items will reign supreme in the upcoming year. Guests are implementing these trends in their own lifestyles and want to see them reflected on restaurant menus. In response, chefs are creating more items in-house and turning to global flavors,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association.

Stafford DeCambra, national president of the American Culinary Federation, says, “Chefs strive to strike the right balance between offering consumers what they want to eat now and guiding them toward new and exciting culinary frontiers. Our member chefs dedicate countless hours to continuing education and professional development to stay at the forefront of culinary innovation, allowing them to respond to and redefine diners’ expectations in an ever-changing foodservice landscape.”

MEAT+POULTRYreached out to two culinary experts — Jean Heimann, culinary scientist, and Aspen Burkhardt, regional sales manager and culinary council member — at LifeSpice Ingredients, Chicago, for their insights on flavor and seasoning innovation.

MEAT+POUTLRY: There’s been a lot of activity in gourmet meatballs and sausages. What are some innovative flavor combinations you have seen in restaurants that translate well into packaged retail products?

Jean Heimann, LifeSpice Ingredients
Jean Heimann, culinary scientist, LifeSpice Ingredients
Jean Heimann: Both newly discovered traditional sausages and innovative mixes of traditional and trendy have been showing up in the sausage world. Examples include lamb merguez, curry brats, and sweet Chinese, Cajun or French boudin. More playful flavors include agrodolce meatballs with a sweet balsamic reduction, coq au vin sausage with a red wine reduction, chicken gumbo sausage and bacon cheeseburger sausage. Using different proteins for sausage is also on trend, like smoked shrimp and pork, bacon sausages, ribeye steak sausage and duck meatballs flavored with harissa and pomegranate molasses. All of these can be made into retail packaged products.

Aspen Burkhardt, LifeSpice Ingredients
Aspen Burkhardt, regional sales manager, LifeSpice Ingredients

Aspen Burkhardt: It’s all about the sauce. Traditional meatballs get a new life when they are drizzled with red pepper honey. Or how about lamb and beef kofta with a harissa, cucumber and dill sauce. This is best exemplified by the fast-growing chain Verts Mediterranean Grill, which is a concept where you build your own meal with a base, a protein, toppings and sauce. There are six proteins to choose from, with two being meatballs, either turkey mushroom or beef. There are so many meal combinations. One of my favorites is turkey mushroom meatballs over rice with carrot slaw, pickled jalapeno, spiced chickpeas, tzatziki sauce, hot harissa sauce and red pepper sauce. There’s also a pita stuffed with the beef meatballs, arugula, cauliflower tabbouleh, hummus, pickled red onion, tomato and tahini vinaigrette. Club Meatballs, Meatball & Co., and Emporio all have a similar process of pick your meatball, sauce and accompaniments. Emporio offers four balls. There’s classic beef, spicy pork, chicken parmesan herb and vegetarian. All of the concepts have lots of tomato-based, creamy, cheese and mushroom sauces and a couple spicy options, too. These sauces would be easy to pouch and include for the retail consumer.

M+P: Restaurants across the U.S. continue to make burgers the star of their menu. Toppings are often key to their popularity. What are some unique flavorful twists to condiments that can take an ordinary burger can turn it into a social media frenzy?

Heiman: Burgers love condiments and there are plenty of options. Pork burgers can be paired with chorizo jam, romesco sauce and manchego cheese. A poutine burger can incorporate beef gravy, cheese curds and French fries. Salmon or tuna burgers like traditional seafood flavors like yuzu aioli, nori strips, chili flakes and sesame seeds. Go Mediterranean with a kofta burger with a yogurt tahini sauce, harissa and pickled radishes or green zhug, a spicy cilantro and green chili condiment. Or how about some French inspiration with a duck confit burger with lavender fennel aioli, goat cheese and pickled shallots.

Burkhardt: Lots of different chilies are finding their way onto burgers leaving jalapenos behind. Herbs are becoming more commonplace along with traditional condiments getting mashed up with other more ethnic flavors. Many burgers are topped with cheese sauces such as queso or nacho. During a recent Culinary Council trip to the State Fair of Texas I tried the Big Tex Winner for best taste. It was a funnel cake bacon queso burger. Sandwiched between two small funnel cakes was a griddled beef patty topped with queso and bacon with a layer of powdered sugar on top. While in Dallas, I visited Liberty Burger. They top their Jackie O lamb burger with tzatziki sauce, roasted tomatoes, feta and spinach. A personal favorite is the Chillerno with queso blanco, poblano peppers and chipotle barbecue sauce. It’s a knife and fork type of burger, as is California Pizza Kitchen’s Nacho Mamas burger. This brings the popular appetizer between two buns. It’s topped with chipotle sour cream, crispy banana peppers, tortilla chips, nacho cheese, craft beer cheese, shredded lettuce and guacamole. Applebee’s recently launched a Caprese burger with balsamic aioli, grilled tomatoes and red onion, fresh mozzarella and basil. The patty has caramelized onions and garlic seared in. They also have a burger with whiskey steak sauce and Applewood bacon.

M+P: Heat-and-eat fully cooked chicken breasts have become affordable, convenient meal solutions that supermarkets now offer in the service deli department. But, chicken can get boring real fast. What are some flavorful ways that operators can liven chicken up?


Burkhardt: The options are almost infinite, and anything that puts a little spin on something familiar or brings some ethnic dimension would brighten up chicken in the deli case. From our glocal portfolio we have smokin’ hot butt rub, Persian shawarma, harissa lime, sweet Applewood, maple chipotle barbecue, tamarind barbecue, red pepper honey, cowboy chorizo and ancho mole. We also have Peruvian marinade, tandoori, buffalo, togarashi, Korean barbecue, za’atar, spicy lemon pepper, rosemary parmesan and Tuscan.

Heimann: Following trends can make chicken intriguing and be an introduction to different cuisines and flavors. Filipino chicken adobo with vinegar and soy sauce or Vietnamese caramel chicken can be served on top of white rice for a quick meal. Harissa-rubbed chicken breast, ras el hanout or shawarma-seasoned chicken breast can bring home the flavors from the increasingly popular Mediterranean restaurants.

M+P: Jerky continues to evolve and now comes combined with other ingredients in the format of bars or in pieces like trail mix. Jerky is also getting exotic with game meats. What seasonings pair well with different species and other ingredients, such as dried fruits, nuts and seeds?

Heimann: Buffalo works well with smoky notes like chipotle and bacon. Venison can be paired with rich flavors like red wine, sage, juniper and smoked tart cherries or cranberries and roasted pecans. Elk can be paired with rich roasted chili spices found in seasonings like Oaxacan mole or barbacoa. Roasted peanuts or green pumpkin seeds could also be added to these spice blends. Roasted or smoked pheasant can be paired with sweet glazes like maple or honey, or sweet tart notes like pomegranate vinegar or prickly pear syrup.

M+P: Looking inside your crystal ball, what flavors will be trending in meat and poultry in 2018?

Heimann: Harissa! Green in protein! Meats paired with lots of fresh greens like chimichurri or Vietnamese sausage stuffed with mints and cilantros and lemongrass or green chorizo with green chilis and cilantro.

Burkhardt: I think there’s going to be a lot with regional Mexican flavors, in particular moles, as well as Middle Eastern specialties, including Persian, Lebanese and Moroccan. Hot honey and smoke flavors will evolve.