Some food scientists are calling it the sixth taste after sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Kokumi, Japanese for “rich taste” or “delicious” is more about the texture and general impression a flavor leaves in your mouth — fermented and protein-rich foods tend to create it naturally — and it’s enriching the tastes of foods as diverse as meat, cheese, beer, salad dressing and chocolate mousse. While still on the fringes of food development, Mintel included it in their U.S. Flavor Trends study last year and said it’s well positioned to help food companies develop healthy dishes that offer the same satisfaction as sweeter, higher-fat versions. Keep it in mind as you consider up-and-coming flavors to enhance your menu items.
At a time when restaurant businesses are feeling pressure to identify new revenue streams, the CIO of Mattson, a food and beverage innovation firm based in Silicon Valley, says many operators are missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity: meal kits. Barb Stuckey of Mattson told Restaurant Dive that she has long been urging operators to take a look at offering the kits to at least determine if they make sense financially or operationally, but few are following through, save for perhaps Chick fil-A. The brand tested meal kits to positive results last year, according to Forbes, though they haven’t announced future plans for them. Stuckey likes the kits because she thinks they can help operators attack some of the quality-control issues they may experience with delivery. For instance, kits may be worth a shot if you have menu items that could do well off-premise but may not travel as well when they are fully cooked (like fries and sandwiches). Or, if you have brisk lunchtime traffic, promoting the kits during lunch may help you sell to guests who want to sort out their dinner plan in advance. At least, the category could help restaurants tap into a less saturated segment that is ripe for reinvention. According to Packaged Facts said, meal kit market expansion in the future is likely to rely more on alternative purchasing venues than on the traditional subscription model, which can clash with the on-demand mentality of off-premise customers. Restaurants can provide that on-demand experience.
At a time when even recyclable plastic often ends up in landfills or oceans, the presence of single-use plastic is still widespread in restaurants, most noticeably in the delivery space. The parent of Zume Pizza, the automated pizza delivery company that won accolades for developing a compostable, biodegradable, molded fiber “pizza pod” for shepherding pies to customers, is now helping other companies develop non-plastic packaging alternatives. According to a Forbes report, the company recently launched a new venture to develop plant-based packaging that is designed to have the performance qualities of plastic (and is priced to compete with plastic when used at scale). The packaging, a compostable blend of sugarcane fiber, bamboo, wood pulp and wheat straw, is classified as Type 4 Molded Fiber, the highest grade of molded fiber packaging.
Blueberries abound this time of year and they shine in far more than desserts. This summer, try them in savory applications to add some unexpected sweetness and color to entrées. As chef Jason K. Morse, owner of 5280 Culinary, a line of barbecue products, told Flavor & the Menu recently, blueberries work especially well when used to balance out dishes with lots of spice, heat or other strong, savory flavors. Try them as sweet counterpoints to barbecue sauces, marinades and chutneys on grilled pork and poultry, sandwiches and tacos.
Offering local, in-season foods not just during peak growing season but year-round will help you present your brand as more authentic to guests. And according to Mintel research, 78 percent of consumers consider seasonal dishes to be a treat (and therefore an extra enticement to support your business). Of course, using seasonal ingredients on your menu might be a breeze in the middle of summer, but what about in the dead of winter? Your marketing efforts in this area can help you sell the best of the season year-round and also create some urgency to encourage guests to enjoy your latest offerings while they can. Chefify suggests using each season to tell a range of stories. Who are your growers? Why does your chef love cooking with a certain item on your menu when it’s in season? What beverages are the ideal complements for the new foods you’re offering? Create excitement around the change of seasons by adjusting your restaurant’s environment — everything from the music to the artwork on the walls to the images you use on social media — to reflect the new season. To generate some buzz about the new menu offerings, plan a special tasting event where guests can sample and rate new dishes. (You can also do the opposite and have an end-of-season party to give guests a final chance to taste your popular summer berry cobbler.) If you’re just starting out and aren’t ready to make a larger commitment to offering seasonal foods, Chefify suggests creating one menu of staples and another with seasonal specials that you can test and swap out as you weigh guests’ reactions to them.
Even if you don’t think insects have a direct place in the food you serve (cricket cookies, anyone?), they could still play a large role in lab-grown cells that could eventually become replacements for such foods as shrimp, lobster or even hybrid alternatives to plant-based meat. That’s according to a new study out of Tufts University that found that insect cells are especially good building blocks for other proteins because they are safe, nutritional and cost-effective — qualities that put them in a more favorable position than lab-grown beef at the moment. A Fast Company report said that while lab-grown insect meat still has a ways to go before it’s ready to market — researchers still need to determine how to develop the cells into the muscle and fat that builds the meat-like structure of the protein — the study provides a strong basis for insects as the basis of related crustacean-like proteins on menus down the line.
What will your menu look like in 20 years? If new research from the global consulting firm AT Kearney is on target, there will be significantly less meat on it. The study predicts that by 2040, 60 percent of meat will not come from slaughtered animals but will instead be grown in labs or derived from plant-based products that look and taste like meat. We’re already well on our way. On the Spoon’s recent list of the 25 companies creating the future of food, six of the companies represented are involved in developing some kind of alternative to conventional meat. The companies run the gamut, ranging from startup companies making cultured protein (like Shiok Meats – watch for it to crack open the cell-based protein market in Asia) to more traditional protein brands like Tyson. Even though Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S., the Spoon reports, it has invested in cell-based protein companies and Bloomberg reports that it will soon be launching a beef-and-plant hybrid burger consisting of half pea protein and half angus beef.
As new food trends are identified each year, it seems there is always room for restaurants to use spices to innovate and bring global flavors to a menu. One company to watch is McCormick & Co. Its long history and traditional profile masks a tech-savvy strategy. The Spoon, which included McCormick on its Food Tech 25 list of companies making the greatest impact on food this year, reports that the spice brand’s new partnership with IBM Research AI will help it predict new flavor combinations and enhance old ones. The results may help you enhance your own menu offerings in a cost-effective way.