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Top 10 flavors to watch in 2018

Every year the team at Datassential comes together to develop our list of the flavors and ingredients that should be on the food industry’s radar in the years ahead.

4 min read

Consumer Insights



A decade ago, Datassential predicted the “black foods” trend, noting that foods like black ice creams were trending for their “dramatic presentation.” This was a full three years before the release of Instagram, the app that has arguably driven the rise of jet black foods in recent years. Now charcoal ice creams are on the menu from coast to coast while major chains like Burger King have introduced American consumers to black hamburger buns.

So what’s next? Every year the team at Datassential comes together to develop our list of the flavors and ingredients that should be on the food industry’s radar in the years ahead. We pull data from our menu databases, consumer and operator research, and first-person experiences to zero in on the flavors that are just starting to hit menus, but have the hallmarks that identify them as trends with the potential to become the next big thing.

Here are the trends that should be on your radar in 2018 and beyond:

  1. Pandan: Southeast Asia continues to be a source of flavor inspiration for chefs around the world. This versatile leaf adds a sweet, grassy, vanilla-like flavor to desserts and cocktails, and many pandan-rich foods have a light green color that recalls other on-trend ingredients like matcha.
  2. Ube: While purple may be the “it” hue for foods right now, the star of the movement – ube – has the potential to make its way through the Menu Adoption Cycle. Also know as purple yam, ube is often used in Filipino cuisine and can add a natural color to everything from ice cream to power bowls.
  3. Black garlic: Judging by the popularity of garlic with consumers (it’s the second most-liked flavor overall according to our FLAVOR database), it’s almost surprising that this sweet, caramelized, umami-rich flavor is only just starting to appear more widely on U.S. menus.  
  4. Persimmon: Persimmons were the fastest-growing fruit on menus in the past year, according to our MenuTrends database. If you are planning next fall’s menu strategy, consider this sweet-and-tangy option in a cake, pudding, or sorbet.
  5. Kolsch: Trends on drink menus continue to move quickly. On beer menus, look for lighter, more refreshing options to take a more prominent place as a reaction to the former dominance of in-your-face, hoppy, bitter brews. The top-fermented German kolsch has grown over 100% on menus in the past four years, according to MenuTrends.
  6. Whey: Little Miss Muffet was hip to modern trends when she ate her curds and whey. Consumers continue to seek out protein-packed foods and this cheese byproduct can be added to breakfast foods, smoothies, and grains for a protein infusion. In Chicago, chef Sarah Grueneberg swaps out pasta water for whey in her Cacio Whey Pepe.
  7. Next-generation salt curing: Salt-curing is an ancient practice that is trending again as chefs look for new applications. Salt-cured egg yolks, which turn the rich yolks into a firm ingredient that can be grated over pastas and salads, are becoming a fine dining staple now, while salt-cured fruits are showing up in trendy cocktails.
  8. Seeds: Far from being a simple snack or salad topper, seeds are quickly becoming kitchen workhorses – chefs are creating custom seed blends for an all-purpose textural topper and experimenting with seed-based porridges and seed-rich breads. Look for new heirloom seed varieties to start showing up on menus and in products in the future.
  9. Labneh: This rich, creamy, strained yogurt is at the intersection of a number of trends – an interest in Middle Eastern cuisine, the search for both the next Greek yogurt and hummus, the proliferation of veggie-based appetizers and over-the-top crudités boards, and the concurrent rise of za’atar.
  10. Rose water: Rose water was once common in American desserts and now it’s making a comeback, adding a rich, floral note to cakes, ice creams, and drinks. Use it sparingly – it’s a fine line between “distinctive flavor” and “tastes like perfume.”

These 10 flavors are part of Datassential’s complete, soon-to-be-released “2018 Trends to Watch” forecast, which covers macro-level trends like machine learning, narrow trends like the rise of funky flavors, and an update on trends that we have predicted in the past. Stay tuned for the full list.

Mike Kostyo is the senior publications manager of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about Datassential’s 2018 Trend Report, contact Kostyo at [email protected].


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