9 Food Trends You Need to Add to Your Menu

They’re all the rage, and if you’re not cashing in, you may be missing out.
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The restaurant industry forecast: healthy, casual and always changing. (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Does your restaurant make its own pickles? Brew its own beer? Offer complimentary hummus and pita while guests wait for a table? Put sriracha on everything?

If not, now might be the time to start. Food trends change just about as often as the wind, presenting more challenges in an already volatile and unpredictable market. But these challenges are also opportunities.

Here are nine top food trends you should consider adding to your menu right about…now.

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Chefs are exploring the potential of cauliflower as a main course. (Photo: Elena M. Tarasova/Shutterstock)

1. Veggies, veggies and more veggies

There will always be some diners who think the only way they’ll get a good meal, or their money’s worth, is if they order the meatiest, heartiest item on the menu. But those customers are becoming fewer and farther between. Big protein dishes are being ignored in favor of veggie-heavy meals like roasted cauliflower “steaks” and charred eggplant.

“The past couple years, and going into this year…people are looking for vegetables, increasing their vegetable consumption, getting vegetables to the center of the plate and realizing they are very versatile,” Trent O’Drain, executive chef for Wegman’s New Jersey markets, told app.com.

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Some chefs have turned pickling into a passion. (Photo: Lopatko Kyrylo/Shutterstock)

2. Craft Pickles

Pickles these days are more than a topping for burgers. And it’s not just cucumbers getting the pickle treatment; everything from eggs, beets, cherries, parsnips, carrots, ginger and fennel are being subjected to a legion of chefs’ penchants for pickling.

“The flavor profiles are endless,” Rembs Layman, executive chef at Tupelo, a Southern-style spot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told “Edible Boston.” “Pickling is a great way to experiment and add a lot of texture and visual appeal to a plate.”

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Middle Eastern foods like hummus are emerging as a staple of both households and restaurants. (Photo: Mustafa Ertugral/Shutterstock)

3. Mediterranean flair

Mediterranean cooking isn’t a new trend but an ever-evolving one. What’s helped propel it as a culinary darling of 2016 is the success of cookbooks such as Israeli chef Michael Solomonov’s “Zahav,” which won the James Beard Award for best cookbook this year. In it, he celebrates some of the unique offerings that make this cuisine special: za’atar bread, crispy halloumi over a bed of date jam, peppers stuffed with rice and walnuts, crisp beet salad with tehina (aka tahini).

“One of the basic tenets is the enjoyment of food, and respect and pleasure of food,” said Nicki Heverling, program manager for the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, to the New York Times. “When you’re in the Mediterranean, your meals are three hours and you savor your food.”

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Ethically sourced ingredients often mean better-tasting food. (Photo: Arina P. Habich/Shutterstock)

4. Ethical, sustainable, clean, conscious

Whatever buzzword you choose, food is best when you know exactly where it came from. A growing number of restaurants are incorporating more local products into their menu selections, from farm-fresh eggs to antibiotic-free chickens.

It’s not just the standalone spots that are jumping on the clean-eating, non-GMO bandwagon. Even the big chains are taking a stand for purity; Panera Bread, for one, has a list of 150 artificial ingredients it will no longer use. “We think a simplified pantry is a better pantry,” said Dan Kish, Panera’s head chef, who shined a light on questionable food industry standards by refusing to accept the use of ingredients like titanium dioxide in mozzarella cheese (to make it look whiter). Could your menu use an ethics overhaul?

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Ramen has escaped the college dorm rooms and gone gourmet. (Photo: Atosan/Shutterstock)

5. Chef-driven fast casual

What helped turn Nashville hot chicken, Ramen noodle bowls and Banh Mi into household names? The chef-driven, fast-casual concept, which basically consists of professionally trained chefs seeking to capitalize on the popularity of fast-casual formats (sometimes known as the Chipotle effect).

In short, it’s chef-crafted fare at fast-casual prices. So why do diners love this trend so much? “If you’re going to wait for a train or grab a quick bite, I believe you should have some better options than typical fast-food places (and a place to sit!),” celebrity chef Mario Batali, co-owner of The Pennsy, a food hall at New York City’s Penn Station, told Zagat. “It’s time to elevate the grab-and-go and not feel bad about our options anymore.”

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Exotic spices can really dazzle your diners. (Photo: mongione/Shutterstock)

6. “Functional foods”

Turmeric has been around since time immemorial and has always been popular in Eastern diets, but it’s undergoing a renaissance here in the West. It’s part of a growing consumer interest in foods that offer a health-enhancing benefit beyond nutrition — what experts call “functional foods.”

Turmeric, a bright yellow spice that’s been used as a medicine for centuries, is the breakout star of that category because of its purported healing powers (battling arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and depression, to name a few). It’s a popular ingredient in many Indian dishes, including a potent tea that some call “golden milk.”

Like many food-associated health claims, turmeric’s need more scientific research. But in the meantime, there’s no reason you shouldn’t find some inventive recipes that use a few of these “functional” ingredients.

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Seasonal menus tell your customers that you’re up-to-date. (Photo: Ksenija Toyechkina/Shutterstock)

7. Seasonal menus

A restaurant that updates its menu according to the seasons is a restaurant that understands food. If you’re serving strawberry salads in the dead of winter, it’s likely two things will happen: Your customers won’t order them, and they’ll wonder why they are on your menu.

According to research firm Technomic, 59 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase an item on a restaurant menu if it’s described as seasonal.

“Taking advantage of seasonal offerings is a truly unique opportunity to show customers all the exciting flavors, ingredients and foods that are out there,” wrote Jorge Cespedes, a research and development chef with Food IQ. “By changing menus several times a year, you can allow customers to try, explore and discover all the options the land has to offer.”

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Have plenty of hot sauce on hand. (Photo: elena moiseeva/Shutterstock)

8. Getting creative with condiments

Diners want heat, and they want it on everything. That means it’s no longer enough to set out some ketchup or mustard (or worse, A1) as options to dress up the meal you’ve served them. It’s time to explore some exotic, heat-packed sauces from all over the world — and no, not just Sriracha.

There’s the Indonesian sambal oelek, the Japanese Yum-Yum sauce made famous by chains like Hibachi and Benihana, the Korean gochujang…the list goes on. “When you have gochujang on a burger, it brings about a smoky intenseness you can only get from that Korean funk,” said Ted Hopson, executive chef of Umami Burger, a California-based fast-casual burger chain, to Bon Appétit.

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This is a seafood trend that might float. (Photo: yasuhiro amano/Shutterstock)

9. Poke

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii or certain areas of the West Coast, you might have heard of poke (pronounced poke-ay). There’s even a restaurant in Salt Lake City called Laid Back Poke Shack, and some Whole Foods stores have by-the-pound poke bars.

So what is poke? It’s basically a bowl of chopped or cubed raw fish, usually ahi tuna. The fish is marinated with seaweed, avocado, mango, macadamia nuts, chiles and many other eye-opening flavors. The result? A new trend to the tune of sushi. And like sushi, this one might just stick around for awhile.

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