Locally grown isn't the only hot produce trend in restaurants lately. Chefs are finding a variety of exciting new ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their menus, sources told SN.
According to Robert Danhi, consulting chef for the Produce Marketing Association, the vibrant flavors of lesser-known Asian countries, such as produce-centric Vietnam, that showcase various herbs are among some popular new flavors emerging.
“Produce [items] typically associated with ethnic cuisines are also taking center stage, and Asian, ethnic fusion, Latin American and Mediterranean are the hottest trends there,” agreed Annika Stensson, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association.
“While many items are common in specific ethnic cuisines, the items are becoming more widely available, and more chefs are experimenting with them.”
Fruits are being used in salads and sauces, and as toppings for seafood, chicken, pork and even beef to some extent, according to Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, Chicago.
“[Fruit has] been used in desserts for a long time, but I think you're definitely seeing a lot more use of fruit-based salsas and sauces and fruits in salads,” Goldin said.
Several exotic “superfoods,” rich in antioxidants, have been appearing on menus more often as well.
“We're seeing wider uses of produce items like pomegranates, acai and goji,” Stensson said.
Goldin agreed, saying he believes that superfoods are getting a lot of attention, and that peppers seem to be doing very well.
Cocktails are being enhanced with herbs like rosemary, basil and lavender, and bartenders are playing with bergamot oil and even saffron now. The use of more exotic fruits, vegetables, berries and herbs both in cooking and in making cocktails is an emerging trend that is picking up pace.
“You're seeing a lot of chef-inspired fun cocktails, and they're always using fresh produce, or fresh syrups made from fresh produce, or herbs or infusions,” said Melissa Abbott, senior trend-spotter and analyst at Bellevue, Wash.-based Tinderbox.
“No one's using high-fructose corn syrup anymore; it's more about really fresh and authentic, but really creative as well.”