Spices are among the easiest and most approachable ways to experiment with new global cuisines and trends. The popularity of spice blends is continuing to grow in kitchens as they offer labor and cost savings.
In today’s challenging workforce environment, using pre-mixed spices alleviates the need for trained labor to entrust with the proper blending of spices. Plus, it also saves on having to buy multiple spices to create your own blends. As we gear up for the holiday season, the Sysco Foodie Team reached out to Chef Tony Reed, Executive Director of Culinary at Spiceology, to get some great tips and ideas on how to incorporate spices across your entire menu, including entrees, cocktails, and even kids’ menus!
- Spice Up Your Beverage Program
More restaurants of all sizes are extending their spice blend and ingredients usage from the kitchen to bar and beverage stations. Spices like turmeric and ras el hanout are popping up more and more on drink menus. With its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has long been considered to have health benefits. And while you probably use it in your curries, rice dishes, and marinades, it’s also a great ingredient to add to cocktails.
Not only does it give them an extra flavor kick, with its reputation as a “superfood”, it adds just a little bit of a health halo too. Plus, its amazing color creates eye-catching visual appeal – a quality near and dear to today’s social media obsessed consumer, always looking for that next instagrammable sensation! The warm and slightly sweet flavor of ras en hanout is already super trendy in margaritas, but add it to winter favorites like spiked ciders and hot chocolates to lend a warm, comforting spice.
For a boozy cocktail that’s perfect as part of a fall menu, team it up with scotch, whiskey, or bourbon for a deliciously layered taste. Spice blends that include turmeric and other warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove, and fennel can work easily to spike a whiskey sour but also add a depth of flavor to traditional cocoas for a spicy-sweet holiday treat.
Need a few “mocktails” for your bar menu, but want to shy away from the expected and try something more adventurous? These spices can lend great color, scent, and taste to non-alcoholic drinks, creating unusual and intriguing flavors.
“Zero-proof and no ABV mocktails are growing in popularity, and spices and herbs can actually mimic the bold flavors of cocktail ingredients,” explains Chef Tony Reed, Executive Director of Culinary at Spiceology. “So have fun and experiment with different spices and mixology – it’s a great way to innovate, talk about new menu additions, and differentiate yourselves from competitors.”
2) Expand Umami on the Menu
As interest in food and chef culture grows among guests, they are getting more savvy and craving authentic dining experiences. A perfect example of this rising hunger is for all things umami. And while umami is a well-known profile among Asian cuisine, it can shine and be celebrated in all types of dishes, lending savory flavors to vegetable entrees, sides and more.
Guests might not fully understand the science behind umami, but they do know it tends to taste amazing, and that global cuisines offer new ways to experience the umami sensation. Vegetable-centric entrees are becoming increasingly more popular, and adding umami ingredients to various dishes to create new, bolder flavor profiles makes these healthier foods more appealing and just as satisfying.
According to Chef Tony, “cheese, seafood, mushrooms, meats, kimchi, truffles – umami flavor can run the gamut, and we have the ingredients to prove it. Infusing these complex umami flavors via tadka, compound butters, etc. is now even easier with spice blends.”
3) Go Big and Go Bold with Chiles
Diners are getting more adventurous when it comes to chiles and bolder heat profiles. Anyone who watches Hot Ones, the talk show where host Sean Evans interviews celebrities over a platter of increasingly spicy chicken wings, can attest to the power of a great hot sauce. But take it a step further, and add an interesting flavor, maybe a little sweet with the heat and it’s game on.
This combination of sweet and spicy – “swicy” – as the cool kids call it, is everywhere right now. According to Datassential, sweet and spicy pairings on menus are up 38% in the last year, and hot honey is projected to outpace nearly all other culinary and beverage flavors by 2027. Other notable flavors, like chili crunch and gochujang, are also being incorporated into dishes all over the place.
Salty, spicy, and smoky flavors are also worth noting. Urfa biber can add heat and deep chile flavor to any dish, while Calabrian chile pastes can add a spicy, smoky layer to aiolis, pastas, hummus, roasted meats, and veggies.
Chamoy is delicious in margaritas, but try making a paste to use as a rim for cocktails, micheladas, or beer. Need slightly less heat and more of a slow build? Try Aleppo pepper for marinades and salad dressings. It’s also great at the bar to rim a cocktail glass.
As Chef Tony says, “there are regions around the world known for their chiles – know that origin when building a globally inspired dish. Chiles add a complex-yet-approachable heat profile, but add in a spice blend with chiles and other ultra-versatile flavor combinations and you’re easily taking a dish to a bolder next level and achieving easy consistency.”
4) Kiddos Want to Go Global
It’s time for operators, including restaurants and cafeteria foodservice, to think beyond mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken nuggets. While these are indeed kids’ menu staples, Gen Alpha is growing up in a more diverse setting compared to previous generations. Due in no small part to streaming and social media, younger generations have had more exposure to different cultures and thus a better understanding around global cuisines.
According to a report from Datassential, bold and global flavors, from pulled pork to teriyaki chicken, lead the way in four-year growth for kids’ menus. As such, consider how globally-inspired concepts like rice bowls, pho, quesadillas, birria, and more could fit into your kids’ menus. Or start small and take a familiar item like chicken strips but add a fun twist using different spice blends.
Sauces are another key opportunity for flavor innovation on kids’ menus, as kids in general love to dip foods. Think beyond just the typical ketchup and get creative with condiments. Lean into globally-inspired condiment options like sriracha or sauces geared towards chicken pairings (chicken appears on 77% of kids’ menus, according to Menu Trends), such as honey BBQ.
As Chef Tony explains, “spice blends are an easy way to answer the demand for trending global flavors among younger generations – ramen, mac and cheese, pizza – these are all cornerstone meals that can take on new global flavors the kids are wanting.”
Here are some recipes for quick menu inspiration:
5) Spiceology’s Top-Selling Spices for Holiday Menu Planning
Whether you ideate then order or order then ideate – the time is now to stock up for holiday menu planning. Below is a cheat sheet place to start, plus global flavors to keep things new and interesting this season.
Holiday Season Must-Haves:
- Greek Freak (Application ideas: Seared Scallops, Leg of Lamb, Gnocchi Alfredo, Blistered Heirloom Tomatoes, Gin Basil Smash Cocktail)
- Pumpkin Spice (Application ideas: Pie, Coffees/Cocoas/Lattes, Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Chilis, Pastas, Braised Oxtail)
- Salt Pepper Garlic (Application ideas: (Stuffing, Beans & Greens Soup, Pouldeau Gumbo, Red Snapper, New York Strip Steak)
- Smoky Honey Habanero (Application ideas: Game Hen with Roasted Potatoes and Broccolini, Cranberry and Cornbread Stuffing, Apple Pie, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Glazed Brussels Sprouts)
- Black & Bleu (Application idea: Roasted Squash Soup, Cornbread, Fried Chicken, Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes)
- Berbere (Application ideas: Turkey, Beef Stew, Spiced Lamb, Roasted Root Vegetables, Whole White Fish)
- Chile con Limon (Application ideas: (Holiday Michelada, Granita, Smoked Salmon, Corn Relish, Shrimp Tacos)
- Curry Madras (Application ideas: Chicken Salad, Shrimp Masala, White Chocolate Cocoa, Vegetable Curry, Flat Bread)
- Ras El Hanout (Application ideas: Eggnog, French Toast & Maple Syrup, Roasted Whole Chicken, Sweet Potato Hash, Kabobs)
- Togarashi (Application ideas: Sticky Rice “Stuffing”, Blistered Shishito Peppers, Crusted Steak, Ceviche, Pork Loin)