Natural Foods Merchandiser

Tasteful meals

Whether they’re reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner in Idaho or the cocktail hour in Peru, all of this year’s flavor trends can be incorporated into your foodservice operation. Here are the top six flavors for 2010, as identified by Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, along with chefs’ suggestions on how to add them to your prepared foods and drinks.

Intensely aromatic and slightly pungent, this spice native to India and Sri Lanka is used in Ayurvedic medicine to aid digestion and calm the stomach. It can be incorporated into sweet or savory foods. Leticia de Mello Bueno, a chef and owner of Gastronomisti, a Miami-based food consulting firm, likes to add cardamom to roasted pork or chicken for an Indian twist. Another favorite is cardamom-spiked soups made with pumpkin or Granny Smith apples and curry. “Use it very sparingly because it’s so strong—one little seed of cardamom in pumpkin soup, for instance,” she says. Carla Hall, owner and executive chef of Alchemy Caterers in Washington, D.C., uses cardamom to flavor a tagine made from chickpeas, butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, kalamata olives and sweet potatoes. In your coffee bar, infuse tea with cardamom. “It makes a distinctive soy chai latte,” Bueno says. Another option is to mix it with red rooibos tea to calm the central nervous system. Whichever recipe you choose, be careful—because cardamom has such a spicy, fragrant aroma, it can flavor everything around it. Bueno recommends storing it tightly wrapped or in airtight containers.

Sweet potatoes
Mintel predicts that these tubers will soon become known as a functional food, due to their high fiber, beta-carotene and vitamin C and B6 content. Hall uses sweet potatoes as a centerpiece for a root-vegetable gratin that includes rutabagas, turnips, yellow beets, yellow potatoes, cream, garlic and cheese. Another of Hall’s favorites is sweet potato and tomato bisque. “The consistency is great, and the sweet potatoes add just enough sweetness to the tomatoes.” Bueno likes to give traditional sweet potato dishes a twist by adding Indian or Southwestern spices.

This trumpet-shaped flower, which grows virtually everywhere, is commonly used in tea, but Mintel predicts it will soon become a go-to ingredient in other beverages. Hibiscus got a medicinal boost in 2008, when U.S. Department of Agriculture research showed that hibiscus tea can lower blood pressure. “The taste is tart, similar to cranberries, so sugar or honey helps tremendously,” says Hall, who likes to poach pears, plums or apples in hibiscus tea. The infused fruit is “perfect for a frangipane tart,” she says. “Reduce the liquid, which would have sugar in it, to create a molasses-like sauce.” Red beets can also be poached in hibiscus tea and added to a salad with goat cheese and oranges. “The liquid may then be used as a vinaigrette base for the salad,” Hall says. Bueno likes to use hibiscus vinaigrette on a spinach and whitefish salad. Another option is hibiscus crème brulee. “It tastes almost like strawberry,” Bueno says.

Mintel predicts this national fruit of Brazil, which contains 10 vitamins and antioxidants along with essential fatty acids and amino acids, will become the next big superfruit. Bueno says cupuaçu’s yellow fruit is “a little bitter—not overly sweet or cloying” and is a great mango substitute in desserts. She particularly likes to mix cupuaçu pulp into a standard flan base. “The creaminess of the egg and sugar is a contrast to the tanginess of the fruit.” Another of her favorites is cupuaçu sorbet covered in dark chocolate. “It needs to be at least 56 percent chocolate,” says Bueno, who also makes dark-chocolate-and-cupuaçu bonbons. Although the fruit doesn’t taste like another popular Brazilian fruit, açai, Bueno sees it becoming equally popular in juice bar smoothies and cocktail mixers. Personal care manufacturers also are making use of cupuaÇu (Cosmecuticals take on Superfruits article).

Rose water
Distilled from rose petals, rose water is commonplace in the Middle East, where it’s a base for the popular candy Turkish Delight, but it tends to be an acquired taste elsewhere, Bueno says. “It really does taste like rose petals and is very soothing, but a little goes a long way.” She likes to use it in vanilla pudding decorated with rose petals or in pistachio baklava (infuse rose water, rather than orange, into the honey called for in most recipes). Bueno says rose water can also perfume rice (for every 1 cup of water, replace a maximum of 2 tablespoons with rose water) or chicken dishes.

Latin spices
Latin food encompasses much more than enchiladas and burritos. Bueno believes lesser-known cuisines, particularly Nicaraguan and Peruvian, will heat up our palates this year. Nicaraguan food is an alternative to Cuban, and Bueno says bajo is a particularly good dish for delis because it’s slow cooked in a pot lined with banana leaves. Boil dried beef, pork, potatoes, carrots and yucca in a stock/liquid mixture and serve right out of the pot. For a Peruvian influence, try lomo saltado, a stir-fry of beef marinated in soy sauce, brandy and pisco (a Peruvian grain alcohol made of grapes), served with rice and french fries.

Don't have a deli? Steer customers to these packaged foods that use this year's trendy flavors.

North Fork Sweet Potato Chips
Famous on Long Island, N.Y., these chips are kettle fried in sunflower oil

Cosmic Chocolate Cardamom + Oranges
Blood oranges, cardamom and 64 percent dark chocolate combine to make a bittersweet, tangy bar

Hint Honeydew-Hibiscus Premium Essence Water
Infused with natural flavor rather than sweeteners

Musselman’s Healthy Picks Key Lime Cupuaçu Apple Sauce
One serving supplies 10 percent of the RDA of calcium and fiber and 25 percent of vitamin C

Ghalia Organic Desserts Rosewater Cardamom Truffle Brownie
This Los Angeles bakery will ship its all-natural products to you daily

Spice Depot Hot & Spicy Seasoning
Latinize your food with this blend of chili flakes, chili oil, cayenne, paprika, onion, garlic, salt and pepper

Lafayette, Colo.-based writer Vicky Uhland wishes she had some lomo saltado right about now.

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