Flavors of Produce: What’s Trending Now?

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Originally printed in the December 2018 issue of Produce Business.

Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic organization of more than 2,500 women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality, conducted a member trends survey in early 2018. The survey examined trends across a wide variety of issues, including international food trends, restaurant trends, health and lifestyle trends and flavor trends. The flavors of the year insights show the power of produce on menus for their various taste and flavor contributions.

What’s the difference between taste and flavor? We experience five different tastes in food — sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami — through the work of our taste buds. Nearly all tastes are experienced in the mouth, while flavor is experienced through all senses. Flavor is the combined hedonic experience of the appearance, aroma, temperature, texture, taste, sound, and even the sense of pain, created from a food such as a chili pepper.

The terms taste and flavor are often used interchangeably. For the purposes of this column, when talking about “flavor,” I’m often referring to the prevailing taste in a produce item. When a chef talks about balancing flavor in a dish, he or she is often referring to finding the right balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami taste. Let’s review the produce items trending in each taste category.


Dames across the U.S. noted the trend of consumers seeking sweetness from natural sources. The fruits mentioned as trending sources of sweetness included dates, plums, figs and raspberries. Dates have an advantage of longer shelf life, but they are perceived by many consumers to be dried fruit. The other fresh fruits have less appeal in foodservice because of shorter shelf lives, but chefs appreciate the power of fresh and chefs with menus that change frequently love using seasonal ingredients such as figs that offer uniqueness and excitement on a menu.


Citrus is still the powerhouse in this category, but more unique varieties are starting to gain traction, especially when it comes to regional cuisines. Calamansi and finger limes, Moro oranges, kumquats, and Meyer lemons are a few examples of citrus ingredients with growing recognition by chefs and diners alike.


Salty is the category where sea vegetables reign supreme. Sea beans are the saltiest of the bunch and often used by chefs for the salty, as well as crunchy, traits. Kombu is another sea vegetable in this category used to create flavorful, vegetarian broths. The addition of umami-rich dried mushrooms turns the broth into a more rounded, satisfying vegetarian dashi base for everything from miso soup to ramen bowls.


When the Dames were asked about produce items trending in the bitter category, one item rose to the top — broccolini. Although most people assume bitter is a negative component of appealing flavors, don’t forget the growing popularity of other foods and beverages with assertive bitterness, such as coffee, dark chocolate and that IPAs that are dominating the craft beer category growth today.


Umami, the fifth taste, is often described as savory or meaty. Mushrooms continue to lead the umami trend conversation in produce, but let’s not forget many produce items contribute umami including green peas, garlic, corn, potatoes and tomatoes. Fermentation produces umami compounds, so any fresh produce item that is fermented (think pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut) will contribute umami to the final dish. Many Dames predicted that the trend of using fermented foods in foodservice will continue to grow in 2019 as consumer interest in the potential health benefits of fermented foods increases.

What else are the Dames predicting? They predict we’ll see more foods and flavors from Middle Eastern, North African and Southeast Asian countries appear on menus across the U.S. All these regions feature abundant produce in their cuisines. As chefs and diner embrace these flavors, there’s endless opportunity to expand use of produce on American menus. How will you capitalize on these trends to grow your business in foodservice?

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative and a consultant for the Produce for Better Health Foundation. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com, and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller