What Were the Most Popular Food Ingredients of 2019?

As the leading provider of business intelligence in the restaurant industry, Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) is a valuable, go-to resource for food service professionals who want to be on the leading-edge of industry and market trends. On its regularly updated website, NRN offers a wide range of content across several key areas – including consumer trends, operations, marketing, and finance – to help restaurant industry players keep their operations as current and relevant as possible.

One favorite NRN resource is the “Flavor of the Week” feature. Every week, NRN highlights a hot new ingredient, flavor, or preparation technique that’s popping up on restaurant menus around the country; restaurant professionals find it helpful to tune in to this feature for ideas on how to capture the attention of their customers’ increasingly adventurous taste buds.

According to a recent roundup of “Flavor of the Week” posts from 2019, some of last year’s most popular flavors and ingredients were as follows:

Broccolini

Today’s health-conscious diners love their vegetables, which helped make nutritious and delicious broccolini one of the surprising star ingredients of 2019. Often mistaken for “baby” or immature broccoli, broccolini is in fact a hybrid of broccoli and the popular Chinese vegetable gai lan. As such, it has its own distinctive flavor profile (less bitter than regular broccoli) and long crunchy stems that make it just as suitable for a main course garnish as for a side dish centerpiece.

Blood oranges

Found on more than 10 percent of restaurant menus in 2019, blood oranges are particularly popular with Generation Zers and other young consumers. Named for its striking color (the flesh of blood oranges can range from dark pink to a deep crimson), the fruit comes from Italy and Spain and adds an extra touch of luxury to traditional citrus applications.

Fennel

Fennel is a versatile vegetable with a strong aroma and flavor that evokes anise (or black licorice). All parts of the vegetable – including its white root bulb, delicate green fronds, yellow flowers, and seeds – are edible, which means that restaurants use it in a great variety of ways. One of the most common applications is for the raw bulb to be thinly sliced in salads, while the feathery greens are used to add a fresh flavor boost to soups or fish dishes.

Ghee

Originally hailing from India, ghee is clarified butter typically made from cow or buffalo milk. In recent years, it has begun attracting attention in the U.S. for its purported health benefits (such as its anti-inflammatory and digestion-aiding qualities), and it has also become a staple of low-carb, high-fat eating patterns such as those that characterize the keto diet. Over the past few years, according to NRN, ghee’s appearance on American restaurant menus has increased by 8 percent.

Pimiento cheese

A quintessential Southern staple, pimiento cheese combines three beloved ingredients – sharp cheddar, mayonnaise, and mild, sweet pimiento peppers – to create a dip or spread. As comforting as it is flavorful, with a hint of indulgent richness thrown in, pimiento cheese has enjoyed a spike in popularity over the past four years, with mentions on American menus up 65 percent during that period.

Labneh

Restaurant customers have become increasingly interested in Middle Eastern flavors and dishes in recent years, so it’s not surprising that labneh made NRN’s list of the most popular ingredients of 2019. Labneh is made by putting yogurt through a prolonged straining process, thickening it beyond the Greek yogurt stage until its texture is similar to cream cheese. The result is like a soft cheese, but with a distinctive tang that makes labneh perfect for breakfast, snacks, and use as a condiment.

Chimichurri

A longtime popular ingredient in Latin America, particularly Argentina, chimichurri moved into the U.S. mainstream in 2019 (its appearance on American menus has increased by 83 percent over the past four years). An uncooked, blended sauce made from parsley, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, and oil, chimichurri is a zesty, versatile condiment. In the U.S., it’s most often used on burgers, wraps, and sandwiches.

Chicory

If you still think of chicory as little more than an inexpensive (and not very good) coffee substitute from bygone decades, it’s time to think again. Today, the versatile chicory plant is regarded as a premium fresh ingredient: endive and frisee, for example, which are both types of chicory, are very popular among restaurant professionals and diners alike for the crunch, color, and appealing bitterness they add to salads. Over the past four years, U.S. menu mentions of chicory have grown by 72 percent.

Harissa

In 2019, more and more restaurants were turning up the heat with exotic and adventurous spice blends such as harissa. A spicy paste found throughout North Africa, harissa gets its piquant flavor from a blend of chilies (fresh, roasted, and dried), spices including cumin and coriander, garlic, and olive oil. It can be used to add a fiery kick to everything from salad dressing to glazes for roasted meat.

Mark CrumpackerMark Crumpacker is the CMO and President of Zume Culinary at Zume Inc.,  the Silicon Valley company that has revolutionized the pizza delivery business through its fleet of mobile kitchens outfitted with smart ovens. Mark has more than two decades of experience in the realm of consumer behavior and its effect on brands’ marketing strategies. Mark studied economics at the University of Colorado and earned a bachelor of fine arts in advertising and graphic design from the ArtCenter College of Design. You can follow Mark on Twitter at @markcrumpacker and read his full bio here