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It’s not too early to talk about winter flavor trends

Mexican style slow cooked beef stew Birria de Res served with lime and tortilla closeup in a bowl on the table. Horizontal top view from above
(Image credit: ALLEKO/Getty Images)

It may be unseasonably warm in much of the country, but the most prepared restaurant operators are thinking past the flavors of fall like pumpkin spice and apple to what’s ahead for the critical holiday and winter flavor trends. 

In fact, many operators are not too far away from their most innovative time of the year: November is the month with the most new, returning and limited-time offer menu introductions, according to Datassential.

The biggest category for those winter flavor introductions in November, based on a review of introductions between 2020 and 2022, is dessert. A wide variety of chocolate and berry pairings with desserts index highly in winter. Four top-indexing seasonal sweet flavors on winter menus include chocolate-dipped, Twix, king cake and raspberry cake. 

A number of savory flavors are key on winter menus as well, with callouts like grilled red onion, crimini mushroom and serrano pepper indexing highly on winter menus. For proteins, a wide variety of seafood index is highly due to consumers’ love for options like cod or jumbo shrimp for special occasions, as well as comforting proteins like braised beef and country sausage. 

In sauces and dressings, rich and complex options like chile verde and tapenade index highest in the winter months. While seasonal as a menu call-out is declining, seasonality is still prevalent on menus through in-season ingredients and traditional flavors. 

Consumers will always gravitate toward comfort and holiday foods in the winter flavors, like braised meats and pies, there are ways to make your menu trend-forward while still incorporating the classics that consumers crave. 

Birria, for instance, is one of the fastest-growing items on menus overall — up 300% over the last four years — and can be a great addition to any winter menu. The rich soup made with beef, goat or even chicken or mutton is showing up on US menus in tacos and quesadillas with broth to dip. Serving it in its original form is a great option for consumers demanding more global flavors but wanting the comfort of a soup or stew. 

And what about a fast-growing, innovative winter-flavor dessert option? Funnel cake fries. Consumers are demanding experiential meals in many forms, and dessert is no exception. And can you think of a more enjoyable way to end a meal than to share some warm fried dough, tossed in powdered sugar, with a side of chocolate or berry dipping sauces?

Winter is also the time to experiment with spice. Tajin, the chili-lime seasoning blend, has soared more than 300% on menus in the last four years. Compound sweet-savory flavors like mango habanero are also growing quickly; it’s up 119% in the last four years. Spices including furikake, turmeric and togarashi are also among the fastest-growing. 

Samantha Des Jardins is the content marketing manager at Datassential.

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