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CHICAGO -- Mintel Menu Insights, a national restaurant-tracking service based here, has identified eight key American menu trends for 2008. "Everyone's looking for the next breakthrough item, the next mini-burger appetizer, mojito or pomegranate flavor," says Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights. "This year, we expect to see new twists on already popular items, giving people more flavors and options for the foods they love. Restaurants will get more creative with foods and preparation techniques as they attempt to cater to American's evolving tastes."
Among the top trends on tap for this year:
Superspices are the New Superfruits - After last year's 'superfruit frenzy' emanating from high antioxidant content-rich fruits such as pomegranates,
blueberries and acai berries, diners can expect to see "superspices" seasoning American menus. Research suggests that superspices like cumin, ginger, cinnamon and tumeric may boast more antioxidant power and medicinal benefits than their superfruit cousins.
Snack Attack -- Restaurants hope that small portions, big flavors and low prices will lure in hungry snackers. Mini burgers and wraps caught on late in 2007, but look for restaurants to add more "mini" favorite foods this year. From fast food to
fine dining, restaurants may soon compete to create the fastest and most filling snacks.
Fine Fast Food -- Fast food is going gourmet. Popular celebrity chefs are branching out with convenient, fast casual restaurants that promise high quality food, fine cooking and bold flavors -- all on a 30-minute lunch break. Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck have invested in fast casual operations, bringing their unique culinary flairs to the masses.
Grain Goodness -- With the health benefits of whole grains becoming more
widely known, certain nutritious grains will grow on the American restaurant
menu. Grains like kamut, quinoa, barley and millet pack a worldly punch along with healthy, essential nutrients and are the ideal backdrop for tomorrow's innovative ethnic flavor and health trends.
Ingredient Provenance -- Food safety and ecological issues have made headlines recently, causing many Americans to rethink where their food comes
from. As concerns over ingredient origins rise, restaurants have responded with more local ingredients, more natural and organic menu items and more sourcing information on the menu. Expect all types of restaurants to take some of the "science" out of dining out this year.
Bulking up the Bar -- Watch closely as restaurants flex their bar muscles. Enhancing menus with more flavorful cocktails and savory appetizers than ever
before, restaurants want diners to linger, lounge and just have fun in the
bar. Look for beverage lists to grow longer than entree lists, while appetizers occupy more of the menu in coming months.
The Return of the Classic Cocktail -- Once the preferred choice of Hollywood sophisticates, classic cocktails fell behind flashy new favorites in recent years. In 2008, expect a rebirth of cocktails such as the Sidecar, Manhattan, Bellini and Tom Collins. Classic and glamorous, these old-fashioned choices are sure to shake things up.
Mocktails Rock -- Ice-cold lemonade with strawberry puree, fresh ginger, crushed mint leaves and no alcohol? Rising demand for better non-alcoholic drinks created the mocktail. Boasting the same premium flavors as the cocktail menu, alcohol-free mocktails are a sophisticated alternative for "non-drinkers" and "drinkers" alike.