“Meat and potatoes” used to be the definition of a filling meal. These days, diners are looking to salads to provide main-dish oomph and satisfaction. “Salads are becoming far more inventive and substantial than cut-up iceberg side salads many of us grew up on,” says Maeve Webster, President of Menu Matters, a consultancy focused on helping foodservice operators and food manufacturers analyze, understand and leverage trends.
Modern salads have been bulking up—in decidedly a healthy way. “There’s a greater focus on the role of each ingredient from either a health, texture, flavor or visual impact,” Webster says. “Beans and other sources of plant-based proteins are playing a larger role, and the inclusion of grains, ancient or otherwise, can create some very interesting options, either ethnic-inspired, ethnic-authentic or entirely new.” According to a recent salad menu trends report by Prepared Foods, more than one-third of 18-34 year-old consumers say they are interested in trying more grain-based salads, with ingredients such as quinoa, wheat berries and farro. The fastest-growing ingredients in entrée salads are cilantro, carrots and arugula, according to the same report.
Keeping it clean
“Salads are one of the cleanest food options we have today,” Webster says. “They’re about as transparent as a food can be.”
Bowl us over
Plates are so old-school. These days, on-trend foods, including salad, come in bowls. In fact, lettuce, the ingredient that has long defined the salad category, is now entirely optional, as long as all ingredients are packed into a millennial-pleasing bowl. “There are more grain-based salads or bean-based salads that don’t include lettuce, but are still very much treated as salads.” Webster says. Even the temperature of salads is being experimented with, and warmed salads are finding a place on many menus.
Diners’ love of customization is also driving increased popularity. “Salads are the ultimate customizable menu item,” Webster says. Still, all the trends happening in the salad bowl aren’t necessarily forward-facing ones. There’s also a renewed interest in using pale, crunchy greens, such as Romaine or iceberg lettuce, especially in a revival of that steakhouse favorite, the chilled iceberg wedge, dripping with blue cheese or Thousand Island dressing.
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Chefs are turning to crisper greens as their foundation for creative salad builds, says this article from Flavor & The Menu