A Dutch apple pie with cinnamon, cream, and caramel is topped off with a 3D printed chocolate apple, made at Unilever's global Food Innovation Center.
Jessica Butera

A Dutch apple pie with cinnamon, cream, and caramel is topped off with a 3D printed chocolate apple, made at Unilever's global Food Innovation Center.

Predicting the Menus of the Future, According to 1,600 Global Chefs

UFS identified the top 8 innovative trends being baked into the cutting-edge menus of the future.

Culinary trends that were already present—like mindful proteins and low-waste menus—are accelerating, and chefs are finding even more creative ways to use nutritious and sustainable ingredients. Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), a global leader in professional food service, released its first Future Menu Trends report this year, identifying eight of the hottest global trends in the culinary world. Each trend was tested and validated with more than 1,600 chefs in 21 countries, and later translated into professional kitchen recipes to bring them to life. 

  1. Irresistible Vegetables

Most commonly thought of as side dishes, vegetables are taking center stage as decadent, indulgent plant-based dishes at the center of the plate—without sacrificing on flavor. Some veggies rising to the top are mushrooms, cauliflowers, asparagus, eggplants, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, and beetroots. “Desserts are often associated with rich flavors such as butter, sugar, and cream. You can replace part of them with vegetables, especially root vegetables, which contain a natural source of sugar,” says Maurits van Vroenhoven, brand development lead chef for UFS in the Netherlands.

  1. Modernized Comfort Food

Timeless meals, like a classic tortellini pasta dish, can be modernized with a fresh spin. Chef Giuseppe Buscicchio, UFS executive lead chef for Italy, recreated his classic pasta dough for his Vegetable Charcoal and Saffron Tortellini by using ready-to-use ingredients to mimic the color of river stones, filled with a hearty, slow-cooked beef osso bucco with mortadella Bolognese, and Parma ham.

  1. Low-waste Menus

Making clever use of ingredients to help reduce food waste (as well as costs) is in everyone’s best interest. Low-waste menus aim for minimum waste by using techniques that have been around for centuries, like fermenting, pickling, and curing, which not only extend the life of ingredients, but also create complex flavors.

  1. Wild and Pure

Edible flowers, wild berries, seaweed, truffle, and wild mushrooms are a few examples of the top foraged ingredients chefs are using to create tasty and sustainable dishes. Using locally-sourced ingredients not only helps reduce the carbon footprint in food production, but also helps diners to feel a sense of connection to their environment and home.

  1. Flavor Contrast

Think umami bombs, like Salmon Aburi with miso-ponzu sauce. This trend “assaults the senses” in a way, pairing spicy and sweet like chili and chocolate. Dishes have a playful mix of textures and colors—crunchy and chewy, smooth and creamy, bitter and sour. Top ingredients identified in this trend were ginger, chili, lemongrass, black garlic, and flavored vinegars.

  1. Feel-good Food

This trend is all about choosing alternative ingredients with less saturated fats, leaner cuts of meat, and creating lighter versions of rich sauces for health-conscious consumers. The key to feel-good food is diversity and balance. For example, Vincent Wattelamne, UFS executive chef in France, crafted a low-temperature cooked sole with goji berries and lentil risotto. “This cooking method preserves nutrients and flavors,” he notes.

  1. The New Sharing

Good food brings people together. This trend identifies cuisines around the world centered in the culture of sharing, from casseroles and charcuterie to hot pots and Korean barbecue. Brandon Collins, UFS executive chef in North America, created a savory teff madeleine with yeasted sunchoke and sunflower puree.

  1. Mindful Proteins

Diversifying to include different sources of protein not only reduces costs, but also reduces the environmental footprint of dishes. Using plant protein sources like beans, legumes, pulses, tofu, and plant-based meats means greater variety and a chance to create more options for a wider group of diners.