Herbs and Spices Can Be a Gateway for Menu Innovation

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Herbs and Spice

A little goes a long way when it comes to herbs and spices, making them crucial players in any menu, no matter the cuisine or tier. Often lumped into a single category, the two are differentiated by which parts of the plant are used and how they are processed; in general, herbs are fresh, perishable leafs or stems, while a spice originates from a dried root, stalk, seed, fruit, or other part.

But despite their diminutive size, herbs and spices can be both pricey and difficult to produce. Accordingly, cost and supply vary widely. Saffron, which typically sells at $1,500 or more per pound, is one of the most expensive and labor-intensive foods in the world. In contrast, some herbs and spices, like common mint, are so easy to grow and prolific that they’ve been compared to weeds.

For chefs, herbs and spices can be a gateway to adding more nuance to a menu or incorporating flavors from different cuisines.

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mulled wine
In Season

In the U.S., November marks a slowdown in available herb supply as winter approaches. Those volumes rebound in May, which begins a more abundant period. (Buyers Edge Platform, McCormick)

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spice rub
In the News

The consumption of spices, seasonings, marinades, and rubs jumped more than 50 percent between July 2019 and July 2020 (NPD Group)

Although restaurants’ spice orders plummeted during the pandemic, many manufacturers experienced an uptick in sales on the consumer retail side. (The Washington Post)

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bay leaves
Worth Its Weight

Saffron may have cornered the market on priciest spice, but chervil and bay leaf are the most expensive herbs by weight and volume, respectively. (Buyers Edge Platform)

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rosemary
Bargain Deal

Rosemary, cilantro, and parsley are the least expensive herbs. (Buyers Edge Platform)

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peppercorns
Pick Your Pepper

As indispensable as its table partner salt, black peppercorns pack different heat depending on when they are harvested.

Green berries harvested before fully ripe—mild

White berries fully ripened, then soaked—medium

Black berries immature, fermented and sun-dried—hot

(Buyers Edge Platform, McCormick)

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dukkah
Spice Zeitgeist

Dukkah traditionally combines coriander, fennel, cumin, sesame seeds, and dried mint with nuts. In the U.S., its menu mentions have increased 267 percent since 2013.

Pumpkin Spice mentions on menus catapulted 218 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Turmeric has exploded in the last six years, with a 253 percent increase in U.S. production.

(Datassential SNAP 2020, McCormick Flavor Forecast)

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First Watch
Morning Meditation Fresh Juice
Morning Meditation Fresh Juice

First Watch

Although turmeric has long appeared in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, the warming, golden spice has branched into other categories and even landed on the menu of none other than growing breakfast chain, First Watch. The Morning Meditation fresh juice balances the strong flavor with orange, lemon, organic ginger, agave nectar, and beet for a sweet yet spicy concoction.

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Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Pumpkin Hummus
Pumpkin Hummus

Ēma by Lettuce Entertain You

Lattes and sweet desserts may be the most familiar pumpkin spice renditions, but they are far from the lone options. Typically featuring a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice, pumpkin spice also works well in savory dishes. At Ēma in Chicago, chef C.J. Jacobson created a sweet-and-savory Pumpkin Hummus that combines garbanzo beans, pumpkin, lemon, brown sugar, salt, and the quintessential pumpkin spices.

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Dukkah-Spiced Pepitas and Nuts
Dukkah-Spiced Pepitas and Nuts

Dukkah’s origins can be traced to Egypt, where it is was used as a seasoning for dense breads. Today, the spice blend finds applications across a variety of dishes. When mixed with olive oil, it’s a flavorful accompaniment for pita bread. It also adds depth to poultry, beef, and other proteins. On the sweet side, dukkah-spiced nuts and pepitas provide a savory counterbalance to pastries and desserts.