Trending Now: Pasta in Non-Italian Applications

UntitledA recent category report on pasta in foodservice by leading research firm Mintel showed that the biggest area of growth for pasta on menus is in applications outside of the Italian segment. On the one hand it’s probably not surprising, since pasta is already pretty much mandatory at any Italian restaurant. But seeing the growth in Latin and Asian contexts does point out the global appeal of pasta. Just this month, at the Flavor Experience conference in Newport Beach, CA, speaker Chris Koetke, TV personality and Dean of Culinary Arts at Kendall College tabbed “Non-Italian Pasta” as one of his top international flavors and techniques primed for growth in the US. He showed examples of “Sopa Seca” with fideo pasta, lasagna with a Mexican flavor profile from Mexico City, and even tacos filled with cooked pasta from his travels in Latin America. (For more on Chris’ predictions, click here)

[call out] Pasta is up 6% in overall menu incidence since 2012.

Mintel identified the following hot spots of menu activity for pasta:

  • Fast casual (Italian and Asian)
  • Mac and cheese
  • Lunch menus
  • With vegetables
  • Filled and fried
  • Gluten-free
  • Egg noodles
  • Asian cuisine

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these:

Asian Cuisine

More than a third of the incidence (menu mention) growth of pasta as an ingredient across commercial foodservice is sourced to Asian dish cuisine types, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Pan-Asian. We’ve seen linguine used in place of ramen noodles in Hawaii, and noodle bowls and stir-fries popping up all over, from fine-dining to fast-casual.

Where we’re seeing it:

Chalk Point Kitchen, NYC –  Sichuan Lamb Noodles with spicy black bean and thai basil.

Yard House –  Gardein Thai Chicken Noodle Salad; egg noodles, Asian slaw and cucumber with spicy peanut vinaigrette.

Panera Bread –  Soba noodle bowl; chicken raised without antibiotics, soba buckwheat noodles, fresh spinach, napa cabbage blend, roasted mushroom and onion blend, sesame seeds and cilantro in a umami soy-miso broth.

  Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is driving the incidence (menu mention) ingredient growth of macaroni as this classic favorite has gone upmarket/upscale, and is featured more-and-more as a main dish. It’s a great example of how “familiar” is being offered in new and exciting ways.

Where we’re seeing it:
McCormick & Schmick’s – Shrimp and Andouille Mac and Cheese.

Applebee’s – Four Cheese Mac & Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders and Bacon.

Uno Chicago Grill – Deep Dish Mac n’ Cheese; penne with aged cheddar, parmesan and romano. Sprinkled with a rich crumb topping and baked in a deep-dish pan.

  With Vegetables

In keeping with what we’ve seen elsewhere in the rise of what trend guru Gerry Ludwig calls “Veg Centric” cuisine, chefs are using pasta as a platform to put vegetables front and center on the plate. Some of the most popular combinations with pasta include beans, tomatoes, and spinach. Other vegetables menued more with pasta include; corn, squash, celery, artichoke, carrots, and the broader category of roasted-vegetables.

Where we’re seeing it:

Chaya Restaurant, San Francisco – Kabocha Pumpkin Gnocchi with smoked chicken, kale, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and sage brown butter alfredo sauce.

Brio Italian Restaurant – Roasted Vegetable Spaghettini; roasted broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, red peppers, asparagus, capers, feta, Parmesan, pine nuts, thyme, light vegetable broth and whole grain pasta.

Gjelina, Los Angeles – Corn and Mascarpone Agnolotti with sage, brown butter, cherry tomatoes and Parmesan.