Tropical islands represent a favorite vacation spot for many, and those seeking a taste of the island life while at home continue to propel the popularity of these meals and ingredients on today’s menus.
“As far as menu trends, there are a variety of things from island nations that are close to trending but don’t have the sample size where we’d make such a declaration just yet. But we have our eye on them,” says Claire Conaghan, associate director, publications, for Chicago-based Datassential. “Examples of those include “saimin” noodle soup and “haupia,” both from Hawaii; “rendang” from Indonesia; and “bibingka” from the Philippines. There’s certainly potential for coconut cake as a flavor. Within certain realms, the call out of the nation can boost trendiness, such as Beef Noodle Soup (Taiwan’s national dish), which is trending, but even more so called instead as Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. Additionally, several Hawaiian barbecue chains (such as Hawaiian Bros up 20 units over the past year and Mo’Bettahs Hawaiian Style Food up nine units over the past year) have grown recently, which is increasing awareness of the plate lunch.”
Technomic reports that some of the top dishes by menu item incidence paired with Caribbean flavors include Cuban sandwich, shrimp entree, stew entree and banana side (which is most often plantains).
Some of the top ingredients paired with Cuban flavors include yuca, rice, beans and pork, according to the report. When asked, 39% of consumers reported that they have tried Cuban foods/flavors, liked it and found it unique/exciting.
Some of the fastest-growing ingredients paired with Dominican flavors include queso (up 28.6%), yuca (up 9.3%) and plantain (up 6.6%), reports Technomic. Over a quarter (26%) of consumers have tried Dominican foods/flavors, liked it and found it unique/exciting.
The operators who menu Jamaican flavors note some of the top ingredients paired with Jamaican flavors include jerk chicken, shrimp and oxtail, according to Technomic Ignite Menu data, Q2 2022-Q2 2023. When it comes to consumer attitudes, 43% of consumers have tried Caribbean foods/flavors, liked it and found it unique/exciting, according to Technomic’s “2022 Global Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report.”
By the Numbers
Datassential reports that island cuisine types are some of the fastest growing in awareness in its consumer preferences database.
Equipment for Island Flavor-Focused Menus
- Rice cooker
- Cast iron pot with tight-fitting lid
- Plantain press
- Mortar and pestle
- Flan mold
Concept Close-Up: Island Flavors and Tings
Island Flavors and Tings’ owner Helena Josephs describes her concept as “a celebration of the food found in Jamaica” — but one that sits in Gulfport, Fla. Rooted in the authentic tastes of the island, the menu reflects traditional Jamaican dishes, from jerk chicken and oxtail stew to red snapper and curry chickpeas. “We want you to feel a little piece of paradise through our food,” she says. The in-house juices include such tropical favorites as pineapple-ginger juice, sorrel and Irish moss.
The traditional Jamaican recipes and techniques used in the kitchen have been passed down through generations. “As a Jamaican American, I am well-versed in the art of Jamaican cooking and understand how our customers want an authentic taste,” Josephs says.
In recent years, Josephs has noticed the growing popularity of plant-based and vegetarian Caribbean dishes. “People are increasingly looking for healthier options while maintaining the bold and exciting flavors of the Caribbean,” she says. “We’ve responded to this demand by offering vegetarian plates daily and vegan options every Wednesday. Our patrons have also grown to expect the popular Irish moss drinks many look to for health benefits.” Irish moss is a Jamaican beverage that includes the moss extract carrageenan mixed with milk, either honey or sugar and vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon and either honey or sugar.
Some of the critical components that define island flavors for Josephs:
- Spices and Seasonings: Aromatic herbs like allspice, thyme and cinnamon play a fundamental role in Caribbean cuisine. Scotch bonnet peppers also play an integral role. These ingredients impart bold and distinctive flavors.
- Tropical Fruits: Ingredients like mangoes add sweetness and freshness to its dishes, like Mango Meatballs, Helena’s Mango Bread and salad dressing. Caribbean cooking uses mangoes in everything from salsas to desserts.
- Rum: While many people know rum as a drink, it also serves as a key ingredient in many Caribbean desserts and sauces. Rum adds depth and complexity to the flavors of baked goods such as rum cakes and chocolate rum balls.
Josephs attributes the increasing attention to Jamaican cuisine to several factors. “First, people are becoming more adventurous with their food choices and eager to explore flavors worldwide,” she says. She adds that the globalization of food and the ease of sharing recipes and culinary experiences through social media also contribute to the rise in popularity.
“As more people discover new flavors and dishes, the demand for authentic Caribbean restaurants and flavors has grown,” Josephs notes. “Lastly, the emphasis on fresh and locally sourced ingredients aligns with the growing movement toward sustainable and ethical eating, making Caribbean cuisine even more appealing to today’s conscientious consumers.”
In essence, Island Flavors and Tings is not just a restaurant — it’s a culinary trip to the Caribbean.