Menu Trends to Watch For: South American 3.0 Flavors are Here to Stay

By Rick Zambrano, Trend Analyst & Foodable Industry Expert

Toro Toro, a Pan-Latin concept from Richard Sandoval Restaurants, recently opened in Washington, D.C. to much anticipated buzz. The growing penchant for Latin American cuisine shows an American palate heating up to foods beyond Mexican cuisine. This restaurant opening in particular is aligned with a time of accelerating interest in South American flavors that include those from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and more.

A Peruvian Progression

Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

Peruvian cuisine has made its way to many headlines: Peruvian concepts like New York City’s Raymi — also from Richard Sandoval’s group — and, on the west coast, Pucquio in Oakland, show its popularity and reflects the traditionally rooted mélange of handcrafted food — both native- and Asian-inspired. But South American appeal doesn’t end there with Pan-Latin concepts: The new Toro Toro in D.C., for example, finds success in a congruence of flavors and preparations from all over the continent. Peruvian cuisine is the catalyst for a resurgence of South American foods — something that can conceptually be called third-generation South American, or South American 3.0.


Toro Toro Introduces Brazilian Flavors to American Plates

On the Toro Toro menu, one finds small plates like a Lomo Saltado (beef stir-fry) Empanada with beef tenderloin and oyster sauce, and served up with a guacamole sauce, influenced by the traditional Peruvian stir-fry. Diners will surely be drawn to the Brazilian-influenced barbecue that is Toro Toro’s Rodizio, an all-you-can-eat experience featuring meat carved tableside, with choices that include Brazilian-style picanha steak, chorizo sausage, and achiote marinated chicken thigh. 

A recent restaurant review of Toro Toro in the Washington Post demonstrates the delightfully satiating and flavorful excursion that the Rodizio can be. Experts agree that Brazilian cuisine is on the fast track to the American table and dining scene with Brazil hosting both the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, increasing the culinary interest and importing of Brazilian flavors into the U.S. and elsewhere.

Trends to Watch for (and Incorporate) on Menus

South American cuisine has especially brought a new excitement to customers who are seeking out bold and authentic global flavors and differentiated dining experiences. 

Foodservice operators and restaurant leaders are wise to keep these foods on the radar:

Purple potato "sushi" cakes from Toro Toro D.C. | Photo Credit: Instagram,  pamelaspunch

Purple potato "sushi" cakes from Toro Toro D.C. | Photo Credit: Instagram, pamelaspunch

Purple corn and purple potatoes: These purple carbs are well-heeled in research showing that anthocyanin, a powerful flavonoid, is a cancer-fighting antioxidant. Their penetration is establishing itself on restaurant menus and making an appearance at Peruvian restaurant Pasión in San Francisco, which offers purple corn on its menu in a reduction to top off a honey glazed Scottish salmon with taro root puree, sautéed quinoa, kale and market vegetables. 

According to Food Navigator USA magazine, purple corn is inspiring manufacturers to bring new products to the consumer market like Suntava’s non-GMO Project certified purple corn tortilla chips, purple corn grits, and purple corn syrup, which will be used in a variety of production and culinary applications.

Research from Packaged Facts’ Culinary Trend Tracking Series (CuTTS) and data from MenuTrends, a menu database from trend tracking and food research firm Datassential, suggests that related food production and menu penetration of purple corn and purple potatoes are continuing to grow.

Aji peppers like the Aji Amarillo and Aji Panca are also gaining traction on menus, bringing a lighter, fruitier heat to dishes. Aji Amarillo is used, for example, in seasoning Peruvian Chicken and is in the dipping sauce that accompanies such a meal at many sit-down and limited-service restaurants. At Toro Toro, you’ll find the restaurant uses it in a sauce served with crispy shrimp, its Chicharron de Camarones dish. Also at Toro Toro, Aji Panca marinade tops off skewers of beef filet — Andean-style skewers, or “anticuchos.” The interest in these peppers and their flexibility for flavoring will keep them top of mind for chefs seeking to introduce a delicate balance of bolder flavors that complements their dishes well.

Pisco: Interest in the South American brandy pisco should remain strong. Datassential MenuTrends data shows pisco penetration on beverage menus in restaurants is now 1.4%, nearly tripling its penetration from 2009. Peruvian pisco has a good amount of penetration at bars and restaurants already. Small batch and craft distillers have come on the radar and Chilean pisco is also emerging: the Pisco Waqar recently earned a top nod at the San Francisco World Spirits 14th Annual Competition, receiving the Best in Show Unaged White Spirit award.

CuTTS suggests keeping an eye on caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime), feijoada (a Brazilian beef and pork stew with beans) and chupe stews/chowders (a South American stew), amaranth (an Andean super grain) and pichuberry (an exotic Peruvian fruit). The evolving uses of quinoa in beverages — a la coladas (an oatmeal drink), for example — along with today’s successful culinary programs demonstrate that emerging or fringe foods aren’t the only types of global flavors that will win you accolades and boost foodservice sales.