Middle Eastern cuisines are on the rise on restaurant menus, and emerging foods and flavors include za’atar and zhoug, according to foodservice trend experts Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co., and Lizzy Freier, managing editor at Technomic, Inc., who presented trends and insights on May 19 at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago.

Toum, a Lebanese condiment featuring garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, is “coming on strong,” Kruse said, noting its simplicity and versatility. Zhoug, a blend of hot pepper, garlic and cilantro, and za’atar, a combination of green herbs, sesame and olive oil, are gaining momentum on mainstream menus as flavorful components in salads and sandwiches. Aquafaba, the leftover water from canned chickpeas, may replace egg whites as a plant-based, no-waste alternative, she added.

Consumers may be more willing to taste unfamiliar ingredients if they are presented in a small plate or side dish, Freier says, adding that spices, seasonings and sauces are “small, easy adds to dishes that can make something more traditional a little more exciting.”

With 65% of consumers stating that taste is the primary driver of purchase of plant-based products, according to Venice Bakery, consumers are not only looking for healthier alternatives, but also great tasting. Plant-based pizza crusts, gluten-free and vegan pizza crusts from Venice Bakery include cauliflower, sweet potato and beet root.

Winner of a 2019 Food and Beverage (FABI) Award at the National Restaurant Association Show, Venice Bakery’s new Gluten-Free Vegan Cauliflower Pizza Crust provides the growing vegan consumer population a chance to enjoy its plant-based portfolio. Rich in natural antioxidants, cholesterol-free, and enhanced with chia, this flavorful crust provides a wholesome base for any vegan pizza creation. 

The Gluten-Free Beet Root Pizza Crust has a vibrant red crust that provides a thick and hearty option for the pizza consumer. The Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Pizza Crust brings a new color to the plant-based pizza crust category. It’s made with sweet potato, two types of cheese, and fresh yeast.

Bravadough! is one of 3 brands owned by Wild Flour Bakery LLC; both founded by Kim Desch and the direct offshoot of her first career as a nurse practitioner. In 2006, her California practice focused on autoimmune disease and gluten sensitivity. She made it her mission to develop a gluten-free pizza crust that pizza enthusiasts could enjoy.

Today, the gluten-free pizza lineup of Bravadough! consists of traditional style pizza dough (winner of the World Pizza Triathlon with Jeff Smokevich in Parma, Italy 2015 and recipient of the NRA Show FABI Award in 2017), Detroit-style high-rising dough for pan or deep dish pies, and table breads like focaccia and flatbreads.

Pita dough is another innovative solution for pizza makers. Founded in 1886, Gonnella Baking Company, Schaumburg, Illinois, offers foodservice operations the convenience of frozen pita dough balls. This product can be used to make pocket pitas, gyro-style flat pita breads or laffah wraps, providing operators an attractive solution for featuring authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean baking.

Five key trends to watch in pizza

The Ardent Mills culinary team showcased top flour-and-grain trends at the recent International Pizza Expo 2019, where pizza-making experts and enthusiasts from across the restaurant industry gathered. 

Laurie Scanlin, R&D culinary manager with the R&D culinary team at Ardent Mills, says that consumer preferences are changing, “and new flour choices, as well as heirloom and ancient grains, are bringing new textures to crust and meeting the growing demand for plant-forward pizza.” Ardent Mills served up a variety of brick-oven style pizzas featuring ancient and heirloom grains. Here are trends to watch:

The Real Deal

Authenticity is increasingly important to pizza eaters; 49% desire authentic pizza offerings, and it doesn’t get more authentic than traditional Neapolitan-style pizza. Authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas use imported “00” flour from Italy, which is quite costly. Ardent Mills’ Primo Mulino Neapolitan-Style Pizza Flour uses wheat grown and milled in North America, providing the same crispy yet soft and subtle dough as traditional “00” flour without the imported cost. 

Menu Idea: Authentic Margarita Pizza. A classic Neapolitan-style crust made with Ardent Mills Primo Mulino Neapolitan-Style Pizza Flour, topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil.

Simple Stand-Out Ingredients

Transparency in nutrition is a growing trend that resonates with pizza consumers. Simple recipes featuring healthier ingredients are attractive, and the more rustic, the better. The quality of pizza can also be elevated with artisan ingredients.

Menu Idea: Ardent Mills presented a Farm Stand Pizza built with Ultragrain Whole Wheat Flour and Red Quinoa, providing a hearty yet healthy crust with fresh roasted vegetables, goat cheese, pesto and extra virgin olive oil.

Celebration Pies

Seasonality and food holidays offer more ways to create festive eating occasions like “National Donut Day” or “Fall Harvest Fest.” Themed pizzas can capture some of this celebratory spirit and serve well as limited-time offers.

Menu Idea: Mardi Gras Pizza. New Orleans favorites are a big hit in a new format with Cajun chicken, andouille sausage, Creole sauce, mozzarella, onions, peppers and parsley toppings with Ardent Mills Kyrol premium high-gluten crust.

Toppings with Texture

Research shows 80% of consumers wish their local pizzerias would offer more premium, innovative toppings. Consider adding both visual and crave-worthy flavor appeal with unique toppings that create texture. Ardent Mills IQF grains as a gremolata topping allow operators to dial up the “wow factor” by adding meaty texture to a plant-based pizza. Operationally, the IQF format reduces back-of-the house labor and allows for more consistent cook times.

Menu Idea: Mediterranean Pizza. Ardent Mills White Sonora whole grain flour crust topped with an IQF Barley, Quinoa and Spelt gremolata, grilled chicken, roasted peppers, a four-cheese blend, fresh arugula, cracked black pepper and shaved parmesan. 

Mini Mania

As the snacking category continues to expand, consumers are looking for bite-sized options to satisfy their snack cravings. Operators can leverage in-house ingredients to deliver on this demand by using existing pizza dough to create pizza bites, a fun appetizer or a bar menu addition.

Menu idea: Savory Garlic Parmesan or indulgent Cinnamon Sugar pizza bites both made with Ardent Mills Classic Pizza Mix are sure to be crowd-pleasers.