One of the easiest and most memorable ways to innovate on the menu is through mashups. Taking inspiration from two seemingly disparate dishes, flavors or formats can demonstrate a unique point of difference—with delicious results.
Operators who may not be known for international dishes can still bring authentic global flavors into mashup dishes. The natural play of sweet, savory, sour and hot flavors with Chinese or Korean fare can enliven everything from brunch offerings to sandwiches. Think Five-Spice Churros, Mala Fried Chicken and Duck Fat Waffles or Bulgogi Pizza. Sweet ingredients can be paired with salty, tangy or spicy ingredients to bring an addictive, crave-worthy quality to dishes across dayparts.
Another rule of thumb for mashups: consider incorporating familiar flavors into an unexpected format. For example, a dumpling shop in New York is capitalizing on the trend with flavors that would normally be found on a deli sandwich menu—Philly Cheesesteak, Reuben, Lamb Gyro, and Pastrami Dumplings give consumers a new way to experience their lunchtime favorites.
Not only do unique pairings and mashups help consumers beat flavor fatigue, they enable operators to maximize the versatility and usage of ingredients across the menu.
From Mashup to mainstream:
the art of combining flavor
In today’s accelerated trend cycle, classic dishes can serve as a jumping-off point for new flavor profiles. This evolution of “dishes as flavors” represents a playful approach to innovation, blurring the lines between entrées, snacks, beverages and desserts. Consider the birthday cake, which is no longer just an annual baked treat. Birthday cake flavor descriptors can be found on ice cream, jelly beans, popcorn, graham crackers, peanut butter and more.
Another way the trend is playing out is through cuisine mashups. Desire for authenticity combined with interest in fusion fare has opened the door to global inspiration, introducing new flavors into familiar formats. Take a dish like chicken tikka masala, which is now being found as a pizza topping, burrito filling or mac and cheese mix-in. Or, imagine cacio e pepe without the pasta, as a sauce for potatoes, a cracker seasoning or a flavored salt. A little experimentation can yield delicious results!
Mashups Consumer Insights
59% OF CONSUMERS WHO HAVE
TRIED FOOD MASHUPS LOVE OR
73% OF US CONSUMERS AGREE THAT PREPARED MEALS ARE A GREAT WAY TO TRY NEW CUISINES, HIGHLIGHTING OPPORTUNITY TO REIMAGINE RECIPES AND EXPLORE GLOBAL FUSION/MASH-UP FLAVORS WITHIN READY-TO-EAT MEAL INNOVATION.
28% OF US GEN Z CONSUMERS BELIEVE THAT COMPARED TO OLDER PEOPLE, THEY ARE MORE INTERESTED IN TRADITIONAL FOOD AND DRINKS FROM CULTURES THAT ARE DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN.
SHAREABLE AND HANDHELD SNACKS PACK MULTICULTURAL, CENTER-OF-PLATE FLAVORS INTO SMALLER BITES. THESE FLAVOR AND FORMAT FUSIONS ALLOW CONSUMERS TO EASILY EXPLORE UNKNOWN CUISINE TYPES OR RECONNECT WITH NOSTALGIC FAVORITES.
SCALLION PANCAKE STREET TACOS WITH BEEF PHO GRAVY
VEAL OSSO BUCCO AL PASTOR WITH TAMALE
#SweetAndSpicy recipes showcasing the culinary mashup trend can be found on Instagram, with over 173K tagged posts. Professionals and amateur chefs alike post photos that range from healthy to indulgent, demonstrating how bold flavor combinations can bring signature flair to a variety of menu options.
Two Indian Mashups to Know
1. BRITISH-INDIAN CUISINE
Ever think it was odd that chicken tikka, what seems like it'd be an Indian dish, is actually a British national dish? Or ever notice how Indian restaurants seem to be a dime a dozen in the U.K.? British-Indian cuisine is a classic in the U.K., with NPR saying the roots of Indian cuisine in the country trace back to the 1600s when British East India Company merchants first encountered Indian curry in India and then asked English cooks to recreate it back home. Legend has it that chicken tikka masala was created when a British customer complained at a curry house that his chicken was too dry, so the chef mixed up canned tomato soup with yogurt and spices to create the dish. According to Syed Belal Ahmed, who runs a publication called Curry Life Magazine, chicken tikka masala is nothing like you'd find in India, telling NPR that British curry "isn't a dish but a cuisine... a distinct cuisine that's a testament to the innovation of Indian immigrants in the U.K.
HOW TO MENU BRITISH-INDIAN CUISINE
Like the other authentic global mashups, British-Indian is already a classic mashup that came together when two cultures blended together. There's no need to reinvent the wheel when you're looking to take pub fare or Indian cuisine to the next level: look to mashups like British-Indian for offering customers something that may be new to them but is actually tried and true.
2. indO-chinese, aka hakka cuisine
Also known as Hakka cuisine in India and parts of Pakistan because it's made by those with Hakka origins, the Indo-Chinese mashup was created when Chinese laborers immigrated to India looking for work. Many cite Kolkata, India, as the birthplace of Indo-Chinese food, when Chinese restaurant owners put a spin on traditional cuisine to appeal to Indian tastes, such as using Indian spices and flavorings familiar to the Indian palate. Today, a variety of dishes are emblematic of Indo-Chinese cuisine, from dishes like Gobi Manchurian to chili chicken, a slightly sweet, spicy dish made with deep-fried chicken (though paneer is common, too).
HOW TO MENU HAKKA CUISINE
Whether it's a permanent menu item or LTO to test the waters, consider combining Indian and Chinese flavors and preparations.
If Indian or Chinese food is on your menu, consider going back to Indo-Chinese roots by combining flavors in this long-standing mashup that's still not as common in the U.S. as in their home countries. Incorporating dishes like Gobi Manchurian, Hakka Noodles (thin, rice or flour noodles with veggies and a soy-based sauce) into your menu could give your customers something new and unique.
Meet our new Indian-Inspired Lineup
INDIAN-STYLE BUTTER SAUCE
Rich and smooth with a velvety texture and a luscious buttery flavor. The perfect balance between tangy and sweet, with a blend of warming spices and savory aromatics.
TIKKA MASALA SAUCE
Robust and versatile flavors are brought together with earthy, warm and slightly spicy notes. Creamy, with a vibrant orange-red color.
COCONUT CURRY SAUCE
A medley of aromatic spices and sweet coconut delivers a bright combination of sweet, spicy and slightly nutty flavors.
NuBana™ Green Banana Powder is an ideal “whole food” ingredient for creative mashup dishes and products—delivering the functionality of a starch with a fruit label, yet without the sugar or taste of ripe bananas. The gluten-free, allergen-free powder is high in nutrients such as potassium and magnesium. Its versatility extends from snacks (crackers, granola bars, chips and cookies) to coating systems for chicken pork and seafood; batters; dough blends; alternative proteins and beverages.
CRAVING MORE? CHECK OUT THESE SIMILAR POSTS
Datassential, Trendwatch: Global Mashup Trends, December 2023
2023 FlavorIQ® Global Trends and Insights Report, January 2023
Katie Ayoub, “Found in Translation,” Flavor & The Menu, January 24, 2021.
“NYC Dumpling Kiosk to Start Franchising,” QSR, November 10, 2020.
Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2016-2020.
Instagram, #sweetandspicy, accessed December 12, 2023.