Savoring Dessert


Even after pumpkin pie season simmers down, desserts will continue to pull in savory elements. Chicago-based research company Datassential reports that herb usage in desserts is up 49 percent since 2012, while “spice” in dessert descriptions is up by 38 percent since 2012. Datassential menu data also show bacon is bringing its salt and smokiness to more desserts, surging 137 percent on dessert menus during the past four years. Other unexpected ingredients in dessert growth mode include olive oil (up 154 percent) and pretzel (110 percent).

Unexpected additions to sweet treats? That seems to be the point. Datassential finds that 40 percent of consumers are interested in less familiar desserts, and while “traditional treats such as cake, ice cream, cheesecake and cookies remain the most popular dessert items on menus, nontraditional dessert flavors are growing faster than most fruit flavors.”

From fine dining to fast casual, pastry chefs and menu developers are responding. Pastry chef Diane Yang adds subtle thyme notes to a lime curd mandarin sorbet at fine dining restaurant Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. At vegetarian eatery Vedge in Philadelphia, a sour cherry cheesecake is finished with za’atar candied pistachios. And the latest seasonal drink at Starbucks is Chile Mocha, which combines cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla spiked with ancho and cayenne chile spices.

For subtle hints of savory, try black pepper, herbs de Provence or warming spices (nutmeg, cardamom) to deepen fruit flavors, suggests Pamela Fitzpatrick Plunkett-Baker, who co-owns Little BIGS bakery in South Portland, Maine, with her husband, James Murray Plunkett.

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Large-grain salt sprinkled on cookies and brownies before baking
  • Pumpkin pie spice for non-pumpkin treats
  • Spiced nuts for festive seasonal dessert flavors
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