Menus and packaging that literally melt in your mouth, dissolving into a flood of flavor rather than lingering in a landfill. A la minute-made ice cream. Liquid-centered pearls and powders that pop on the palate.
The technologies exist. Many of them are already challenging adventurous diners at high-end, cutting-edge restaurants around the country. The question is whether quick-service customers of the future will forego the familiar for the far out?
Yes and no, says Wylie Dufresne, owner/chef of wd~50 restaurant in Manhattan and one of the best-known proponents of avant garde edibles.
“Although they can deliver tons of flavor, I’m wary of how most people would accept pills and powders instead of food in its familiar form. They might also perceive the unusual offerings to be artificial or full of additives.” But, he notes, something like a powdered olive oil might be a major flavor-booster that will intrigue customers while satisfying their taste buds and their need for variety.
A sprinkling of such a powder, whether made from olive oil or other natural ingredients, on popcorn could provide the flavor and mouth feel of butter or other toppings without the grease and sogginess, says Will Goldfarb, co-founder of the Experimental Cuisine Collective at New York University and creator of Manhattan’s Room 4 Dessert and fast-casual Picknick; WillPowder. Mix and match powders would also allow customers to customize their french fries, notes food chemist and Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) spokeswoman Sara Risch, PhD, as an alternative to the traditional ketchup.
Already Goldfarb is transforming peanut butter and house-made chocolate-hazelnut spread into powders for use with cereals, ice cream, and yogurts.
All of the chefs see ample applications for gel- or starch gum-covered capsules (think mango caviar) that ooze their liquid insides or burst with flavor when you bite into them. And Chicago chef Homaro Cantu’s carbonated fruit may well persuade children to choose good-for-you foods over sugary snacks.
At his restaurant, moto, Cantu serves up graphically detailed and flavor-convincing paper-fish-wrapped sushi and edible menus. But he can’t imagine that customers will be ordering paper fries with their burgers at their favorite fast feeders anytime soon. However, says Dufresne, a similar technology could be used to produce snack-worthy take-out packaging.
A suburban Philadelphia company called First Flavor is producing pharmaceutical-grade individually foil-wrapped Peel ‘n Taste flavor-infused strips that dissolve on the tongue, similar to those used for mouthwash, to allow consumers to sample various sweet food products such as beverages and bakery items. Quick-service applications range from direct mail to in-store point-of-sale to takeout bag stuffers attached to coupons.
Rickey Yada, PhD, a nanotechnology expert and professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, envisions restaurant costumers placing a finger into a machine that immediately analyzes their individual nutritional needs and makes appropriate menu recommendations. And as consumers become more aware of the benefits of functional foods, color-coding menu items according to specific nutrients might become the norm, predicts Diane Birt, PhD, professor at Iowa State University and Institute of Food Technologists spokeswoman.
Whatever the new-fangled foods and menu configurations of the future, it is likely that quick-service success will increasingly be tied to familiar flavors and the use of fresh and local ingredients, says Suzy Badarocco, president of Culinary Tides, an Oregon-based food trend forecasting firm.
Sustainability, she explains, is not just a trend; it’s a necessity for now and for good. — Marilyn Odesser-Torpey