A versatile range of stocks and sauces is vital for piquing guests' interests as they cautiously return to restaurants, while also taking some of the pressure off an under-resourced kitchen. Anne Bruce discovers the latest trends and products.
After months of lockdown, many in the UK have been eager to get back to restaurants and enjoy food cooked somewhere other than their own kitchen. But many diners have used their time stuck at home to perfect their favourite restaurant dishes by themselves, from copycat Nando's piri-piri chicken to Wagamama's katsu curry. Many operators, including the two aforementioned, have even shared tips, tricks and recipes for their star dishes on social media.
But as customers venture back into restaurants, the pressure is on for kitchens to up the ante on stocks and sauces, to deliver a full-on blast of flavour and show them how the professionals do things.
Great stocks and easy and versatile sauce solutions can add power to simple dishes, while also helping businesses push back against the cost pressures being felt across the industry. So, what are the on-trend flavours and preparations when it comes to stocks and sauces, what are the operational challenges of the Covid-19 era, and why is versatility the word on everyone's lips?
A world of flavour
Suppliers agree that consumers have become more adventurous about world cuisines, particularly since the Covid-19 lockdown.
Scott Dixon, managing director of the Flava People, highlights a recent report from Mintel showing that 81% of consumers were looking for a ‘flavour adventure' when it came to eating world cuisines (Mintel World Cuisine UK 2020).
"We believe that, owing to the Covid crisis and the increase in home cooking that has occurred as a result, diners will be seeking that flavour adventure more than ever when eating out," he says.
Flava People's sales of its Japanese sauces and seasonings have doubled through the Covid crisis. "While national favourites, such as katsu curry, are still leading that growth, flavours such as barbecue yakitori, miso and soy, and Japanese mayo are not far behind as consumers seek to broaden their palate and try new flavours."
Wing Yip director Ennevor Yap also believes that consumers have become more sophisticated and experimental and are now looking past traditional favourites such as Chinese and Indian cuisines to discover less common and more authentic flavours from countries such as Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
"Historically, consumers were more familiar with a Westernised take on Oriental cuisine. However in recent years, due to travel and an increasing interest in scratch-cooking, consumer tastes have changed and, thanks to digital and social platforms, there's a wealth of recipes for them to experiment with."
That said, the staple chilli sauce has seen great growth in popularity among consumers and is showing no signs of slowing down, says Yap.
Keep it classic
While customers are undoubtedly looking for an exotic experience, mainstream stocks and sauce favourites are perennially popular. There will always be a place for classic preparations in the foodservice kitchen, especially those that are more difficult to easily replicate, such as a classic hollandaise sauce.
With fewer resources available in the kitchen, and more customer demands to cater for, the key to a successful sauce is that it is convenient, reliable and cost-effective. Ready-to-use sauces can save chefs significant preparation time, while allowing them to quickly and easily recreate a range of delicious dishes with no compromise on quality, comments Alison Smith, global product developer for Mars Food.
"Ready-to-use stocks and sauces are making a strong comeback in the restaurant sphere, largely due to their dramatically improved quality in recent years," she says.
With ready-made products, chefs can tap into growing flavour trends and keep menus fresh and relevant without an expansive pantry. Yap explains that because Asian dishes can include up to a dozen different spices, caterers should look to choose a versatile spice mix that can be used across a range of different recipes.
Paul Saunders, foodservice marketing manager at Major International, agrees that versatility, consistency and ease of use have never been so important in ready-made products: "Having a product range that is extremely versatile is a must. Products that can be used for quick bites to upscale dining are few and far between."
Health and special diet
For kitchens looking for versatile products, special diet should be a consideration. Using sauces that are suitable across several dietary needs is vital in 2020, with more and more customers requesting special diet meals, says Smith at Mars Food: "To make the most out of a single sauce and satisfy multiple dietary demands, why not create a tasty vegan curry using a ready-to-use balti sauce, combined with plenty of fresh vegetables and pulses? You can then use the same base to create a separate balti batch for those who prefer a meat-based curry."
Owing to the Covid crisis and the increase in home cooking that has occurred as a result, diners will be seeking that flavour adventure more than ever when eating out
Dolmio Professional and Uncle Ben's Professional ready-to-use foodservice sauces are all suitable for vegetarian diets, she explains, with 13 out of the 17 sauces also suitable for vegans.
Dixon of the Flava People says that the company has developed a range of 12 oil-based, vegan-friendly marinades and sauces: "Our newly developed Gold Seal cold-blended oil range provides phenomenal fresh visuals and punchy flavour just as well on tofu or tempeh as it does on beef short rib or a chicken sandwich."
Healthy eating remains a key consumer concern and consumers are interrogating what is in their food more than ever before. That means ingredients, stocks and sauces are under scrutiny, says Tanya Lambert, founder of Tanya's Just Real Sauces.
Many sauces and dressings are heat-processed, which affects quality, taste and nutritional content and they also often contain excess added salt, sugar and preservatives. Tanya's Just Real cold-pressed sauces can be used hot or cold and come with no added salt or sugar to tie in with evolving customer demands, she says.
Flavour, ingredient and fragrance company Mane's new stocks range, Trusted by Chefs, also ties in with this demand as it is ‘clean label', developed using simple, natural, sustainably sourced ingredients.
Aside from healthier eating, hygiene is on everyone's mind, with stringent Covid-19 safety precautions in place across the foodservice industry. These could also be prompting changes to the way stocks and sauces are used both front and back of house.
In recent years there has been a growing trend towards offering diners the chance to customise the heat, spice and taste of their dish by providing them with a selection of different sauces on the table, comments Helen Hyde, business unit manager at Tabasco. Chilli sauces, pepper sauces, mustards, pickles and chutneys have been served in everything from bottles to ramekins, caddies to dip pots.
This practice has, to some extent, taken the focus away from using hotter or spicier stocks and sauces as an integral part of a dish, with many being created using a basic stock or sauce on the basis that the customer will add their own additional flavourings at the table.
However, Covid-19 may be about to tip the balance back in favour of the kitchen, certainly in the short term, she believes.
Meanwhile, demand for single portion jars is on the increase, according to Wilkin & Sons, which supplies a wide range of Tiptree mini jar savoury sauces. Simon Dungworth, UK sales manager, explains: "Discerning consumers will always expect high-quality products, and we are keen to meet future demands for new single-portion sauces or special preserves. As demand for single portions increases, we believe there will be more interest in our individual jars of chutneys and relish."
Tiptree's range includes single-portion pots of onion relish and hot gooseberry chutney, which can be used to give an edge to cheese, he suggests, while tartare sauce is a vital product for pubs and restaurants serving fish.
As chefs navigate new demands being placed on foodservice businesses, it is good to know that suppliers of sauces and stocks have plenty of jars of tried-and-tested solutions, available in all sizes.
Creative Foods Europe www.creativefoodseurope.eu/tabasco-sauces
The Flava People www.mrcflava.co.uk
Major International www.majorint.com
Mars Food www.aimiafoods.com
Tanya's Just Real Sauces www.tanyasjustreal.com
Wilkin & Sons www.tiptree.com
Wing Yip www.wingyip.com
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