Food Trend Spotlight: Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine offers a rich map of flavor, texture, and culinary influences, from the spiced and fragrant curries of the north, to street food in urban centers, to the herbal coconut-milk based dishes of the south. A tried-and-true fit for lentils, Indian cuisine makes a strong showcase for plant-forward dishes with comforting, adventurous, and unique flavors.

When we look at existing foodservice use of lentils, we see that Indian restaurants top the list of categories already menuing lentils, with 48.3% of all menu incidences, making the cuisine a familiar entry point for consumers who are new to lentils. [1] According to Technomic’s 2020 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, 34% of consumers have tried Indian food and like it, plus they find the cuisine to be unique and exciting. [2]

Culinary Appeal

Dal, a lentil-centric Indian stew, is growing across all restaurant segments, including quick service restaurants (QSR). Dal dishes have seen 16% growth across all restaurant menus in the last four years, and 35% growth on QSR menus in the last four years. [1]

“Dal and other curries encompass a wide range of flavor possibilities, as lentils can soak up flavors from fiery chile heat to sizzling, savory bloomed spices. Dal is the perfect representation of lentils’ ability to provide diverse texture (chunky and smooth) while being filling and flavor-packed! Dal has found great appeal with consumers due to the wide possibility of interpretations. Dal can be spicy, rich, creamy, chunky, aromatic, and filling,” says Corporate Chef James Bickmore-Hutt.

Dal and similar dishes that are anchored in lentils also appeal to consumers who desire vegetarian or even vegan fare that satisfies hunger and offers functional nutrition. Savory Indian stews are often served with rice, and that starchy base can be made more nutritious with the addition of lentils. Cooked lentils provide 12 grams of protein in just a half cup, as well as 8 grams of fiber, adding nutrient density to vegetable-forward dishes while keeping consumers feeling full for longer.

A 2021 survey shows that when given the choice of a grain to pair with lentils, most consumers prefer brown or white rice. [3] Pairing lentils with rice can help encourage those hesitant to try lentils, combining them with a familiar ingredient that is a natural fit for Indian curries and spiced dishes.

Versatility & Operational Perks

Many dishes at the heart of Indian cuisine like dal, curries, stews, and soups require simple cooking techniques and hold incredibly well on hot lines and buffet-style service, as does a rice or grain base incorporating lentils.

Lentils also add texture and versatility to street food-inspired applications like dosa and chaat that are staple foods using lentils in Indian cuisine.

“Look to delicious offerings from Indian street stalls, like Mumbai Street Burritos and Lentil Samosa, that showcase the great cross-utilization capabilities of lentils. Binding, smooth emulsions, and crispy texture are all possible,” says Chef James.

Innovation Opportunities

Recent data shows that many people left urban areas during the pandemic to move to more affordable, accessible places, but they don’t want to give up their favorite ethnic cuisines. Consumers who appreciate rich flavor and global culinary influences will be paying close attention to operators in the suburbs who innovate on these trends.

Indian cuisine is ubiquitous in the menu adoption cycle, and as such, is generally accepted as safe yet still interesting from a global cuisine standpoint. For many consumers, global is the new normal; 54% of consumers have gone out of their way to try a novel global food, and 46% of consumers say they have eaten a global dish in the past two weeks. [4] Millennials and Gen Z show a greater affinity than older generations for global sauces and flavors. Millennials are more likely to love or like globally inspired flavors, including those commonly found in Indian cuisine like nigella seeds and achaar. [5]

Indian cuisine shares similar cooking techniques and spice combinations with other popular cuisines such as Mexican and some Middle Eastern countries, allowing for great fusion using common flavors like cumin, chiles and cinnamon.

Traditionally consumed Indian dishes ranging from curries to samosas provide the opportunity for safe experimentation when it comes to innovating new menu items. Start with the spices, sauces, or cooking techniques of traditional Indian dishes, and you can incorporate them into more mainstream American dishes to introduce less adventurous consumers to new elements while also grounding them in familiarity.

Menu Inspiration

Traditional Takes:

Safe Experimentation:

If you have Indian influences and flavors on your menus, we want to hear about it! Email us at to share your ideas or to connect with our corporate chef.

[1] Datassential MenuTrends 2020
[2] Technomic Ignite 2020 menu data
[3] Datassential Lentil Perceptions 2021 consumer omnibus
[4] Datassential Global Flavors Keynote 2017
[5] Datassential Flavor 2020 Appeal Index