Food Trend Spotlight: Mediterranean Cuisine

The sun-drenched Mediterranean region has legendary culinary influence, with a wide-ranging flavor palette and the health halo of high-quality fats, fresh produce, whole pulses, and grains. As culinary trends and consumer demand expand to encompass more global influences, Mediterranean cuisine is not defined by borders or ubiquitous food staples, but rather a broad blend of ingredients, spices, flavors, and dishes, ranging from Greek soups and salads to Italian pasta dishes to Levantine mezze platters with tabbouleh and hummus.

Today, a wide range of countries and influences prove that dishes from the simple to the sophisticated can carry bold, fresh Mediterranean flavor, and lentils are an ideal ingredient to enhance and carry that flavor in nutrient-dense dishes that center plant-based protein on the plate.

According to Technomic’s Ignite Menu platform, lentils are in the mainstream stage of the Mediterranean ingredient life cycle. As of 2021, 79% of foodservice operators, including non-commercial operations, menu Mediterranean cuisine, proving that the region’s cuisine is not only well-loved, but also a welcome entry point to introduce culinary techniques and ingredients like lentils to broader audiences.

Culinary Appeal

Mediterranean dishes can be found at several national restaurant chains that emphasize freshness, flavor, and consumer choice. Lentils feature prominently in menu offerings at fast casual concepts including CAVA and B.GOOD, where salads and bowls feature plant proteins and layers of flavor from globally inspired ingredients.

“Mediterranean cuisine is anchored by a plant-forward style, fresh produce and simple flavor combinations. When creating flavorful menu concepts, think of aromatics like oregano, lemon, bay leaves, and olive oil. Lentils have a natural home in Italian cuisine and are easily adapted to Spanish, Greek, Turkish, and other cuisines and influences,” says Corporate Chef James Bickmore-Hutt.

Thanks to their neutral flavor and texture versatility, lentils can add nutrition to plant-forward dishes just as well as they can extend animal proteins in blended items like meatballs, kofte, or piadinis. Lentils are high in protein and fiber, so they’re an ideal ingredient to help consumers curb hunger while appealing to their desire for minimally processed whole foods.

“Cooked with flavors and ingredients from the Mediterranean region to layer in flavor, lentils work perfectly in simple applications like the Neapolitan staple Pasta e lenticchie or a healthier blended combination like keftedes (greek meatballs),” says Chef James.

Operational Perks

Not only are lentils among the most affordable proteins available, they also have operator appeal in their ease of preparation and cross-utilization abilities. Lentils work across menu categories; once prepared, they can be used seamlessly as the base for koshari or a power bowl, as a side on a salmon plate, and in a blended concept like a meatball.

Lentils also hold incredibly well, adding to their versatility and offering options that won’t increase kitchen labor. The CAVA menu is a prime example, where lentils top a featured salad to add plant-forward protein in a tabbouleh and can also be ordered as the base or topping in a custom power bowl or salad.

Innovation Opportunities

Across all restaurant categories, the fastest-growing dishes paired with Mediterranean flavors are mixed protein bowls, with 116% year-over-year growth, and create-your-own combos, with 45% year-over-year growth [1]. The Mediterranean fast-casual chain Zoës Kitchen offers a strong example of incorporating lentils into both types of dishes with its Power Grain Bowl and the Mediterranean Lentil soup as an option in a customizable lunch combination.

It can be quite simple to add Mediterranean flavors to your menus, especially when leaning on lentils to carry robust, globally inspired elements. Neutral on their own, lentils act as a flavor sponge in composed dishes that bring bold flavor.

“Make sure every bite is just as flavor packed as the last! Operators can refer to our kitchen cheat sheet that teaches the concept of flavor sachets and delicious spice blends that are useful to help anchor flavor in a particular region. Great international street food doesn’t have to be complicated food — sometimes the most memorable and craveworthy food can be the simplest and most nostalgic in nature,” says Chef James.

Menu Inspiration

If you are ready to learn more about innovating with lentils in Mediterranean cuisine, contact our corporate chef for a personal consultation.

[1] 2021 Technomic Ignite menu data