On National Dessert Day, everyone is given permission to indulge themselves in their favorite treat, whether it be a heaping bowl of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge syrup or a sensibly sized cup of honey-sweetened granola. Americans want to indulge, there are so many dessert options on shelf and on menus that fit any diet, desire, or allergy, with more on the rise adapting to how consumers choose to treat themselves at the end of the day. There are still the classic, sweet flavors consumers love but non-traditional ingredients have started to blur the definition of “dessert.”
Classic Sugar and Spice
In a survey of over 5,000 menus over five years conducted by Technomic, the top dessert items are ice cream, milkshakes/malts, and plain cheesecake. The top pairings for all surveyed desserts in general is ice cream, chocolate, cheesecake, vanilla, and banana. Familiar sweet ingredients like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and cinnamon are ubiquitous with classic dessert dishes, there are some modern standouts that reflect a growing need to adopt popular, more complex flavors sought out by the public. This includes salted caramel, bourbon and rum, and dulce de leche. On the rise are flavors that pleasantly mix savory and sweet as the final treat at the end of the meal, with flavors like tofu, cashew, and plantain being introduced to menus.
Bring on the Fall Flavors
With National Dessert Day happening on October 14th, it’s only appropriate that some of the top desired desserts now have a distinctly autumn feel to them. Glazed pumpkin donuts are a favorite to pair with an equally sugary sweet pumpkin latte from coffee shops while s’more flavors showing up in cookies and shakes from fast casual operators shows that consumers are ready to seek out the comforting flavors of the seasons changing to colder weather.
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Desserts are made to be indulgent, but as consumers seek out healthier ingredients in all aspects of their food, desserts need to adapt to become enticing on a whole other level. Consumers are willing to experiment more and actively look for ingredients they know are good for them in their desserts, like chickpeas, granola, turmeric, and probiotics. By adding more nutritious ingredients to dishes, especially within the United States, menus can attract a group that may have skipped dessert in the past, citing calories or their being mindful about their food choices. Creating better-for-you desserts by incorporating vitamin-rich flavors that have proven functional benefits will entice even the most health-conscious consumer.
A survey – based on 1,968 internet users aged 18+ who have eaten desserts or candy in the first quarter of 2020 – by Mintel showed this mindset of healthy not necessarily meaning less indulgent with only 17% of respondents saying they thing healthier food is not as tasty. This is great news for brands and restaurant operators interested in expanding their dessert options, and also begins to blur the line of what a dish needs to be to be considered “dessert.” One big phenomenon that turned the dessert definition on its head was the introduction of dessert hummus. Flavors include chocolate, brownie batter, and red velvet cake blended in with chickpeas and packaged for on shelf, but also served to-go with toppings and a spoon to eat like ice cream from places like The Hummus & Pita Co. in NYC.
There is also a rising demand in desserts that better cater to restrictive diets or allergies. Vegan or raw alternatives rely on strong flavors like turmeric, cashew, and lemon or citrus to imbue flavor while oat-based granola with dried fruits and honey give consumers an easy, mess-free way to indulge without guilt.
Yogurt, once a mainly breakfast staple, has moved its way to dessert territory as people seek out healthier, but familiar flavors to replace more caloric options. Paired with fruit and granola, parfaits are perfect for the wellness-minded consumer looking for both a delicious and functional treat. This is also true for gelatin-based snacks adding more flair, like edible glitter, and popular flavors, like mango chutney, to their selection to attract the wellness crowd, especially for parents seeking healthier alternatives for their kids.