After being isolated and confined to our homes for so long, it is more attractive than ever to try cuisines inspired by different corners of the world. As the United States grappled with COVID-19, consumers relied on their local restaurants to deliver familiar dishes to their doorsteps. Now with the restored ability to dine out, we can finally experience all-new menu options that offer flavor exploration to the far away destinations we’ve longed to visit.

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The more flavorful a dish, the more likely it is to transport you to another time or place. If you’re not ready to start traveling again just yet, exploring fun and foreign dishes at your local Middle Eastern eatery can be a great way to fill your wanderlust. The savory flavors in many international dishes leave a lasting impression on those who enjoy them. Now more than ever, North American patrons appreciate the varying tastes found in these innovative culinary creations.

The Middle Eastern Heat Flavor Trend

A delicious trend in all kinds of cuisine is that of Middle Eastern heat. Middle Eastern menu items are rich and distinct in flavor, with the perfect amount of spice. These spicy dishes are seeing a surge in popularity this year, with countless restaurants adding Middle Eastern-inspired options to their menus.

These dishes bring intense flavor with some well-loved spice. They have significant complexities, with their spices ranging from sweet to smoky to sour. The bold impact of chiles and peppers elevates more basic dishes to exciting and distinctly memorable meals. Once patrons get a taste of these unique Middle Eastern spices, they simply cannot get enough.

With the popularity of Middle Eastern flavors heating up in North America, the trend made a spot on our 2021 Top Flavor Trends Report. As a component of our Annual Report, we collected a list of the savory, culinary menu examples that will guide you in exploring Middle Eastern heat. These dishes all exemplify the unique, spicy flavors that will have you coming back for more! Read on to find out all about this delicious trend that is expanding across menus worldwide.

Aleppo Pepper

Made from dried, coarsely ground Halaby chile peppers, Aleppo pepper has a smoky, sweet, spicy, and tangy flavor. It gets its name from the Syrian city of Aleppo, typically being grown in Syria or Turkey. Many restaurants are adding Aleppo pepper to simple dishes as a seasoning. The Aleppo pepper can bring out the more complex flavors in things like avocado and sweet potatoes. The following are three specific dishes that incorporate Aleppo pepper.

Leila’s Shish Kebabs

In Detroit, Michigan, Leila serves beef kebabs that have marinated for 24 hours in an Aleppo pepper paste that includes tomato and garlic. After marinating, the kebabs are grilled over charcoal.

Maple & Rose’s Avocado Toast

Westchester, New York’s Maple & Rose has created their own spin on avocado toast. Their version is topped with lemon juice, pickled onions, and Aleppo pepper flakes.

Little Beet Table’s Aleppo-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Little Beet Table (NYC) has created a dish of Aleppo-roasted sweet potatoes that is a favorite amongst their patrons. This menu item consists of sweet potatoes roasted with lemon pepper, parsley, sea salt, and of course, Aleppo pepper.


Originating in Yemeni, zhug (also known as sahawiq or bisbas) is a bright, spicy cilantro hot sauce. It has multiple layers of flavor, with earthy cumin, coriander, and bright orange zest. You can find zhug in these three innovative dishes from restaurants around the world.

Mayday’s Roast Broccoli Salad

Melbourne’s Mayday restaurant serves a roast broccoli salad topped with chickpeas, Meredith feta, quinoa, cucumber, mixed seeds, and spring onion. The spice is incorporated with a house-made zhug dressing.

Babala’s Fried Aubergine

Babala in London has a vegan menu item called Fried Aubergine. The dish consists of fried eggplants coated in a zhug and date syrup that gives it a spicy yet sweet taste.

Aba’s Grilled Salmon

Aba is a Mediterranean restaurant in Chicago that serves a grilled salmon dish topped with zhug and sweet peppers. This dish has quickly become one of the restaurant’s most popular.

Urfa Biber

A crushed dried chile pepper from Turkey, Urfa Biber features a complex blend of flavors. It ranges from spicy to salty, sweet to sour. It has smoky hints of both coffee and chocolate, making it a truly unique tasting experience. Urfa Biber is being added to many dishes to give them a touch of smoky flavor and spice. That includes everything from savory lamb to rum cocktails. Below are just two examples of dishes featuring Urfa Biber.

Istanbul’s Manti

Istanbul is a Turkish restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii. The establishment’s signature dish, Manti, features lamb, Kunoa beef, burnt Maras peppers, and minced garlic. The meal is covered in a blend of Greek yogurt and red Urfa Biber pepper sauce.

Annabelle’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake

Annabelle, a restaurant in Washington D.C., adds a kick of spice to a beloved dessert with their goat cheese cheesecake. This sweet treat is made with Urfa Biber-flavored honey!

Incorporating Middle Eastern Heat into Food and Beverages

With 2021’s Middle Eastern heat flavor trend, food and beverage companies should learn from the dishes these restaurants have created. For example, Aleppo pepper, zhug, and Urfa Biber can all be added into various dishes and even beverages to accentuate the flavors that exist or add complexity to more basic flavors.

Now more than ever, consumers are hungry to experience rich, exciting dishes from around the world. Incorporating distinct Middle Eastern spices into your meals can give customers that experience in the comfort of their own home or the familiar atmosphere of their local dining establishments.

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