Diana Kelter
Diana is a Senior Trend Analyst at Mintel. She investigates how cultural, lifestyle and technology shifts take shape across sectors and leverages Mintel data across trend observations.

When one thinks of pickling, it’s easy to conjure up an old-fashioned image of mason jars lined up on a shelf, but in today’s foodservice scene pickling is anything but old news. From burgers to tacos, pickled ingredients have found their place on the menu, adding a unique texture and flavor profile to various dishes. As an emerging flavor and ingredient trend, pickling as a preparation technique has shown a 71% increase in menu mentions from Q4 2012-15, according to Mintel Menu Insights. When an ingredient is pickled it leaves the consumer with a flavor cue of what to expect, which enhances the flavor profile of the entire dish.

Pickling as a preparation technique increased 71% in menu mentions from Q4 2012-15

The trend surrounding pickled ingredients is part of a larger movement that puts a focus on the individual ingredients that make up a dish. With the popularity of cooking shows, food competitions and food blogs, consumers have a broader food knowledge today compared to 10 or 20 years ago. As a result, consumers are getting much more granular when it comes to the food they are eating, and they want to comprehend and visually consume as much as they can about the dish they are prepared to order. According to Mintel Menu Insights, ingredient claims such as “signature,” “housemade” and “natural” have also increased in menu mentions from Q4 2012-15. Across the board, ingredients are gaining more attention, and the little details are not going unnoticed.

Classic burger toppings are pushing the pickled trend forward, including pickled onions and jalapeno peppers. Dry Hop Brewers in Chicago adds pickled sweet onions to their popular burger, and Umami Burger is featuring pickled red onions on their Falafel Burger. Even fast casual chains are getting into the pickled topping trend: Bareburger offers pickled jalapenos and pickled red onions as topping options for their build your own burger.

The popularity of the Bánh mì sandwich has also contributed to the rise of pickled vegetables on the menu. Bánh mì sandwiches typically offer a wider range of pickled vegetables, including carrots, jalapenos and daikon radishes. Corner Bakery added pickled jalapenos to the menu with their Spicy Asian Pork Hot Toasted Sandwich.

Mexican cuisine also drives the pickled trend forward, in a variety of classic and unexpected pairings. Tortas are commonly featuring pickled vegetables, and Rick Bayless features pickled onions and jalapenos in a few of his torta offerings at his XOCO restaurant. Less traditional taco combinations also inspire creative use of pickled vegetables. Antique Taco, an independent taco shop in Chicago, incorporates pickled cabbage into their lamb taco; On The Border features pickled jalapenos in their brisket quesadillas.

The rise of pickled ingredients demonstrates that a dish does not have to be overly complicated with flavors and ingredients, since the preparation of one ingredient can bring a dish to a new flavor dimension and create a synergy with additional dish components.

Diana Kelter is a Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, specializing in Mintel Menu Insights. In her role, Diana takes a full-circle approach to foodservice trends by looking at various influences impacting restaurant menus.