American Culinary Federation Recap

Picture of Jorge Cespedes

by Jorge Cespedes

Corporate Chef

My Flavor Adventures at the ACF

Recently I was honored to speak at the American Culinary Federation’s Food and Beverage Flavors and Trends event. Even though the session was virtual, it was exciting to keep the spirit of innovation alive with a discussion of the latest flavor trends (and a demo of a new cocktail recipe!). 

During the event, I had a chance to highlight Flavor Atlas, Marlin Network’s proprietary trend tracker that helps our partners leverage the flavor trends that are emerging, becoming popular or already mainstream. If you’re not familiar, here are what those three classifications mean: 

  • Emerging: These trends are ready for trial (examples would include adaptogens, elderberry, rhubarb and vegetables for dessert).
  • Becoming Popular: This category includes “opportunity flavors” on the cusp of broader acceptance (examples might include African cuisine, black garlic, CBD, mezcal and tahini).
  • Mainstream: These are flavors that are now more common on menus and in the consumer demand set (examples are avocados, Greek yogurt, quinoa and sriracha). 

With Flavor Atlas, our clients can also learn how these ingredients and flavors are showing up in the food landscape: 

  • Emerging: Ideas might be introduced through subscriptions, ghost restaurants and root-to-stem cooking. 
  • Becoming Popular: These trends are being seen in eatertainment venues, ethnic desserts and modern mocktails.
  • Mainstream: Watch for these flavors in delivery items, lifestyle diets and plant-minded dining. 

Three Trends to Watch for in 2021: 

As restaurants open up their dining rooms again this summer, you’ll see menus in every channel featuring at least one of these popular trends: 

  1. Main Squeeze 
  2. Global Adventure 
  3. Turn Up the Heat 

Main Squeeze 

Citrus is now starring in both seasonal and permanent menu items across all segments, and consumers are starting to try more adventurous citrus flavors like these: 

  • Emerging: Finger lime, pomelo, tangerine 
  • Becoming popular: Bitter profiles, blood orange, yuzu 
  • Mainstream flavors: Uniquely flavored citrus teas and lemonades 

Citrus Quick Facts: 

  • Yuzu has grown more than 39% on U.S. menus in the last four years.1 
  • More than 70% of all restaurants use lemon on their menus, with the most common applications as ingredients in mixed drinks/cocktails (20.9%) or as part of a chicken (7.55) or fish (6.3%) entrée.1 
  • Citrus is a top preferred flavor for consumers as they prioritize “fresher” fruit flavors above those with overt sweetness.2 

Global Adventure 

Today’s more receptive palates are embracing more worldly flavors, and global cuisines provide the sense of adventure and experimentation consumers seek. 

  • Emerging flavors: Fish sauce, Hawaiian cuisine, sumac 
  • Becoming popular: Cardamom, poke bowls, za’atar 
  • Mainstream flavors: Chili peppers, kimchi, wasabi  

Global Adventure Quick Facts:  

  • 83% of foodies and 54% of the rest of the population say they are always looking for diverse cultural experiences and influences that will broaden their horizons.3 
  • Global influence is high when it comes to condiments. Chefs in 2020 cited the importance of ethnic flavors in their top condiments. Examples: Japanese tamari, harissa, Chinese chile crisp, za’atar and Indian raita.4 
  • Over the last four years, za’atar has increased on menus by +107.1%, black garlic has increased by +76.9% and harissa has grown by +52.2%.1 

Turn Up the Heat 

Consumers like “wow” factor and heat certainly brings it. So it's no surprise the desire for traditional “warming” spices and sweet heat continues to grow—not just in foods, but in beverages too. 

  • Emerging flavors: Nduja, pink peppercorn, shichimi togarashi 
  • Becoming popular: Ajj amarillo, Aleppo peppers, harissa 
  • Mainstream flavors: Chorizo, ginger, sweet heat 

Turn Up the Heat Quick Facts: 

  • 63% of consumers like or love “spicy” flavors and foods.1 
  • The most popular spicy flavors on menus include jalapeño (56.5%), Buffalo (33.6%) and chipotle (28.6%).5 
  • Spicy and bold flavors are trending in adult beverages, with chili and jalapeño as the two fastest-growing flavors in cocktails.6 
  • 42% of consumers have ordered emerging and mainstream global flavors from a restaurant.7  

Cheers to Flavor! 

Remember that cocktail recipe I mentioned earlier? Well, we wrapped up the event with a quick demo of it (my favorite part). If you'd like to sample it yourself, here’s the recipe featuring some of the trending flavors above. Enjoy!

Andalusian Sunset Cocktail


  • Spanish Oloroso Sherry, 1.5 oz. 
  • Cynar Liqueur, 1 oz. 
  • Tangerine juice, freshly squeezed, 2 oz. 
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed, ½ oz. 
  • Simple syrup, ¼ oz 
  • Topo Chico grapefruit carbonated mineral water, 4 oz. 
  • Ice, as needed 
  • Tangerine, whole, as needed for garnish 


  1.  In a cocktail shaker, add the first five ingredients. 
  2. Top the shaker with ice and close with the other half; make sure it’s properly and firmly shut. 
  3. Fill glass with ice. 
  4. Shake the shaker rigorously until it becomes too cold to handle, about 20 seconds. 
  5. Strain the cocktail into your glass. 
  6. Top with Topo Chico mineral water. 
  7.  Grab your fresh whole tangerine and take a thin slice out of it for garnish. Make a small cut on the side and place it on the rim of your glass.  

To learn more about the American Culinary Federation, visit For inquiries about speaking engagements, email  

Chef Jorge Cespedes 


1 Datassential SNAP, 2021   

2 Mintel, Trending Flavors and Ingredients in Non-Alcoholic Beverages, 2020   

3 Kantar, US Download on Food and Culture, 2020  

4 NRA What’s Hot Survey 2020 

5 Datassential Menu Trends, 2021,  

6 Technomic, State of the Menu, 2021 

7 Technomic, What’s to Come in 2021