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Island Flavors

Tropical islands represent a favorite vacation spot for many, and those seeking a taste of the island life while at home continue to propel the popularity of these meals and ingredients on today’s menus.

Popular Flavors

“As far as menu trends, there are a variety of things from island nations that are close to trending but don’t have the sample size where we’d make such a declaration just yet. But we have our eye on them,” says Claire Conaghan, associate director, publications, for Chicago-based Datassential.

“Examples of those include “saiman” noodle soup and “haupia,” both from Hawaii; “rendang” from Indonesia; and “bibingka” from the Philippines. There’s certainly potential for coconut cake as a flavor. Within certain realms, the call out of the nation can boost trendiness, such as Beef Noodle Soup(Taiwan’s national dish), which is trending, but even more so called instead as Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. Additionally, several Hawaiian barbecue chains (such as Hawaiian Bros up 20 units over the past year and Mo’Bettahs Hawaiian Style Food up nine units over the past year) have grown recently, which is increasing awareness of the plate lunch.”

Technomic reports that some of the top dishes by menu item incidence paired with Caribbean flavors include Cuban sandwich, shrimp entrée, stew entrée and banana side (which is most often plantains).

Some of the top ingredients paired with Cuban flavors include yuca, rice, beans and pork, according to the report. When asked, 39% of consumers reported that they have tried Cuban foods/flavors, liked it and found it unique/exciting.

Some of the fastest-growing ingredients paired with Dominican flavors include queso (up 28.6%), yuca (up 9.3%) and plantain (up 6.6%), reports Technomic. Over a quarter (26%) of consumers have tried Dominican foods/flavors, liked it and found it unique/exciting.

The operators who menu Jamaican flavors note some of the top ingredients paired with Jamaican flavors include jerk chicken, shrimp and oxtail, according to Technomic Ignite Menu data, Q2 2022-Q2 2023.

When it comes to consumer attitudes, 43% of consumers have tried Caribbean foods/flavors, like it and found it unique/exciting, according to Technomic’s “2022 Global Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report.”

Flavor Fix

Datassential reports that island cuisine types are some of the fastest growing in awareness in its consumer preferences database. Island flavors that have shown growth in the past year*:

  • Jamaican: 6%
  • Dominican: 5%
  • Cuban: 3.6%
  • Caribbean: 2.5%


Equipment for Island Flavor-Focused Menus

  • Oven
  • Stoves
  • Grills
  • Rice cooker
  • Cast iron pot with tight-fitting lid
  • Plantain press
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Flan mold

Source: Foodservice Equipment & Supplies