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October 26, 2020

Sweet Beyond Sugar is Just as Sweet

Ah, sugar. An ingredient of innocence, a source of pleasure, and a decadent treat. Yet in 2020, the trend toward less processed sweeteners continues. Menus are evidence, as are shifts in retail trends, as chefs, operators, and consumers steer away from refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners to other sources of sweetness. Maple Syrup, for one, has experienced growth on menus, seeing a +22.5% increase on menus in the last 4 years and a projected growth of nearly 15% to come in the next few years. Most often paired with waffles and other breakfast treats, of course, maple syrup is expanding across the menu to support the bar and offer a supporting role where refined sugar once held the spotlight. 
Honey is also having a moment with the capacity to deliver on many trends and span across an operation. Ubiquitous, loved by three-quarters of consumers, and often trendy when a local source is added, honey is versatile enough for salads, sauces, dessert, breads, and cocktails. Even more, the recent combination of honey and chile peppers has led to a rise in Hot Honey (up +175%!!) to bring another element of crave to adventurous consumers. Cane sugar had a similar moment. As consumers edged away from refined sugars, they were happy to accept the unrefined version as it made its way into beverages across menus. Just this summer, Chipotle introduced their own organic lemonade made with real lemons, turmeric, and cane sugar.
Beyond the familiar alternatives, another wave of sweet ingredients are moving into the territory. Agave, for one, has become quite popular on cocktail menus. With a 4-year growth rate of +40%, this ingredient has staying power. Find it in a Paloma at Twin Peaks or in a Cosmo at Yard House, all recent adds to their drink line-up. Demerara, a type of cane sugar with a larger grain and a pleasant toffee flavor, is growing as well at a rate of nearly +70% in the last 4 years. Very popular behind the bar in modern takes on classic cocktails, we expect to see even more mentions of the sugar variety in the coming years.
Monk fruit, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, and lucuma fruit are getting attention, too. Find examples of each in fine dining, independent restaurants, and behind the bar. Palm sugar is another example, used widely at the famed Portland restaurant, Pok Pok. Known for its Thai street food and Vietnamese fish sauce wings, palm sugar can be found in their Northern thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry, central thai-style spicy green papaya salad, and sweet sticky rice with durian scented palm sugar custard, as well as several other dishes. Coconut sugar is worth trying, too. Made from the nectar of coconut palm tree blossoms and trending as an alternative sweetener, coconut sugar is healthier than refined sugar and found as a replacement in many applications.
Stay with us as we track this trend in the month of October and showcase how you might use alternatives to deliver sweetness with a little less guilt and a lot more creativity. We have some ideas to share, too, and will post on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook along the way. We hope to see you there!

Joe Beitzel
Brand Marketing Director
Custom Culinary, Inc.