Even as legislators and health officials seek to reduce Americans’ intake of sodium, restaurant menus rely on salt as a differentiating flavor now more than ever, according to a new study from industry research firm Technomic.
Technomic’s MenuMonitor, which analyzes more than 2,000 chains, emerging concepts and independent restaurants, reported that mentions of salt on menus have increased 144 percent over the past five years.
Technomic also found that while salt content in restaurant food has decreased over the past few years, its varieties and uses are growing.
“Salt and pepper have always been prevalent on the menu,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic. “However, we are seeing more artisan, spice-blended and designer finishing salts being introduced broadly across appetizers, entrées and dessert menus.
“Although the roots of this trend originate in fine-dining establishments, it’s catching on in mainstream casual-dining, fast-casual and quick-service restaurant chains,” he said.
Wendy’s, for example, made a significant product introduction late last year when it relaunched its French fries as Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt and put a national advertising campaign behind the item. Similarly, Old Chicago Restaurants are marketing their salt and vinegar French fries as a differentiator from casual-dining competitors.
Build-your-own stir-fry chain Genghis Grill, on the other hand, makes its proprietary Dragon Salt blend available as a seasoning for several featured bowls. The seasoning is a blend of salt, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger and Cajun spices.
Salt also is showing up in desserts at high-end independents, Technomic noted, citing Caramel Ice Cream and Maldon Salt at The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. And Firebirds Wood Fired Grill has a Warm Chocolate Brownies with Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Sauce dessert.
Other restaurants use high-end salts as garnishes to cocktails, such as the Sea Salt Caramel Martini at Ocean Prime and SushiSamba’s Kimori cocktail, which is served with a Nori-salt rim.
Technomic’s MenuMonitor compiles menu analysis from thousands of menus in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Mexico.