Imagine you had the ability to anticipate the foods your guests or patrons really wanted and prepare dishes exactly to their liking.
Enter Tastewise – an AI platform that determines the most up-to-date culinary trends based on an assortment of food data points. To learn more, I recently spoke with Alon Chen, a former Google executive and CEO of Tastewise. Alon co-founded Tastewise with Eyal Gaon, its current CTO, in 2017.
Bracha: How does Tastewise work?
Alon: It analyzes billions of food data points – including a billion food photos shared every month, 155,000 restaurant menus across the U.S., and over one million online recipes – and uses them to provide real-time insights for restaurants, hospitality groups, and food brands.
For example, you can type “pizza” into the search function and discover that pumpkin is rising as a topping by 150 percent. If you search for pizza trends in New York City, you will see that bananas are a topping that has risen more than 164 percent in the past year – and should probably be added to restaurants’ dessert menus (combined with Nutella).
What made you start Tastewise?
My family’s WhatsApp group. My family gathers together for Shabbat dinner, and before each meal, my mother asks us, “What are your dietary requirements this week?” If my own family couldn’t keep track of each other’s diets, I realized that restaurants and food brands must have a much more difficult time keeping up with food trends.
Based on the information on your platform, what will some of the biggest food and restaurant trends this year be?
1) Zhoug: Zhoug is the new sriracha. Zhoug is part of the growing trend of interest in Middle Eastern cuisine in the US. Zhoug is a sugar-free, gluten-free condiment made from 100-percent natural ingredients, so it fits into the Keto and clean-eating diet trends.
2) Bone Marrow: Most popular when roasted, bone marrow is known for being high in fat and packed with nutrients, making it a great option for the Keto and Paleo diets.
3) Truffles: Popular in Italian cuisine, truffles are a fungus that grow only in certain areas and are known for being expensive. Now they’re seeing an increase in American cuisine, finding their way into fries, burgers, and even ice cream.
4) Ube: Also known as purple yam, Ube’s gorgeous color makes it a natural fit for the Instagram generation. With a smooth texture and a mild and sweet flavor that is often compared to white chocolate or a cross between vanilla and pistachio, Ube can satisfy a sweet tooth and the U.S.’s growing demand for healthier food.
5) Restaurant hopping is a growing phenomenon for foodies and non-foodies alike. With more restaurants specializing in one renowned dish, consumers are choosing to restaurant hop and eat each part of their meal at a different restaurant.
What food trends have you found surprising?
Innovation today comes from everywhere. An amateur home chef or a small restaurant can inspire the world to make almost every dish with rainbow colors – from bagels to grilled cheese. Or an Israeli chef like Eyal Shani can get America addicted to roasted cauliflower.
What type of cuisines are becoming more popular?
A very prominent trend is deep specialization. For example, while people will commonly choose to dine at a Chinese restaurant, an increasing number of people now say they’re going to a Cantonese restaurant.
Italian is a generic description, but you can also eat at a Sicilian or Roman restaurant. You can enjoy a Mediterranean restaurant and now, more often, you can also go to an Israeli or Syrian restaurant.
There are also new trends that focus on how dishes are served – to restaurants that serve everything in a bowl to those that serve everything in a pita.
Virtual restaurants are becoming a “thing.” How do they work?
Virtual restaurants are restaurants that offer takeout and delivery options only. Chefs can leverage Tastewise’s findings of unmet food demands in specific locations by opening virtual restaurants that meet local demands. For example, Boston diners want more vegan food, with a $41.9 million unmet opportunity – and this can be leveraged by regular or virtual restaurants like UberEats.
Do you think any of the new trends will change the way restaurants operate? If so, how?
Because of Tastewise, restaurants will be able to better tap into and offer new trends more quickly than ever before. We expect to see many more virtual restaurants popping up to meet unmet demands in their locations. Restaurants may narrow their offerings, focusing on providing a menu of options around one food – like avocado-themed restaurants.