While not technically compound sauces, Italian-style sauces are most often used as integral ingredients rather than a topping or condiment. The number of items in the line is certainly large enough and lucrative enough for tomato-based Italian sauces to comprise their own category.
Most Italian sauces are served over pasta or used as an ingredient in popular menu items such as lasagna, parmigiana, and baked ziti. While they’re similar in that they’re all tomato based, there are countless variations in texture, spice blends used, and other ingredients included in Italian-style sauces from various manufacturers. Within the category are items such as marinara sauce, a meatless tomato sauce flavored heavily with garlic. There are sauces with meat and with meat flavoring, mushrooms and other vegetables, sausage, and black olives.
There’s also pizza sauce, and clam sauce (red and white), and pesto, a blend of basil leaves, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic. Variations abound on each of these types of sauces, as well.
The trend today is toward natural, homestyle sauces that are thick and highly seasoned. Operators who in the past may have preferred to make their own Italian sauces should be introduced to the many new products on the market that offer made-from-scratch taste and appearance. Many feature bits or chunks of tomato and flecks of herbs and spices that offer fresh, natural appeal. Even some ethnic Italian restaurant operators are turning to these new products in their ever-increasing quest for convenience.
The Important Category Is Cheese Sauce
Two food trends, in particular, caused cheese sauce to become a high-demand item in foodservice the nacho boom and Wendy’s introduction of the stuffed baked potato (topped with cheese sauce and a choice of broccoli spears or chili). These trends are still going strong in many industry market segments, including fast-food, family-style and casual theme dining, catering, hotel dining, and noncommercial operations.
Prepared, ready-to-use cheese sauce is available in a variety of flavors, from plain, to sharp, to spicy jalapeno for use on nachos and Mexican-style entrees. Cheese sauce can also be used as a topping for vegetable side dishes, burgers or other hot sandwiches, and even over French fries or other deep-fried finger foods for added interest and value.
Barbecue sauce is yet another category whose popularity has heated up over the past several years. A barbecue revival of sorts has brought this traditionally Southern favorite to restaurants throughout the country. Ribs cooked to perfection with tangy barbecue sauce are one of the hottest selling items on menus today. Barbecue sauce is also versatile. It can be used as a dip or as an ingredient in dips, as a tabletop condiment, and an ingredient in poultry and meat preparations beyond ribs.
Formulas for making barbecue sauce from scratch vary greatly from one region of the country to another, and even among Southern cooks. Manufacturers, keeping in mind strong regional preferences, have formulated a wide variety of barbecue sauces, from sweet and mild to hot and spicy, to suite a range of tastes.
Condiments are used to add an extra spark of flavor to menu items. Often, they’re placed on the table or at a condiment station in the dining room so diners can apply their own. These sauces include such items as Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, hot pepper sauce, mustard, tartar sauce, and horseradish sauce.
With the dining public’s tastes leaning toward more highly seasoned foods, now is a good time to step up sales of these produces. Get customers interested in reviewing and revitalizing their condiment selections, with an eye toward giving diners a more interesting choice. Manufacturers have come out with new variations on old favorites, offering different spice blends and textures.
Ethnic Sauces & Condiments
The most popular ethnic sauces used in a broad spectrum of foodservice market segments include Asian-style favorites such as soy, teriyaki, plum, and duck sauces; and Mexican taco sauce, picante sauce, salsa, and guacamole. Variations on each exist, such as lowsalt soy sauces, plain and spicy guacamole, and mild, medium, and hot picantes, salsas, and taco sauces.
While the most obvious uses for these products are traditional applications in ethnic restaurants or in ethnic dishes served in other restaurants, nontraditional uses should be explored as well. Soy and teriyaki sauces, for instance, can be used as ingredients in salad dressings or in meat marinades. Picante can be used a dip with fried vegetable appetizers, or blended with mayonnaise in dressings for chicken salad, for instance, to lend Mexican flavor appeal. And omelets topped with salsa, guacamole, and Monterey Jack cheese create a Tex-Mex breakfast, brunch, or lunch specialty.
In short, encourage operators to use ethnic condiments as a means to expand their menus and tap popular ethnic food trends. A simple change of condiments used in preparation can take one center-of-the-plate item from one ethnic cuisine to another without an investment in specialized products or labor.