A Little Salty With Your Sweets

Savory dessert options penetrating menus at major chains

Caribou's new salted caramel drink line

CHICAGO -- Once exclusive to upscale and independent eateries, desserts featuring savory ingredients are now showing up regularly at major restaurant chains, according to research firm Datassential. Operators are adding trendy ingredients such as salted caramel and bacon to cakes, shakes, cookies, pies and other traditional desserts.

While the menu penetration for both salted caramel and bacon is still low (just 0.7% of dessert menus tracked by Datassential include salted caramel, and just 0.5% include bacon), both ingredients went from being virtually non-existent on dessert menus just a few years ago to being highlighted elements on the menus of major national chains. The percentage of dessert menus including salted caramel increased by 133% from 2011 to 2012; bacon spiked by 150%.

Some examples of how major chains are incorporating salted caramel and bacon into desserts, as tracked by Datassential:

  • Caribou Coffee introduced a pair of items featuring salted caramel this month with its new Salted Caramel Mocha and Salted Caramel Budino.
  • Also this month, Cold Stone Creamery rolled out a Salted Caramel Crunch Frozen Yogurt.
  • Last month, Au Bon Pain added Dark Chocolate Salted Caramels to its menu while Denny's added a Maple Bacon Milk Shake—vanilla ice cream blended with diced bacon and maple-flavored syrup.
  • In September, a Salted Caramel Mocha and Salted Caramel Cake Pop joined the menu at Starbucks. The cake pop features a chocolate cake mixed with caramel and buttercream icing, finished with a milk chocolate coating, caramel drizzle and sea salt.
  • Also in September, Village Inn and sister chain Baker's Square both rolled out a Salty Hog Pie. The pie is layered with salted caramel, roasted almonds and caramel drizzle, all topped with candied bacon.
  • Earlier this year, Burger King introduced a Bacon Sundae featuring chocolate fudge, caramel, bacon crumbles and a rasher of hardwood-smoked bacon as a garnish. Red Robin rolled out a Salted Caramel Shake with caramel sauce and red Hawaiian sea salt.

Other ingredients bringing desserts into the savory realm include lavender, thyme, gruyere cheese, black pepper, chipotle and jalapeno.