By Contributor Serena Ball, MS,RD, Teaspoon of Spice

Rubbing elbows with chefs is not the usual company I keep (usually I’m rubbing the noses of my three young children.) But a few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to attend the National Restaurant Show in Chicago where chefs go to learn about new foods and ingredients from around the country and across the globe. So here’s the inside scoop on one trend I saw again and again: Beverage infusions. I sipped beverages that weren’t just naturally or artificially flavored – they were actually infused. The infusions amped up the flavor, color and appearance of the beverages you may soon be seeing in restaurants and eventually in supermarkets. At the Show, I also saw beverage-infused cooking. Think of your favorite beverage and then think about cooking with it!


Cooking with Tea – Beyond the extensive after-dinner tea service available at restaurants, several tea makers told me chefs are incorporating tea into appetizers, dinner and dessert. Chefs marinate meats in concentrated Lapsong Souchong tea for a smoky flavor. Twinings has several recipes on their site: Strongly-brewed tea is used in quick breads and whole grain Wild Rice Consommé with Earl Grey. A chef working with Harney & Sons tea steeps loose-leaf chai or Earl Grey tea in cream and then creates desserts like crème brulee or shortbread cookies; recently, I use lower fat milk and then stir it into a creamy homemade pudding (above photo). The folks at Republic of Tea told me mixologists shake up tea cocktails such as mint mojitos andskinny Passion Fruit Green Tea mocktails.


Edible flowers and ‘new’ fresh herbs – One of the most beautiful recipes I observed at the Show was Herbal Lemonade. Fresh herbs and beautiful edible flowers were added to a large clear dispenser of lemonade drink mix. The flowers brightened the appearance of the drink dispenser and the surprising addition of fresh basil and dill were refreshingly delicious. By the way, If you have a self-declared black-thumb, try growing dill; it’s easy to grow (mine is taking over my garden.) And dill is used in the hot “new” Nordic cuisine.


Beer to heighten flavor – Cheers! I saw beer being used in enhance the appeal of bratwurst (Guinness® Beer Brats made by Rose Packing), mustard (Plochman’s Beer Mustard with Killians) and Oatmeal Cookie Dough Stout gelato (left).