Donna BerryCHICAGO — The annual “What’s hot 2018 culinary forecast” from the National Restaurant Association has “donuts with non-traditional fillings” as the 17th leading food trend, with 64% of surveyed chefs agreeing innovative donuts are on the rise. It is no wonder a number of exhibitors at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 19-22 in Chicago, featured new takes on the traditional indulgence.

Weston Foods, Ontario, a business unit of George Weston Ltd., showcased a donut form — cluster nachos — that resembled four tortilla chips connected. Attendees could choose sweet or savory toppings at the company’s donut bar. On the savory side there was beef chili with typical Mexican nacho toppings, including shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, jalapeños and cilantro. Sweet topping options included varied berries, whipped cream, yogurt, chopped nuts, coconut and more.

Jackson, Mich.-based Dawn Foods Products Inc., sampled an array of traditional glazed, powdered and jelly-filled donuts, along with hand-held treats that exemplify findings from its inaugural Donut Day (June 1) survey of 1,150 U.S. adults, which was conducted April 10-11, 2018. The survey showed that donuts remain a treat for more than a third of consumers (37%) eating one at least once a month.

Classic flavors are strong, with more than 50% or respondents preferring traditional flavors such as chocolate (22%), plain (16%) and old fashioned (13%). Consumers are also interested in trying unique and adventurous donuts flavors.

The leading flavors they are willing to try are: s’mores (29%), mango (18%) and alcohol-inspired (17%). Breakfast cereal (all types), bacon-infused and peanut butter and jelly all tied with 16%.

Research from Chicago-based Technomic indicates donuts are one of the fastest growing desserts on restaurant menus. Donuts always have been an affordable indulgence and chefs have learned in recent years techniques on how to create premium offerings.

The Doughnut Vault DonutThe Doughnut Vault, Chicago, for example, offers donuts made fresh daily in small batches. Once they are sold out, the shop closes for the day. The scarcity of product creates an urgency to purchase, with most days there being a line outside before the doors open in the morning. Though the menu is always changing, house specialties include matcha old fashioned, Mexican hot chocolate cake and double chocolate yellow cake.

Firecakes, a multi-unit shop also in Chicago, offers several unique creations, including maple glazed pineapple with bacon, and peanut butter cup donuts. What makes Firecakes standout is its ice cream sandwiches, which is a donut split in half, packed with a scoop of gelato and drizzled with chocolate sauce.

Stan’s Donuts, with multiple locations in the Los Angeles and Chicago regions, features specialties such as glazed pretzel, blueberry cream cheese pocket, maple cinnamon roll and red velvet. The chain also offers gluten-free and vegan options.

Ethnic innovations are trending. The Donut Savant in Oakland, Calif., offers the Thai Dust Doughnut, which is made with toasted coconut, fresh ginger, kaffir lime and roasted chilies.

The Donut Savant Thai Dust donuts

Supermoon Bakehouse in New York City offers creations such as a brioche donut filled with black sesame cream and passionfruit curd topped with a white chocolate and black sesame button. There is also a chocolate brioche donut filled with salted caramel and topped with a cacao nib and vanilla meringue.

Culinary professionals also are using donuts as a substitute for bread, buns and even nachos.

The Cookery, an Italian restaurant in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., has “The Doughnut” on its menu. This is a basic glazed donut filled with smoked pig’s head, barbecue onion, basil and a spicy maple dressing.

Federal Donuts of Philadelphia is known for such specialties as cookies and cream, strawberry lavender and vanilla rhubarb. For something heartier, there’s a honey donut with fried chicken.

Even the chain restaurants want in on the donut trend.

Dunkin’ Donuts is welcoming summer with two new specialty donuts. The new chocolate cake batter is filled with chocolate buttercream filling, frosted with chocolate icing and topped with colorful confetti sprinkles, while the vanilla cake batter features vanilla-flavored cake batter filling, frosted with white icing and topped with confetti sprinkles. Select locations also will feature the return of the Sweet Summertime Donut, which includes a sunshine design with blue icing, yellow icing drizzle and a glazed old-fashioned donut hole in the center.Federal Donuts cookies and cream donut

At participating Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants, the donut case will feature a summer celebration with new names and designs for some classic varieties, including: Party On (vanilla-frosted donut with blue icing and confetti sprinkles), Strawberry Spectacular (strawberry-frosted donut with confetti sprinkles), Boston Kreme Bash (Bavarian-cream filled donut frosted with chocolate dipping icing and a blue icing drizzle), Chocolate Madness (chocolate cake donut with chocolate dipping icing and a blue icing drizzle) and Confetti Craze (chocolate-frosted donut with confetti sprinkles).

The Tim Hortons chain is launching a limited-edition Honey Dip Donut Breakfast Sandwich, which will be a limited time offering. The sweet and savory sandwich is egg, sausage patty and cheese between a honey dip donut.

The honey dip was used to make the Poutine Donut last year for the restaurant’s 150th anniversary celebration. Requiring a fork and knife, the creation was a donut topped with potato wedges, gravy and cheese curds.