Restaurants like to find and embrace "the next big thing," which for 2007 appears to include functional ingredients and exotic spices, according to a Mintel Menu Insights' report.

The Chicago-based research firm identified five "key flavor movements" for the restaurant industry this year. They include:

1. Healthy living through functional flavor: Chefs will explore the health benefits and flavor of antioxidant-rich foods such as red wine and dark chocolate.

2. Latin American flavor varieties: According to Mintel, Mexican cuisine became the third most popular cuisine on menus (behind traditional American and Italian) last year. It has further fueled regional Mexican cuisine (such as Oaxacan and Mazatlan) -- trends that will continue.

3. Uncommon pairings: Sweet-and-spicy flavors-- such as black and white peppercorn paired with fruit. Also more sweet-and-salty pairings.

4. Intriguing flavors: New citrus elements, including kumquats and grapefruit will find their way onto menus. Also floral flavors such as rose, hibiscus and lavender.

5. The "new" spices: Indian and Moroccan flavors -- especially cardamom, chai, cinnamon, cassia, curry, anise, cumin, cloves and coriander-- will surface more often.

Source: Mintel Menu Insights, Meatingplace.com