A casual observer, I’ve witnessed a few notable shifts in the culinary world of late. The last couple of years has produced some new food trends, as well as revived some genuine old-timers, along with a few new and timely products. Perhaps some are just new to me (previously enjoyed among more esoteric crowds) or only new to the Pacific Northwest/West Coast.
I am by no means an expert on culinary trends, but I enjoy taking note of things I hadn't seen or eaten before. Following a good many food blogs, food writers, food photographers, product manufacturers, cookbook authors, and social media forums, I see fads and trends come and go. I also regularly check out cooking classes, networking events, new kitchen products, area restaurants, and area markets.
In my corner of the world, I've observed a good many interesting trends. Here are the most notable:
In my corner of the world, I've observed a good many interesting trends. Here are the most notable:
- Street food. While New York City has always had its street-food vendors, a lot of smaller cites (most notably Portland, OR) are enjoying a resurgence of street grub. This can be a fine way to combine the speed of fast-food (we do love a quick bite) with the freshness and variety of a restaurant. The mobile Skillet Street Food truck (an old airstream trailer) in Seattle has a huge following and I have yet to be in the same neighborhood where it is located for the day. It boasts hearty fare, including burgers and poutine. Move over, Ice Cream Truck! Now there’s something meatier!
- Provenance. People are working to make their communities sustainable. Many people are now professed locavores. Even successful chefs are brawling over meat that's shipped in rather than locally selected. It's becoming way more than just a fad, but an ardent way of life for some.
- Grass-fed beef. After the documentary film "Food, Inc." exposed the force-feeding methods of cows that are fed corn (which they cannot digest properly), grass-fed beef is being sought after more and more among conscientious meat eaters. In fact, most humane methods of raising livestock are slowly becoming preferences among those who keep track of their food and where it comes from.
- Rosé wine. This ain't your mother's glass of blush. A lot of vintners are making award-winning pink vintages that are winning over new (and old) wine enthusiasts. I currently have a couple bottles sitting in my wine rack, waiting for the right meal.
- Bacon. Okay, so the love of bacon is old news. But bacon has been showing up in all kinds of strange locales lately, I’m starting to wonder if it’s developing a food-identity crisis. It’s shown itself the last couple of years in the likes of cupcakes, chocolate bars, coffee (!), pancakes, cocktails (!), jam, vodka, and I even managed to acquire some “bacon soap” from a soap-making friend, as a gag gift). I even found a recipe for Bacon Macarons. For real, people. There's also a trend in people making their own bacon at home. Bacon appears to be at the top of its game right now.
- Beekeeping. I don’t know if it was the threat of possible bee endangerment, but something caused a sharp rise in the public interest of bees. There are a lot of urban and suburban backyard beekeepers in our neighborhoods (my ex-husband being one of them). Demand might also be a cause, as people are switching from processed sugar to honey and other sweeteners.
- Gluten-free foods. Where there is demand, new market niches will form. And with more and more people being diagnosed with Celiac disease, this is definitely a new addition to the world of products and restaurant fare in the last couple of years. During some health issues a couple of years ago, I wondered if I might be gluten-intolerant. I looked for cookbooks and products to substitute my regular diet and there were very few at that time. Now, you almost can't walk down the grocery aisle without bumping into Gluten-Free goods.
- Specialty sea salts. Sea salt has been enjoying a huge renaissance in this country for a while now. There are now, however, many unique flavor combination sea salts on the market. I recently acquired my first specialty sea salts ("Truffle Salt", "Chorizo Sea Salt" and "Lavendar-Rosemary Salt" from Secret Stash Sea Salts). Sea salts and salt seasonings have been the talk of the town for a while now, but it seems that the craze is turning into a long-term trend, and home cooks are experimenting more with all kinds of interesting sea-salt varietals. "Sea salt" has replaced "low sodium" on product labels.
- Homemade artisan breads. With the excitement over the "My Bread" and "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" cookbooks, home bread-baking has caught on again like wildfire. The most popular method lately, used in both cookbooks, is the no-knead bread-baking method. Both have you start the dough and let it sit for a while before baking. Lahey's method is to simply plop the dough in a cast iron or stoneware pot, and bake it right in that. Easy baking techniques are making it more accesible to the home baker. There are some interesting flavors of bread loaves that are enjoying popularity, such as Lahey's Coconut-Chocolate Bread.
- Whoopie Pies. I'd never even heard of them before this year, but I have been assured that they're an East-Coast tradition and have been around probably longer than I've been alive. They've suddenly gained popularity over here on the West Coast, and I see at least one blog per week with a new twist or version of the recipe. Home bakers, as well as professionals, have added this humble but tasty dessert to their repertoire of sweets.
- Pepper. With salt having its glorious hey day, pepper is coming right along on its own as well, thankyouverymuch. Black and red pepper are showing up in all kinds of unusual places, such as potato chips, popcorn, cookies, chocolate truffles, and even ice cream.
- Kale. This was always just one of those greens in the market that I never gave a second glance to. Now, everyone is posting recipes for kale chips, sauteed kale, beans and kale, as well as adding it to eggs, stews, stir frys, and smoothies, among other things. It is, by far, the "in" green this year.
- Ramps. A cross between a wild leek, wild garlic, and a spring onion, this green veggie is also getting a lot of press lately outside of its usual habitat (Quebec and South Carolina). I've seen it on so many restaurant menus before, and had honestly never heard of it before this year. It's delicious and I'm pretty much a fan of anything even remotely reminiscent of "onion".
- Tap water. In case you hadn't heard (and honestly, how could you possibly not), bottled water is on its way out. Too much plastic garbage is horrifying when you look at the big picture. People are drinking straight from the tap again, or through tap filters. Stay hydrated, but utilize reusable bottles or just simply glasses.
- Unusual potato chips. I actually first noticed this last year in the UK. There were the most absurd flavors of "crisps" (my favorites being "Scottish Haggis" and "Australian BBQ Kangaroo"). As a joke, I returned home and presented Rick with a dozen different bags of strange flavors (which he actually enjoyed, to be fair). In the U.S., you previously got BBQ, sour cream and onion, classic (salt), and salt and vinegar. At some point, however, grocery stores seem to have suddenly stocked up on scads of new flavors, such as Seaweed, Honey Mustard, Philly Cheesesteak, Buffalo Wings, and Caesar Salad just to name a few. What ever happened to the simple elegance of a lightly salted chip? They are now buried under their Chili and Lime-flavored second cousins. (I guess I'm showing myself as potato purist.)
- Making your own sausages. Until this year, the only people I'd ever known to stuff and smoke their own sausages (except for those working in a charcuterie shop) was my ex-boyfriend's parents from Portugal. Small-town Europeans have always enjoyed this tradition. Now, however, the average American who, years prior, couldn't be bothered since a couple dozen smoked varietals sat in the average grocery store (and many more at the butcher), now seem to have backyard smokers. Now, the home sausage connoisseur is trying their hand at charcuterie techniques. A popular book may have helped this trend along, and made it more accessible to the home cook.
- Organic, single-origin chocolate. Chocolate made from beans from a single region (or even a single farm) are becoming popular. Blending chocolate has been done as long as chocolate has been around. But apparently, according to proponents of single-origin chocolate making, claim that some bean regions are superior and should be labeled, and sold, as such (much like wine). Single-source chocolate "tastings" are sprouting at local food festivals, chocolate shows, and other places. Like a lot of organic produce, organic chocolate is highly susceptible to pests, which make it a harder crop to cultivate, and for that reason, the pricing for organic chocolate reflects that, especially if paired with a single-origin status.
- Sous-vide cooking. A few highly notable chefs, such as Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal, use this age-old, highly technical method of cooking things in airtight bags at low temperatures (well below the boiling point) for long periods of time, often upwards of a day. This is something that experimental home cooks are fascinated with, and many are now using this method for specialty items in their own kitchens. You can even buy sous vide machines on Amazon.com now, although some even more experimental cooks make their own, such as The Seattle Food Geek.
- Raw foods. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They want to be healthy and eat (and therefore feel) well. One trend toward this goal is the raw (or living) foods movement. Many people have embarked on a diet of uncooked, unprocessed plants, sprouts, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains. Raw foodists say that heating foods above 116 F degrees destroys enzymes that aid in food digestion and absorption. For maximum nutritional intake from a food source, it's best to eat it uncooked or barely heated or dried. There are many (un)cookbooks on the market with recipes for raw meals.
- Macarons. Not to be confused with coconut macaroons, these filled meringue confections are gaining intense popularity outside of their native France, not only in bakeries across the U.S. but in private homes. They are notoriously difficult to make--one wrong move and the batter is dead--and yet people are undauntedly trying their hand at various flavors and fillings for them.
I'd say the biggest overall trend is sustainability--do-it-yourself, local, healthy, and artisan products are drastically on the rise, versus the expensive, hands-off, imported versions of yore.
It's fascinating to observe supply and demand, as well as how TV, social-networking, blogs, and books can greatly influence the market, and determine what's in or out. Any food trends that you've noticed in your corner, or some that I've overlooked?