Foodie Beware: Food Trends for Culinary Enthusiasts in 2016
BY BRYAN LAVERY
For over a decade, I have been a food trend chronicler of sorts. Like many of my colleagues I am wary of anyone who fetishizes ingredients or self-identifies as a foodie. The way I see it, the term foodie has a certain lack of gravitas, almost a negative connotation and is incorrectly used as a synonym for gastronome or epicure. My bordering-on-neurotic ambivalence of the term foodie is more honestly about perpetuating the culture of inauthentic culinary experiences and fake ingredients like counterfeit cheese, the synthetic product known as truffle oil, pricy ultra-premium olive oils and factory-made balsamic vinegars.
Keeping tabs on the trends requires being an avid reader of menus, cultural cookbooks, restaurant reviews and scrutinizing a wide variety of food and drink publications and, of course, reading other food writing. I am interested in how food trends became part of the culinary zeitgeist and shape both the restaurant industry and the consumer at large.
To keep up-to-date on the latest culinary developments, I frequently dine out, attend food events, preview dinners and engage with culinary innovators, early adopters, chefs, farmers, food artisans and “culinary visionaries” in fields like nutrition, food policy and the environment.
Professional tastemakers and trend analysts use a variety of ways to gauge what’s hot and what’s not. I always keep in mind that there is a distinction to be made between trends and fads. Trends are basically a manifestation of our collective appetite. The fact is that most gastronomic trends advance in predicable stages before going viral, unlike culinary fads which are generally seasonal frequently don’t live up to their hype, fizzle out and never realize their potential in the mainstream market.
Chia made into a gelatin-like substance or consumed raw exploded into the health food of choice a few years ago. Every year a new way of eating healthy becomes popular, and this time it’s the movement to clean eating that is beginning to really accelerate leaving the gluten-free movement in the dust. Eating "clean" maybe a subjective term, but it's all about eating whole foods in their most natural state, and limiting anything that is processed or has been exposed to pesticides. Clean is the present-day form of the '60s natural food movement, for the counter-culture that wouldn't be caught calling themselves "hippies” or “hipsters."
Progressive chefs and restaurateurs are in sync with underlying culinary trends when it comes to menu development and augment those developments with their own twists and innovations to propel them in new directions. Breakout trends include, root to stalk cooking (with restaurants serving vegetable trimmings formerly headed for the trash can such as beet tops and zucchini ends) featuring dandelion, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens and even carrot peelings.
Kale has gone main stream and you may as well forget about charred cauliflower, this is the year of both knobby kohlrabi, that suddenly pervasive cultivar of cabbage, and celeriac the farinaceous root that boils and mashes to a silky purée, and can be sliced raw for a crunchy salad. Still on trend are globalized ramen the hearty bowl of noodles bathed in hot broth with ethnically diverse toppings, or adding seaweed to everything from smoothies to salads to popcorn.
As independent restaurant concepts continue to evolve, changing demand creates the need for new ways to enhance the customer experience. Restaurants that continue to grow and even prosper are usually the ones that are most willing and readily able to adapt to changing trends. Today’s modern restaurants are about feasting, sharing, authenticity, quality ingredients and celebrating the craft and tradition of farmers, chefs, winemakers and brewers.
Shareable meals are surging in popularity in restaurants, as chefs cook larger cuts of meat or whole chickens and fish with supplementary side dishes. Other menu trends include fewer choices on menus, smaller plates, tapas, mezze and Dim Sum offerings. Natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave are also trending.
More and more chef-driven restaurants are choosing a different model, based on the Italian concept of contorni: the seasonal vegetable side dish, which you order separately and are served in a separate dish, never on the same plate as the main course — and pay a premium for it.
We are living in an age when innovative chefs wield unprecedented influence, and some of the most creative among them are finding original ways to utilize unfamiliar and largely neglected ingredients. No group has a better outlook into the future of impending food trends than the culinary professionals who drive the industry.
Frequently the cuisine of a culture or country is deemed to be on-trend. This brings us to the convention of cultural appropriation: a practice that includes taking segments of a particular culinary culture, commodifying and trivialising them in the process. A subcontinent can’t be summed up by a curry or a korma. However, sometimes the build-up around a culture’s cuisine can be used as an opportunity to teach people.
Global cuisines have become staples in our day-to-day diets, yet even though the African continent features a repertoire of distinct and diverse cuisines it is still relatively unknown and underappreciated in some culinary circles. Berbere, baharat, dukkah, ras el hanout, tsire and other traditional spice mixtures are expected to gain broader use, as African spice blends are emerging as a fast-growing trend. Tarted up ingredients like grapefruit and hibiscus syrup, preserved lemon syrup and spicy harissa oil continues to be the rage.
Again, our preoccupation with chilies and heat lingers — chili-infused honey is one taste that’s continues to garner buzz. Food enthusiasts like to seek out their next big chili kick, and the continuing fixation for heat. Siracha the ubiquitous red sauce’s closest competition still remains gochujang (Korean chili paste), made from from malted barley and fermented soybean flour, red pepper and rice flour.
Following in Siracha’s footsteps are a variety of other condiments like garlicky chimichurri as a burger topping; smoky, spicy and slightly sweet, Portuguese piri piri (birds-eye chili sauce) on anything grilled; zaatar the quintessential Middle eastern spice rub slathered on crostini; and hot n spicy chicken wings with avocado raita to cool down the burn. I am sure you get the drill.
Speaking of heat, Indian cuisines continue to have their day in the sun, emerging from their traditional confines despite a 5,000 year history of various groups and cultures intermingling with the subcontinent’s diverse culinary traditions. The expansion of familiar Indian cooking with modernist interpretations of the cuisine like nouvelle-inspired tandoori-smoked eggplant tartare; and non-traditional wine pairings are changing the way we look at the cuisine.
Latin cuisines continue to be huge food trends, thanks to a seductive blend of international and native influences. Brazilian Cuisine – Rio de Janeiro will bring the country's seafood stews, grilling techniques and Amazonian ingredients into the culinary limelight when it hosts 2016 Summer Olympics. The black-purple açaí berry, with its purported health benefits, was among the first wave of unfamiliar ingredients coming out of the jungle. Also, think barbecued meats, thirst quenching caipirinhas, and lots of rice and exotic fruit. Culinary pundits are still predicting further international expansion of Peruvian cuisine. Paella is also positioned to make a comeback.
A logical progression of the sushi movement, poké, the Hawaiian raw-fish salad specialty, has become something of a craze on the West Coast. Expect to see it on restaurant menus in the very near future.
The continuing obsession is with aged, pickled, fermented and house-made or artisan foods like pickles, sausages and “vegetable charcuterie.” Fermentation the hottest trend since whole animal butchery, artisan cured meats and charcuterie shows no signs of abating. Made by hand in small batches with specialized, local ingredients, “craft everything” continues to be the mantra.
As the buzz about the purported probiotic powers of kimchi, sauerkraut and miso gets even louder, the lightly effervescent, fermented tea known as kombucha, and the vibrant pink turnips pickled in beet juice (kabees el lift) that add the requisite crunch to your shawarma are about to hit the mainstream.
In terms of mixed drinks, shrub is the term for two unlike, but related, acidulated beverages. One type of shrub is a fruit liqueur which was popular in 17th and 18th century England, typically made with rum or brandy mixed with sugar and the juice or rinds of citrus fruit. A shrub can also refer to a cocktail or soft drink that popular during the colonial era, made by mixing vinegared syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water. The term "shrub" can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made; the syrup is also known as drinking vinegar.
Switchels, also switzel, swizzle or switchy are also undergoing a renewal with several start-up brands bottling the water and apple cider vinegar based colonial-era beverage which is often sweetened with ginger, honey or maple syrup.
From faux cocktails and sodas to innovative brews, rich, creamy espresso syrup with earthy overtones is a new star ingredient in more recent culinary-driven creations and has become a chic mixer in craft cocktails.
The movement for craft beer brought new interest, flavours and sales to the beer industry. Look for this movement to encompass other beverages and culinary items, as millennials are being given the credit for driving upcoming trends.
When it comes to appeal, local is another trend that’s creating quite a stir with craft beer drinkers. And to find out just how important local is, The Nielsen Company conducted an English-language survey by Harris Poll earlier in the year. The results indicate that while local is important across all alcohol drinking consumer groups (beer, wine and spirits), it’s most significant to beer fans. In fact, 53% of beer drinkers in this demo say local is very or somewhat important.
Hand- crafted, local, regional and small-batch have become buzz words and signifiers of trends that provide consumers with false prestige. But what do these terms really mean? In my experience, an artisan is a craftsperson who makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods. True artisanal goods can’t be mass-produced: they are limited in quantity and generally have specific characteristics deemed to be specialty in nature. The trend for “craft everything,” by independent artisans, however small and Indie, does not always necessarily equal a quality product. Foodie beware.
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.