Keeping an eye on food trends

January 4, 2019

From supermarket chains to pundits on the morning talk shows, today’s news is full of prognostications about food trends we can expect in the coming year. Grocery chain Kroger tapped their product developers for a curated list, complete with examples directly from the stores’ shelves. Gourmet grocer Whole Foods has compiled a similar list with an array of their top predictions, while food service industry experts were widely quoted in newspapers, magazines and blogs. 

 Whether describing specific foods or dining styles, there’s a great deal in common among the various sources. Almost everyone seems to agree that we’ll see food choices influenced by international cuisines. Not just all things spicy, but a nuanced approach to using seasonings and spices found in Asia, Africa and Central America. Flavorings like sriracha and the Korean hot pepper paste gochujang will be found in potato chips, and the Tunisian spice blend harissa on popcorn.

With continued focus on healthful aspects of food choices, sour and fermented items remain popular. Expect a widening array of “digestive health” options including flavored, drinkable vinegars, kombucha (fermented tea drinks) and kimchee (fermented spiced vegetables) in your supermarkets and specialty grocery stores.

The market for non-dairy “mylks” has grown over the past years. The newest addition to this arena is oat milk, which is allergen-free and fat-free. Baristas love it because it foams up nicely for lattes, and Oatly markets a “barista blend.” But, it has a high carbohydrate content, so it’s not suitable for everyone. 

 Adherents to various long- and short-term diet plans include plant-based, keto (low-carb, high-fat), Paleo (eat only what was available to hunter-gatherer cavemen) and Whole 30 elimination - all of which restrict and dictate what one eats in a variety of ways. We’ll see many food packages referencing these trends.

 Avoiding processed foods has become a mainstream message that is somewhat in conflict with the CBD trend. CBD or cannabidiol is a compound found in the hemp plant (not the marijuana plant from which hallucinogenic THC is extracted). Reported to alleviate problems from aches to anxiety, CBD has been added to products ranging from coffee to candies, as well as lotions and ointments. In the year ahead, we’re likely to see more restaurants and bars offering CBD-laced items on their menus.

Another prediction about food trends is the expectation for more creative sweet and savory combinations. Think breakfast sandwiches of eggs and bacon held together with two halves of a glazed donut, or oatmeal bars spiced with jalapeño peppers. One of the most unusual of these I’ve encountered so far is cheese tea: a tall glass of tea (hot or cold) topped with a frothy head that looks like a dollop of whipped cream, but is actually slightly salty cream cheese.

My favorite flavor combination in the sweet and savory category is salted caramel, as in the sauce drizzled over the dark chocolate brownies in the photo. Caramel is easier to make than you might think and just requires patience as the sugar gradually turns a golden hue. Treat yourself to Maldon sea salt to sprinkle over this treat; the rich sweetness is enhanced by the salty kick.

I’ve included recipes for the brownies and caramel sauce, as well as a chicken recipe with prunes, capers and olives.

And, as we enter a new year, some sound advice comes from food journalist Mark Bittman: Eat real foods, mostly plants, and not a lot.

Dark Chocolate Brownies

3/4 C flour
1/2 t salt
3/4 C butter
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C dark cocoa powder
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a small bowl, sift together flour and salt; set aside. Place the butter in a microwave-safe mixing bowl and melt, using a low setting to avoid splatter. When butter is melted, allow to cool slightly, then whisk in sugar and cocoa powder. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing thoroughly to combine. Add dry ingredients to chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Allow brownies to cool before slicing. Drizzle with salted caramel sauce. Yield: 8 servings.

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 C sugar
1/4 C water
4 T butter 
1/4 C heavy cream
Flaky sea salt

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high and allow mixture to cook without stirring until deep golden. Remove pan from heat and stir in butter and cream, taking care to avoid being burned by bubbling.

Allow mixture to thicken slightly before drizzling over brownies or ice cream. Garnish with a sprinkle of salt.

Chicken & Prunes

1 lb chicken tenders
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 T flour
1 T olive oil
1/2 C chopped onion
2 T chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
1/4 C chopped prunes
1 t capers
1/2 C chicken broth

Place chicken tenders between 2 sheets of waxed paper and pound with a meat mallet to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper; dust with flour. Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium. Add chicken and cook 5 minutes, turning once.

Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Add onion to same skillet and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add olives, prunes, capers and broth; heat to boiling and cook for 1 minute.

Pour sauce over chicken and serve with rice or couscous. Yield 4 servings.

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