Scan enough menus, watch enough food TV, or simply go food shopping with any frequency, and you're bound to notice that certain foods, flavors, and styles of cusine cycle into (and out of) popularity. There are lots of factors that drive food trends, and just as many perpectives on which trends are dominant. Here's a look at current and recent specialty food and gourmet trends, along with some insight about what we may be eating next:
Big flavor and a back-to-nature focus on healthy eating are overarching specialty food trends in 2011. We're embracing the savory "flavor bomb" that is umami, and whole grains — from ancient to gluten-free — are having a banner year. And manufacturers are focusing in a big way on little diners, with a slew of gourmet options for kids.
In collaboration with food experts and top chefs, spice giant McCormick sets an eye to projecting food trends, albeit from a different perspective: the focus of McCormick's Flavor Forecast is on predicting the unique flavors we'll crave in the coming year. McCormick's specific pairings — like fennel and peri-peri — can feel a little forced. But many of the individual flavor elements ring true as trendworthy. Peri-peri is a case in point: it's the perfect example of the sort of flavorful chile that's been turning up in a range of specialty foods.
To further the case for peri-peri, trendspotters at the NASFT's 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show picked up on a trend toward "heat with flavor." Rather than merely trying to knock our socks off with ultra-spicy foods, discerning producers are turning to chiles that are as nuanced as they are hot. And they're using them in unexpected ways, as in Theo Chocolate's Ghost Chile Caramels. Of course, spice isn't the only story in town — the expert panel of trendspotters had their eye on novel noodles and a surprising chocolate trend, too...
Food trends may be ever-evolving, but the strongest ones are not only slow to ebb, they inform emerging trends as well. So it's interesting to look back at the big food trends in previous years, to see how they've influenced the way we eat now. Take, for example, 2010's groundswell in healthy, eco-friendly, fair-trade products: a trend that started with the Slow Food movement and artisan producers is still going strong, and has even trickled down to big business. That Lipton touts its use of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tea, or Dove Chocolate its cocoa sutainability efforts may smack of greenwashing, but it's good for business. Consumers want foods they can feel good about buying, and manufacturers are keyed into buzzwords that sell.