The FoodWatch databases for restaurant menus and food magazine/newspaper articles track an array of key indicators for trend identification. Along with the database tracking, FoodWatch uses a number of other sources to validate and enhance trend information. Using this data, I have identified some diverse trends to watch in 2010.
Desserts with a savory/sweet flavor
At the height of the trend craze for balsamic vinegar, we saw many fruit and vinegar combinations for dessert—such as strawberry with a splash of balsamic vinegar used in shortcakes. The newer sweet/savory trend in desserts uses a wider array of savory ingredients. Sometimes the pairing aims to capture the yin and yang of the flavors, sometimes it plays the saltiness off of the sweet, and in other combinations the intent is for the savory component to heighten the sweetness of the dessert. In all cases, the result is a more complex set of flavors with layers of interest.
Lemon and herb combinations have become particularly trendy. Some examples seen in the media are Lemon Snow Pudding with Basil Custard Sauce, featured in the April 2009 issue of Gourmet, and Blueberry Shortcakes with Lemon Thyme Biscuits, shown in the June 2009 issue of Bon Appétit. Other lemon desserts seen in the recent media include rosemary, basil, and fennel.
Among the savory ingredients seen in desserts are sesame seed, tea and smoked tea, blue cheese, and browned butter. In addition, salted caramel has become a very popular flavor profile. The flavor has been seen in many media recipes, and is often used in combination with chocolate, fruits, and ice cream.
Local still going strong
Shoppers and cooks want to know the origins of their food and want to buy from local growers and farmers. At all levels of the shopping experience, consumers seem to have a genuine interest in sourcing local. The occurrences of local foods being identified on menus have reinforced this interest with cooks. Local foods go hand-in-hand with a desire to frequent artisan and family-owned businesses. And, of course, farmers’ markets continue to be popular, many extending their season by moving to indoor locations.
Upscale chefs have taken to the streets. Border Grill has trucks serving tacos, quesadillas, ceviches, and more from Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales” Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Located in Chicago, Ill., Rick Bayless has opened Xoco, which serves Mexican street fare in an open cooking marketplace environment. Cities like Seattle are making it easier on vendors to offer foods in mobile restaurants. From French pastries to shawarma sandwiches, fast food on wheels is offering customers global and gourmet sampling experiences that they might otherwise not consider.
The southern influence spreading to mainstream
A search of chain restaurants found that 25 had a menu item of jambalaya, gumbo, or catfish. The term “southern fried” has gained popularity. West Coast independent restaurants are even identifying the brand of grits used in cooking. In addition, many have discovered and embraced the health benefits of cooked kale, chard, and other traditional southern hearty greens.
Not all sweetness is granulated or white. Look for more molasses, raw and unbleached sugar, agave syrup, and Okinawa black sugar in foods. We may be seeing the advent of specialized sugar much the way specialized salts became popular several years ago. Honey, especially with artisan flavors and origins, continues its popularity. Maple syrup and sugars endure.