Food and culinary trends offer the yin and yang of global tastes. For every new food, there s a product we re tired of. For every new piece of cooking equipment, there s another to be discarded. For every new restaurant that opens, another one closes.
The American public has a far more sophisticated palate than it did even 5 years ago. Restaurants are abuzz with new chefs, new concepts, new wines and spirits, and new menus. Newspapers, television food shows, internet newsletters, magazines, and cooking schools keep us evolving and adding new foods to our lexicon of favorites. Home cooks are inspired by the past, the present, and the future.
We ve seen glimpses of many of the food trends we ll see in 2008. Now they re gaining in popularity. Other trends are suddenly in the forefront without much warning. Watch for the culinary buzz on these topics in the coming months.
1. Back to the tap
Will there be a backlash in bottled water, as Mintel Global New Products Database expects? Bottled water has been one of the fastest growing beverage products ever, but recently in the United States and Europe some restaurants have stopped serving plain bottled water as consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of shipping water from remote locations to local supermarkets.
However, expect to see more "functional" waters such as those with added vitamins and calcium and flavored waters often with artificial sweeteners.
2. Fair Trade expansion
Mintel predicts more Fair Trade and Fair Trade Certified products appearing in the U.S., Latin America, and Asia. This includes coffee, chocolate, tea, and other products. While there will be more imports (such as European brands sold in those regions), expect to see more activity from local companies.
One such company is Higher Grounds Trading Co. based in Lake Leelanau, Mich., and owned by Toledo native Chris Treter and his wife, Jody. Higher Grounds is a 100 percent fair trade and organic coffee company. The coffee is sold in 5 Star Markets, Churchill s, Claudia s Natural Food Market, and restaurants and food shops in Toledo.
"My wife and I started this company because coffee growers don t get a fair wage," said Mr. Treter in a phone interview. Their nonprofit organization is part of an importing co-operative of 23 roasters around the country. The goal is to source all coffee from farmer-owned cooperatives at a rate exceeding the fair trade minimums.
Higher Grounds Trading Co. supports Fair Trade values of fair wages: cooperative workplaces, consumer education, environmental sustainability, providing financial and technical support to small-scale farmers and artisans in developing countries, and respect for cultural identity.
3. The road less traveled
Organic foods, sustainability, locally grown foods, and knowing where your food originates continue to grow in popularity among consumers. According to Mintel, organic food sales have grown 132 percent since 2002 while organic beverage sales nearly doubled (97 percent) during the same time.
The National Restaurant Association identifies the hot food trends of alternative-source ingredients which include locally grown produce, organics, sustainable seafood, and grass-fed and free-range items.
That s exactly what many locally owned restaurants are interested in. "We were looking for local companies to source our food," says Brandon Herriott, general manager of Rouge Bistro at 6060 Renaissance Place in Toledo. Not only do they use local butchers and a fish monger out of Detroit, they also get coffee beans from the Higher Grounds Trading Co. "The beans are roasted when we order them," he says. The restaurant uses the coffee beans for specialty coffees, including latte and cappuchino. Pastry chef Craig Sims also makes a chocolate mousse cake in which some of the espresso flavors the mousse.
At the bar, the Espresso Martini has chilled Higher Grounds espresso as well as chocolate- covered espresso beans dropped in a martini. "It s espresso with a kick."
The chocolate-covered espresso beans are sold at Country Grains Breads at 6808 Sylvania Ave., which also sells the Higher Grounds coffee.
Using espresso beans you can make your own gourmet coffees. In Coffee Scrumptious Drinks and Treats (Chronicle, $14.95), cookbook author Betty Rosbottom details how to make cafe au lait, espresso, latte, and cappuccino.
4. Easy-to-read ingredient labels
In 2008, many hope to see more food labels that read like a home recipe rather than a chemist s shopping list, predicts Mintel. "Clean" labels contain ingredients easily understood by consumers.
Labeling also is an issue for fish. Country-of-Origin Labeling was implemented in 2005. It requires seafood labels to indicate the country of origin and whether the fish is aqua-cultured or wild. This gives consumers the opportunity to buy wisely, writes Paul Johnson in Fish Forever (Wiley, $34.95). Recipes include Classic New England Fish Chowder, Steamed Clams, and Halibut Baked in parchment with Tomatoes and Corn.
In most American supermarkets there currently is little labeling on meat, produce, nuts, and other products.
5. Small plates, tasting menus
Small portions of food, wine, or other alcoholic beverages is popular, according to the American Culinary Federation.
Small plates that can be shared around the table with friends and family may be part of the success of restaurants such as Poco Piatti, which specializes in tapas, meze, and appetizers from Mediterranean countries.
Early in December, Main Street Ventures The Chop House in Ann Arbor introduced the personalized Wine Station. This dispensing system offers samples of select wines in one, three, or six-ounce portions and features up to eight different premium wine selections.
The customer can enjoy wines without having to commit to selections available only by the bottle. The system preserves the leftover wine by controlling exposure to oxygen, which can be an open wine bottle s worst enemy. The wine is kept at the perfect temperature.
This trend is even the topic of cookbooks such as Small Plates Perfect Wines: Creating Little Dishes with Big Flavors by Lori Lyn Narlock (Andrews McMeel, $16.95) with recipes such as the one for Scallops on Blood Orange and Watercress Salad at left.
6. Niche-focused menus
Food outlets have very focused menus. Karen Lucas at Petit Fours in Perrysburg started with small desserts and pastries. Now she has a self-serve freezer in the dining room with frozen soups, appetizers, and baked brie in puff pastry in three flavors, perfect for entertaining. The customer takes home the purchased frozen sausage rolls, vegetable capponata in puff pastry, or the mushroom profiteroles and bakes them in time for serving.
7. Spice trail
Savory and hot spices are finding their way as flavoring and ingredients in desserts, cookies, and candy. In the Mrs. Fields and iVillage Search for the 30th Anniversary Cookie Contest, bakers took advantage of the exotic and aromatic curry powder, garam masala, and Thai spice.
Chocolatier Joseph Schmidt Confections 2007 Holiday Truffle Collection included Sea Salt Caramel, Mexican Chocolate (with Mexican cinnamon, allspice, and a hint of habanero), Mandarin Zest, Vanilla Cognac, and Pomegranate. ChocolatiQue brand included Saigon Cinnamon Caramel and Verbena Lemon Caramel.
8. Culinary tourism
More and more families are organizing vacations around food experiences.
They take tours of local markets, cooking classes, and learn about food history. Wine trails are almost as popular in Ohio and Michigan as they are in California and the Northwest.
The new year is here, and 2008 promises to be a delicious year in more ways than one.
Contact Kathie Smith at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.