Restless foodies, home cooks and industry professionals are eagerly waiting for the doors to open on the virtual smorgasbord of new food and drink trends for 2017. With various motives, they're eager to join the rush to the Next Big Things, as decreed by a combo of consumer interest and savvy marketing. Which came first—the Korean fried chicken or the baked egg? Regardless, selfies will be rampant.
So what's going to be hot and what's not, and who decides? Depends on who's asked and what stakes are involved. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. The global marketing firms that serve as consultants to the restaurant and supermarket-chain industries have their picks ("fierce flavors" at breakfast, more ethnic-inspired dishes), as does the National Restaurant Association (savory desserts, healthful children's menus) and even the Wall Street Journal (the versatile jackfruit).
Reporting on likely trends are the many food-centric websites such as www.seriouseats.com, www.epicurious.com and www.eater.com, and national magazines that include Nation's Restaurant News, Bon Appetit, Restaurant Business and Food Business News. They all agree on at least one thing: Though it might seen contradictory, we want to get back to (or discover) foods and techniques grounded in tradition (a hearty stew is always in fashion) while continuing to "explore global cuisines" (what is Brazilian feijoada, anyway? Oh, yeah—a hearty stew).
There are hundreds of well-reasoned (and not so much) guesses about 2017's "hot" list, but no guarantees. For starters, few things seem sacred. It's forecast that kale will be replaced by a yet-to-be-named superfood, which could be seaweed, Swiss chard or cauliflower. Sriracha sauce may be nudged aside by harissa, the North African hot chili pepper paste. Sugar-heavy soda sales are clearly down, and makers of sparkling water and bottled teas are betting their products will become the next favorite nonalcoholic drinks of the nation's 80 million millennials. Though a concern could be that their favorite drinking vessel is the Mason jar and their favorite restaurant is Red Lobster.
As for past trendsetters such as deviled eggs and veggie chips, you'll find them over there behind the box of Cronuts and plate of fairy bread. No, to the left of the avocado toast and stack of maple syrup-glazed bacon, next to the egg-white omelet. You need to move the ramen burgers, the ube and the chlorophyll extract to find them.
We gazed into a few crystal balls unveiled by some expert observers, as an indicative sampler. Continuing their runs from this year will be coconut everything, Asian noodles, gourmet mac 'n' cheese, flavored spirits, "authentic" Mexican cuisine, charcuterie, mocktails, oatmeal with unusual toppings, more farmers markets, grilled veggies, preserved anything, craft beers and cocktails, more flavors of granola, more uses of ancient grains, and creative ways to use fresh turmeric root in cooking, given the excitement over its purported health-inducing powers.
Trends that could take off next year include enhanced transparency in food labeling, repurposing food waste (simmering Parmesan cheese rinds in pasta sauce always works), sustainable seafood (focused on "green" fisheries and improved aquaculture systems), savory desserts (spaghetti-flavored ice pops), artisan cheeses, coffee served in chocolate-coated ice cream cones, more restaurants offering breakfast all day (what do you say, IHOP?), more choices for filling "bowls" (beyond acai and poke), pastas made from grains other than wheat (lentils, chickpeas), smoked and flavored sardines ('cause everybody loves fish breath), bone broths, cuts of goat meat, the "discovery" of African spices (berbere, dukkah), chili heat in surprising dishes (cayenne woos ice cream), and—you'll like this one—that trusted antioxidant, dark chocolate, at breakfast.
Look for more plant-focused restaurant menus (even Brussels sprouts can be a main dish) and vegetarian comfort foods such as chicken-fried portobello mushroom steak, avocado fries and zucchini hash browns and pancakes. Green Giant recently introduced Veggie Tots, using shredded cauliflower in place of potato. Other food manufacturers are likely to similarly tweak the mainstream.
Also, the use of Japanese condiments in particular could continue its roll (ponzu, kelp, plum vinegar), coupled with a general trend for "creative condiments" such as chili pepper jam, black garlic puree, adobo sauces and sambals, sumac and fenugreek, and salsas made from vegetables (beets, bell peppers) and fruits (strawberries, watermelon). What do you think of chocolate-chip hummus, beet yogurt and chipotle-cherry jerky? Don't answer until you've tasted.
For another perspective, we turned to gastronome Ed Levine, the "founding father" and CEO of the James Beard Award-winning site www.seriouseats.com. "You can always tell what the trends are by when the big chains put out their versions," he said.
In the dine-in world, Levine noted, "people gravitating toward a grazing style of more casual and less costly (eating), and restaurants are figuring out how to accommodate that."
One way is with those aforementioned bowls. "People are looking to eat healthfully, but most of them aren't willing to sacrifice taste," Levine said. "However, Sweetgreen has figured out the concept of healthful food that also tastes good, served in a customizable way. It's the hippest, fastest-growing casual-concept chain going (with three stores in the Bay Area). You choose the contents of your combination bowl from lists of vegetables, fruits and chicken, with vinaigrettes that are carefully made. This winter they have 'warm bowls' with grains as bases."
But while 2017 looks to be another game of chutes and ladders for many food trends—including home-delivered meal kits, sous vide cooking and "butcher-to-table" operations, Levine points out that the new year won't be all about change.
"Preserving and fermentation are here to stay," he said. "Comfort foods will always be with us—mashed potatoes, french fries, mac 'n' cheese, fried chicken, ice cream, pizza, grilled cheese. Those things will never die, nor should they."