Food Trends 2019
Lots of news publications like to predict the next big food trends for the coming year. While much of this is guesswork on the fickle nature of public taste, ample information can still be gained by studying industry trends on the horizon. One thing for certain is the increasing sophistication of consumers and the demand for food that is nutritious, fresh, and high in quality.
A big challenge for chefs and restaurateurs is how to attract quality employees, pay livable wages and benefits, provide quality food and service, and still turn a profit. Enter more fast-casual operations, with stripped down décor and service but still high-quality food. Some operations now employ a democratization of the staff where everyone does everything from the front to the back-of-the-house. By investing in innovative food and beverages, with an emphasis on signature ingredients and well-trained chefs and mixologists, this may be the formula forward so expect this trend to continue.
A couple of years ago food trucks were all the rage, a trend that’s not going away anytime soon, but now food halls are catching on across the country in cities large and small. While this concept is nothing new, think Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, and New Orleans French Market, what has changed is a more artisanal and curated approach in upscale locations. Unlike food courts that feature chains and franchises, food halls have a decided local appeal often built around certain cuisines, such as the Great Northern Food Hall in New York that features Nordic foods, Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia that features Vietnamese food, or the El Palacio de Los Jugos in Miami that focusses on Cuban cooking.
Cell-Cultured Meats and Plant-Based Alternatives
Motherless meats and other plant-based foods that mimic animal proteins including beef, chicken, and fish are continuing to build momentum. Ocean Hugger has a line of fish-less tuna, made from tomatoes, that mimics the texture and flavor of raw sushi. Cell-cultured meats or clean meats have the backing of companies including KFC, Tyson Foods, and Cargill. Enterprises like Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats, and Impossible Foods are even getting capital backing from Silicon Valley investors like Bill Gates. Recently the UDSA and FDA came out with a joint statement on their approach to regulation of cell-cultured meat and poultry that has provided assurance to investors. While industry stakeholders like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (N.C.B.A.) and the North American Meat Institute have claimed that cultured meats are fake meats, there is a reality that this trend won’t be going away.
Now that kale and Brussels sprouts have had their moment, cauliflower too, expect more dishes with umami-rich mushrooms of all varieties, and greens such as dandelion, sorrel, and amaranth. Celtuce, a Chinese lettuce with a leafy bitter top and a stalk that’s a cross between celery and asparagus in texture, may be the thing that grabs diners in the new year.
Fermented foods like kombucha continue to be popular, and recent studies have bolstered the case for probiotics as being good for you. Many food processors are investing heavily in drinks and snacks that are good for the gut. Expect to see more kimchi, sauerkraut, and other pickled foods, along with cultured drinks made with kefir and salad dressings from kombucha.
CBD & Cannabis
CBD oil, made from hemp, is fully legal in the US and is now being used for signature dishes in restaurants. This non-psychotropic derivative of cannabis won’t get you stoned but it’s being hailed as a curative for all kinds of ailments including headaches anxiety, and depression. While few studies have been conducted on its efficacy, it hasn’t stopped the proliferation of it. Restaurants from California to New York are creating cocktails, savory dishes, and desserts using CBD oil.
Anticipate more varieties of beers made from wild or spontaneous fermentation, that uses no added yeast. This method of brewing, similar to wine making or the production of vinegar, creates sour and funky flavors, and are often aged in barrels.
Lager beer is finally getting its due by the craft brewing industry so expect to see more of these crisp pilsners, malty bocks, and headier doppelbocks. No alcohol drinks are coming onto the horizon for those who choose not to indulge but still are looking for a similarly complex flavored beverage. Seedlip, a no alcohol herbal spirit, is one of the first on the market that can be used in mixed drinks. But mixologists are exploring the variety of flavors available through herbs, teas, bitters, and fermented products that can be used to create signature craft cocktails. Big beverage companies are now placing bets on cannabis and CBD infused drinks. Molson-Coors, Constellation Brands, and even Coca-Cola are exploring drinks with added THC to beer and soft drinks.
As far as emerging cuisines expect to see more of the sweet, savory, sour, and spicy flavors of Filipino cuisine. With over 7,000 islands, the Philippines has been influenced by its neighbors in China and Malaysia, and Spanish colonization. Adobo, a classic pork or chicken stew made with vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, sinigang, a tamarind-based soup with tomatoes, green beans, spinach, green mango often paired with calamansi (a citrus fruit), and lumpia, similar to a spring roll, are just scratching the surface.
Interest is building in regional Eastern Mediterranean foods from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Greece that go beyond pitas, hummus, and kabobs. Get ready to explore the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, with influences from Asia, Europe, Russia, and the Middle East too. These cuisines feature beef, lamb, and liver, dumplings, noodles, flatbreads, fermented and sour milk products, root vegetables, beans, and eggplant.
Other food trends include Japanese Tonkatsu, a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet served with shredded cabbage; Taiwanese Stinky Tofu, a fermented tofu dish likened to strong blue cheese, and Szechuan Hot Pot, prepared with a simmering pot of stock at the dining table, where guests add their favorite ingredients that includes meats, vegetables, and dumplings. Jianbing, also known as a spring pancake, is a traditional Chinese street food similar to crepes, generally eaten for breakfast, and topped with different fillings and sauces such as baocui (thin and crispy fried cracker), ham, chopped or diced mustard pickles, scallions and coriander, chili sauce or hoisin sauce.
Cutting waste in the carryout food market will continue to be the mantra for many. More compostable packaging, less plastics, and introduction of multi-use packaging. Large corporations like Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca-Cola are embracing it. Governments from California, to Vancouver, and Australia, are mandating it. Consumers are willing to spend a little more too.
The Robots are Here
Expect to see more automation in the industry too. Spyce in Boston, started by a group of robotics engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, partnered with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, bills itself as “the world’s first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen that cooks complex meals. Robots are making pizzas, flipping burgers, and even mixing cocktails. China has developed the first fully automated restaurant where robots even serve food to guests.