food trends

Lard Ass? Why, Thank You!

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

Saturated fat is back.
2014 will be the third consecutive year that Americans purchased more butter than margarine. We’re up to an average of 23 sticks of butter a year—a 40 year high but still a far cry from the 72-stick average of America in the 1920′s.

Butter’s decline can be traced to wartime shortages in the 1940′s. Margarine stepped into the void, bolstered by patriotism and specious advertising. It had already surpassed butter when the 1970′s brought a new barrage of health claims and anti-butter propaganda that bolstered margarine’s reputation and guaranteed its reign for four more decades.

Today we have a complete reversal in both nutritional science and consumer preferences.
The myth of fat-clogged arteries has been exploded, and Americans have a ferocious appetite for natural foods. Margarine has regained its pre-war identity as a cheap, generally disreputable product of inferior quality and flavor, and butter is back on top. But butter is not the only great fat that’s been misunderstood.

The health and dining trends that gave a boost to butter have also set the stage for a lard comeback.
Lard has spent decades in the culinary cellar. All animal fats got a bad rap, but lard was especially vilified. We recoiled from its fat profile, flinging epithets like lard ass and tub of lard. In fact, by any estimation, lard is a healthier fat than butter. It’s lower in saturated fat (40% to butter’s 60%), and it’s higher in the monounsaturated fats that seem to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise the good (HDL).

Lard’s flavor is completely neutral–not even a hint of pig–but oh, what it can do for food.
Deep fry with lard and your potatoes will be airy with a golden shatter; fried chicken emerges with a crunch that belies its perfectly moist interior. Lard-cooked beans and vegetables caress your mouth like velvet; tortillas are wondrously supple. Lard brings a surprising lightness to baked goods. Cookies have a crisp delicacy, and its contribution to the structure and texture of pie crusts is legendary.

Sometimes the right food arrives on the scene at just the right time. It’s looking like this is lard’s moment. 

 

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Will Fast Food Ruin the Bánh Mì ?

image via Willamette Week

image via Willamette Week

 

The buzz on Bánh Mì is that it’s going to be the next big thing in fast food.
The time is right for these French bread-Vietnamese sandwiches, which some believe will become as much a part of the lunchtime vernacular as the sub or the wrap.

French bread was introduced to Vietnam in the late 18th century when the country fell under French colonial rule. Bánh mì (pronounced bun mee) began as the traditional, minimalistic Parisian sandwich of butter and ham or pâté on a baguette. When the French departed in the 1950′s, the Vietnamese kept the baguettes and liberated the bánh mì sandwiches from their colonial origins, replacing the butter with mayonnaise and perking up the meat fillings with native ingredients like fresh and vinegared vegetables, hot peppers, and cilantro.

The new classic bánh mì starts with a Viet-style French baguette. Usually made with some combination of white, wheat, and rice flours, it’s narrow and airy, more crackly crust than anything else. Colonial era holdovers like cold cuts and pâté can still be found, but most are filled with lemongrass-grilled or roasted pork, tofu, or chicken. There are always carrot and radish pickles, sliced jalapeño peppers, cilantro sprigs, fresh cucumbers, and a smear of mayonnaise. A properly-made bánh mì contains elements of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy, and crunchy.

Americans were introduced to bánh mì when Vietnamese refugees arrived in the late 1970’s following the Vietnam War. Small bakeries were producing bánh mì for their communities, where they were first discovered by restaurant workers who appreciated the vivid flavors, startling textures, and low prices. Modern cooks pushed the boundaries of what was already a cultural and culinary mash-up, swapping out the traditional meat fillings for meatballs, bacon, American-style pulled pork, and hot dogs. They’re making breakfast bánh mì and bánh mì sliders, and adding contemporary garnishes like kale, arugula, Sriracha, and aioli.

Much of what you find today is little more than Asian-accented ingredients on a French baguette, which is precisely why the fast food world is showing interest. Today’s bánh mì hints at exoticism while remaining familiar enough not to scare anyone. The Chipotle chain has already stuck its toe in the bánh mì waters with its pan-Asian ShopHouse concept, but the real game-changer came with this week’s announcement that Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco BellKFC, and so much more, is diving in. God help us, the people who peddle waffle tacos and pizza nibbles with ranch dressing dip are giving the Yum! treatment to Vietnamese sandwiches.
The Saigon import turned insider secret could soon be just another fast food fixture, served up on a value menu with a 16 ounce Pepsi and a side of fries.

You can find the real deal in your town with the international bánh mì directory from Battle of the Bánh Mì.

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Your Next Nosh: The Best New Treats from the Sweets & Snacks Expo

image via The National Confectioners Association

image via The National Confectioners Association

 

There were plenty of smiles when the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo wrapped up earlier this week.
It’s not just that they’d spent a few days in a real life, sugar-sprinkled Candyland; even better was the industry report. Candy is more than dandy. Sales grew to an all-time record $33.6 billion in 2013, and the forecast for this year, with Halloween, the year’s biggest candy holiday, falling on a weekend night, is even sweeter.
For all the talk of healthy eating, it’s our enduring love of candy that rules the day.

The industry likes to talk about the four S’s: snacking, sharing, simplicity, and sustainability, and they were clearly driving this year’s trends.
Many of the old familiar candy bars are shrinking down to poppable, shareable bite sized bits. Scaled-down Milky Ways, Kit Kats, Twizzlers, and Airheads all come as bags of Bites; there are Starburst, Reese’s, and York Peppermint Patty Minis, Sour Punch Punchies, and tiny marshmallow Peeps, hoping to find a life after Easter. Inexplicably, Hershey’s went in the other direction introducing a full-sized Krackel bar, better known as a perennial member of the assorted miniatures bag. Sustainability shows up in a slew of all-natural, fair trade, GMO-free, and organic labels. Some heritage brands are reformulating to rid themselves of gelatin and other animal byproducts to earn the vegan label. There are new chocolate-covered fruits and grains from Dove and Hershey-owned Brookside Chocolates, as well as limited edition and seasonal offerings that purport to tap into the farm-to-table movement.

With thousands of new treats to choose from, experts say it’s likely that just a handful of new products will ever make it to the big time as national brands with $100 million or so in sales. A panel of judges from the National Confectioners Association, which sponsors the annual Expo, weighed in with their six top picks for the show’s most promising and innovative products, and the event’s attendees voted for the people’s choice award winner. 

 

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doodle_egg_package                Jelly-Belly-Draft-Beer-Jelly-Beans-133429-im2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sour-Farts-Logo

 

top row l-r:  Chocolate Traveler’s Tabasco Dark Spicy Chocolate Wedges, Ripple Brand Collective Dark Chocolate Bark Thins with Toasted Coconut and Almonds
second row l-r: Chocolate Doodle Egg, Jelly Belly Draft Beer Flavored Jelly Beans
third row l-r: Project 7 Coconut Lime Sugar Free Gum, York Peppermint Patty minis- the people’s choice top vote-getter
bottom row: Farts Candy- judged Best in Show  (with apologies. I don’t pick ‘em)

 

 

 

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Even a Genius Can’t Figure Out What’s Next in Food

Blackboard with mathematics sketches - vector illustration

 

If you track enough consumer behavior you should be able to spot the trends.
Spot the trends and you can own the future. That’s why Big Data is a big deal.
But what if you collect all the data, crunch all the numbers, and still come up empty?
That’s what happened to Food Genius.

Food Genius provides Big Data to Big Food.
They’ve attracted millions in start-up capital and have built a gold-plated client list that includes Kraft, Applebee’s, Arby’s, and Safeway supermarkets. The company currently tracks 50 million menu items from over 87,000 unique menus at more than 350,000 restaurant locations. The Food Geniuses work their quantitative magic to provide ‘industry analysis and actionable insights.’ In other words, they’ll spot the trends before they pop.

But what if there are no new trends to spot?
Food Genius has been aggregating menu data and working their algorithms since 2012 and they’ve seen nothing but big flat lines across their graphs. Gluten-free and farm-to-table already have a few years under their belts. Cupcakes and craft beer are just a part of the landscape. The next big thing? The Geniuses can only shrug.

Kale? Cronuts? Artisanal toast? 
They’re barely moving the needle. Food Genius blows up our widely accepted notions of trends. They don’t start on one of the coasts and then migrate to the middle of the country. That rarely happens. Our sense of trends is mostly an illusion, fueled by foodie conceit and an over-heated food press. The data they amassed says that different foods get popular at different times in different places. Fluctuations are small and localized, and overall eating patterns are basically static with only minor shifts over very long periods of time.

This was not what Food Genius expected to find.
The company was hired to keep its clients ahead of the curve. The Genius reports were expected to be predictive, allowing food and beverage purveyors the time to get innovative products and menus in place before nascent trends took hold. 

Food Genius has essentially shifted gears.
There’s still plenty of gold in all the data they mined, and it’s proven valuable in the sales and marketing functions rather than product development. Instead of the big picture of national fads and trends, the company offers detailed insights on a market-by-market, menu-by-menu basis. It’s just more granular than they expected, more gold dust than the hoped-for nuggets. More like food intelligence than food genius.

 

 

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Requiem for a Foodie

nailDo you know what that is?
It’s the final nail in the foodie coffin.
The word has run its course. There’s no doubt about it.

Here’s the unequivocal, undeniable proof    finger right    foodies billboard

You’re looking at a billboard erected on a Michigan roadside. McDonald’s has launched a campaign for its new Bacon Clubhouse sandwich with the tagline foodies welcome.

That’s right, foodies, come on in to Mickey D’s.
The poster child for the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods now speaks your language with its artisan-bunned thick-cut applewood smoked bacon burger.

Foodie was once the juvenile but still proud name for a gustatory explorer, someone with genuine passion and even a hint of a rebellious spirit.
The early foodies broke with the old-guard; they separated fine food and wine from its context of formality and its singular attachment to French cuisine. A Chinatown noodle joint could achieve the same stature as haute cuisine on the Upper East Side. A single peach could be as sublimely pleasurable as a Grand Marnier soufflé. The true foodie could properly enjoy both.

Today’s foodie is a different breed.
Years of over-hyped foodism took care of that, treating food as an emblem of status and lifestyle and turning the food-loving foodies into conspicuous consumers of consumption. The McDonald’s promotion can’t be blamed for tarnishing the image of foodies. That damage was already done. The foodie moniker, for a while now, has stood for nothing more than an overweening interest in food accompanied by self-involved, romanticized pretentions. By co-opting the name, the fast food giant is just helping it along to its deservedly early grave.

tombstone (1)

 

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Caffeinated Communal Cat Companionship

image via Chonostöff

image via Chonostöff

 

There are a lot of obstacles on the path to opening the first U.S. cat cafés.
Cat allergy sufferers and animal welfare organizations need to be placated. There are health codes to navigate. And of course there’s the matter of the litter boxes.

What, you might be wondering, are cat cafés?
A cat café is just what it sounds like: a hot beverage, a little nosh, and a whole bunch of kitty cats. Popular in Japan—40 in Tokyo alone, at last count— the bizarre trend first spread to about a dozen European cities and now it’s arrived on our shores. The Bay Area is leading the way with the soon to be open Cat Town Café in Oakland and San Francisco’s KitTea, while Los Angeles, Portland (OR), Montreal, and Vancouver have cat café projects in various stages of development.

In Japanese cities, where household pets are a rarity, the cafés are seen as a kind of relaxation therapy. There are specialty cat cafés featuring specific breeds, or just black cats, or all fat cats. Japan also has rabbit cafés and goat cafés, and currently there’s a penguin bar craze sweeping the country. The phenomenon travels remarkably well: Paris’ Le Café des Chats is already a roaring success with weekend slots booked up to three weeks in advance, and in London, within hours of the announced opening, the website for Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium crashed as 3,000 cat fanciers tried to book at once.

Commingling the species.
Some locales permit customers to mingle freely, cappuccino in hand, with the felines in residence, while other health codes require a separation between food-ordering areas and cat-interaction space. All of the cafés have human-free zones to enable kitty timeouts for the inevitable bouts of hissing, shedding, hairballs, or other calls of nature. The best of them maintain strict human-animal ratios and keep tabs on feline happiness through cat behavioral consultants.

Now if we could just do something about all those LOL cat memes…

 

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The Food Avoiders

 

food-allergy

Contemporary eating habits have given rise to a whole new segment of the food market. The industry is calling them food avoiders.
These are people who read labels for the un-ingredients. They’re more interested in what’s not in their food than what’s in it.

Food avoidance is way of life for tens of millions of American consumers.
Some avoid certain foods because of allergies and sensitivities or specific health problems like celiac disease, diabetes, or lactose intolerance, but they’re in the minority. Most are opting out of certain foods and ingredients as a lifestyle choice.

Eat this! Don’t eat that!
There’s a steady barrage of nutritional advice and medical headlines, and they usually contradict earlier messages. Should we drink red wine for heart health or avoid it because of liver disease? Are eggs high quality protein or little cholesterol bombs? Are we eating butter this week? Additives, dyes, GMOs, gluten; we eye our plates warily, shunning those foods that make us most anxious.

Marketers love the food avoiders.
They get to charge a clean label premium to a larger share of the market than is medically or nutritionally justified. Take gluten-free products: less than one per cent of the population needs to avoid gluten but more than 29 per cent chooses to avoid it even though it’s estimated that a gluten-free diet can double the cost of groceries. Surveys conducted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness show that the number one stressor for celiac patients is not the disease itself but the cost of the diet.

It’s a fine line between food avoidance and food fear.
Americans have a love/hate relationship with food based on an eating history full of pesudo-scientific trends that emphasized discipline over pleasure. Now the American Psychiatric Association is considering recognizing Selective Eating Disorder as a medical condition. A task force has been convened to study and categorize finicky eating in adults (known as the Food F.A.D. Study). Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched the first public registry of picky eaters that has already attracted thousands of respondents.

The late, great Julia Child had some advice for food avoiders:
“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.”

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Money to Spend and a Full Set of Teeth: Eating with the Baby Boom Generation

tabasco bottle

 

Baby boomers are rekindling the fire in their bellies, and it’s changing the way America eats.
Take a quick stroll down any supermarket aisle and you’ll see how manufacturers are amping up the flavors with mintier chewing gum, darker chocolates, fruitier juice drinks, and spicier chips.  Iceberg lettuce has given way to arugula, mayonnaise to garlic aioli, yellow mustard to dijon.

Why is hot so hot?
Some of the new-found love of big and bold tastes come from societal changes that have broadened America’s definition of the mainstream. Immigrant populations have introduced complex, high-octane flavors like wasabi, chili-lime, and ancho and chipotle peppers. As a nation, we travel more, eat out often, and have a slew of new food media that have informed the tastes of recent generations.

Food scientists and marketers acknowledge the immigrant influence, but they point to another demographic shift. 
The baby boom generation is getting old. Some time around age 40, the nerve receptors in the nose and tongue begin to diminish in number and sensitivity. Smells are muted and flavors are less distinct. That means that 80 million boomers are demanding that flavors be torqued so they can recapture the taste sensations of their younger days.

Unlike previous generations, the baby boomers have reached middle age with their teeth intact, broadened appetites, and the wealth to indulge the demands of their tastebuds. They are by far the single largest and most influential demographic group in history, and they have the spending power to disrupt the entire food market.

The boomers’ shifting preferences are also being passed down to children and grandchildren, shaping the tastes of younger generations. Growing up with pesto and peppers, even very young children are demonstrating a yen for boldly pronounced flavors. The under-13 set cites Chinese food as its favorite, followed by Mexican, Japanese, Italian and, in fifth place, American food. Quesadillas have replaced grilled cheese sandwiches on restaurant kiddie menus. Sushi is the new fishsticks.

Sweeter, spicier, bigger, bolder: it looks like the new flavor profile is here to stay.

 

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Breakfast meets Dinner, Sweet Meets Savory. It Has to be Chicken and Waffles.

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Chicken and waffles, once a little-known regional oddity, has hit the big time.
It’s on the menu at IHOP. It’s a Lay’s potato chip flavor. National fast food chains are testing out a sandwich version (Burger King), chicken nuggets (Popeye’s), and a chicken-filled waffle-shelled taco (Taco Bell).

Brunchers everywhere are rejoicing.
Chicken and waffles brings together the fatty, meaty, saltiness of fried chicken, the sticky sweetness of maple syrup, and a rich, crisp waffle. The classic brunch dilemma— sweet or savory?— is a thing of the past.

It’s not clear who we should thank [some might say blame] for this inspired combination.
Some food historians see a link to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. Others cite southern soul food origins, pointing to the pre-Civil War kitchen of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello where his kitchen staff of slaves would have encountered the nation’s first imported waffle iron. The dish’s current popularity can be traced to its 20th century resurgence on both the east and west coasts. In New York’s Harlem, chicken and waffles was a staple on the menu of the Wells Supper Club. An after-hours gathering place for Jazz Age club-goers, the Wells legend tells us that the combination was a happy compromise made in the wee hours—it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast, so both meals were served on a single plate. The dish hit the west coast in the 1970′s where it was equally well-suited to the midnight rambles of the local youth culture. Roscoe’s chain of soul food restaurants was a favorite late-night haunt of Los Angeles stoners and the Hollywood crowd. And now we have bastardized versions turning up on 99¢ ‘value menus’ at thousands of fast food outlets. If anyone is doubting its ascendancy, that’s all the proof you need.

The culinary mashup can still baffle the uninitiated.
Is it breakfast or dinner? Is it two dishes sitting side-by-side or should it be eaten as a single entity? With maple syrup, really? How about butter? Gravy? Hot sauce?

Yes to all!
Crunchy, juicy, spicy, crispy, fluffy, sweet, and salty, plus a hit of sticky maple—it’s a heck of a forkful.

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New Snacks Get the Junk Out of Junk Food

Snacking gets a bad rap.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. A well-chosen snack will stave off hunger, boost your energy, and supply your body with important nutrients. What’s wrong is that we reach too often for the empty calories of junk food.

Lucky for us that there’s a new generation of healthier snack foods that mimic the crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty foods we crave but without the fat and sugar overload.

ohsoHealthy chocolate
Lots of the new snacks are pushing the functional properties of chocolate. When the cacoa content (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form) reaches around 70 percent, it crowds out the milk, sugar, and butterfat, and you get a big, healthy dose of antioxidants and heart benefits. Look for Wellness Cacao, a fruity French line, the probiotic Ohso bars, and IQ Superfood Chocolate.

Green Wave Smoothie Pops

 

Kale lollies
Will nothing stop the march of the kale evangelists? Forget Good Humor bars; it’s all about kale ice lollies like Greenway Smoothie Pops.

 

WheyThins-SourCreamChive-960x960Not Wheat Thins. Whey Thins.
Whey is the liquid remaining in cheese making after the curds are strained out. A serving of Wheat Thins crackers delivers 2 grams of protein in 140 calories. A 100-calorie pack of Whey Thins packs in 10 grams of protein, and it comes in snacky flavors like sour cream and chive and barbecue.

 

Chia_Pod_foto_3Chia snacks
Chia is an ancient grain that is a great source of protein, omega-3, fiber, and slow-release carbohydrates. Look for it in new on-the-go healthy snack foods like Chia Pods and Chia Shots.

EPIC_Bars_520_668_85

 

The new jerky
It’s not just beef anymore. EPIC bars are high protein jerky snacks made from turkey, bison, and beef. The animals are all grass-fed and the bars combine lightly-smoked jerky with nuts and dried fruits.

ips

 

Egg-white crisps
Intelligent Protein Snacks are air-puffed chips of egg white and corn that are much higher in protein and lower in fat and sodium than traditional chips. Since the term ‘egg white crisps’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it, the company is hoping they’ll become known by the nickname ips (rhymes with chips).

blue-hill-savory-yogurt_600x900

 

 

Savory yogurt
Who said yogurt has to contain fruit? Premium brands are losing the sugary flavorings for naturally sweet vegetables like butternut squash, carrot, tomato, beet, and parsnip. Yogurt makers are betting that there’s still room in the refrigerator case among all those Greeks.

 

We are truly a nation of noshers with most Americans skipping meals but snacking so frequently that we have pushed daily eating occasions up to an average of 10 a day. You can read more about the snacking phenomenon at Gigabiting’s Life has Become One Continuous Snack.

Stay on top of the latest snacking trends with a subscription service like Nature Box. Choose a box size of 5, 10, or 20 snacks, and then customize your snacking preferences with dozens of taste and dietary options, and every month you’ll receive a selection of all-natural, high quality snacks.

 

 

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Salt and Sugar: The dizzy dance on your tongue

kitchen crochet via iheartamicute

Prosciutto and melon.
French fries with ketchup. And of course the legendary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
It happens when salt and sugar form an unsteady alliance; distinct and unblended but properly balanced.

Lately we have spotted salt sneaking its way into more and more desserts. Of course salt has always had a place in baking– a small amount acts as a preservative, aids browning, and brings flavors into focus.  Forget to add salt to bread or a pie crust and it can end up tasting like cardboard. But this new breed of desserts features salt in a more prominent role. The salt content is higher, and it might even dust the top of a cake or a chocolate truffle like powdered sugar.

Salted desserts are nothing new in other cultures. There are salted Chinese egg custards, Iranian salted watermelon, and salty Dutch licorice. Not coincidentally, sugar and salt are both simple substances that have treated palates since prehistoric times. Modern techniques have evolved for harvesting and processing, but traditional, even ancient methods, still bring much of our sugar and salt to the table.

The current salty sweets trend in the U.S. goes back about years ago when French fleur de sel caramels burst onto the candy scene. The candy came to us from the Brittany region of France, an area known for both abundant dairy production and locally harvested salt, where there’s logically a long-standing tradition of combining the two in salted caramels. The added salt helps to bring out the browned butter flavor and balances the overwhelming sweetness that is typical of caramel. Brittany caramels first captured the attention of chefs who found that its complex, nuanced flavors took well to a variety of treatments. Salted caramels have since found their way into the mainstream with salted caramel products like Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Starbucks cocoa, and Wal-Mart store brand chocolate truffles.

Sweet tooth or salt tooth? Why should you have to choose? 

 

 

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Move Over, Cows. Almond Milk Has Arrived.

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate

Got milk? Gotten milk recently? 
The dairy case is overflowing with milk alternatives—creamy liquids derived from non-dairy sources. Alt-milk is a hot commodity, even as cow’s milk has been in a decades-long decline. And it’s not just the lactose-intolerant or dairy-allergic who are buying it. TV commercials are daring consumers to try it just for the taste.

Fat, cholesterol, animal welfare, pesticides, GMOs….there are plenty of reasons to give up dairy milk.
We know that a cow’s life on a dairy farm is hardly the bucolic idyll of our imaginations. Supporters of animal rights and anyone looking to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics are all on the lookout for alternatives to large-scale dairy producers. There are also vegans, the allergic and lactose intolerant, and anyone looking to reduce fat and cholesterol.

Most people, when they first look beyond dairy milk, make a stop at soy milk. But there is growing awareness that soy is a high spray, intensively farmed, rain forest-depleting crop, plus most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified. There are also concerns that the estrogen-like chemicals naturally occurring in soy have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, and doctors are recommending that we limit our soy intake.

Nut milk first appeared on supermarkets shelves in the late 1990′s when their square, shelf-stable boxes were mostly relegated to the natural and health food aisles. The game-changer took place at the end of 2009 when almond mild was repackaged as a fresh beverage and was slotted into the refrigerator case. The demand took grocers by surprise, and they have continued to add more space for the category.

Almond milk has pulled ahead of the alt-milk pack.
It’s made with roasted almonds that are crushed like you’re making almond butter, then thinned with water. Commercial producers usually add vitamins, stabilizers and, in some cases, a sweetener and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla. Almond milk is especially low in calories, compared with dairy as well as the other milk alternatives, and it’s low in fat and high in protein.

It also wins the alt-milk taste test.
Not that it’s much of a contest: rice milk is thin and watery, oat milk is thick and gloopy, and hemp milk is chalky and tart. Almond milk tastes slightly sweet with slightly bitter undertones. It’s very creamy, has an off-white color, and foams impressively for cappuccinos. It’s a good dairy substitute for cooking and baking, and it’s so nutty-good poured on top of dry cereal that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to try it.

 

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Soylent: When Silicon Valley Dreams of Food

soylent

 

Soylent, a high-tech food alternative, has been grabbing headlines and investors.  
The meal substitute has the wind at its back with millions raised through crowdfunding, pre-orders, and the backing of prominent venture capital firms. Many in Silicon Valley think that Soylent could be a real game-changer.

Soylent is an engineer’s approach to food. 
It’s an odorless, neutrally-flavored sludgy mix of nutrients in a base of oat starch. It’s gluten free, vegan, and halal. It’s appropriate for sufferers of food allergies, acid reflux, or digestive disorders, and can be used to control weight or cholesterol. Soylent is essentially an efficient, inexpensive, clean-burning fuel. Its taste, to put it kindly, can be characterized as pretty much like you’d expect.

This is food by and for the tech crowd.
The concept took shape in Y Combinator, the preeminent bootcamp for digital entrepreneurs, and the story of Soylent’s development is peppered with techspeak about optimizations, inputs, and beta-testing (what regular eaters call nutrition, ingredients, and tasting). Its creator refers to meal replacement as a default diet, while regular dining is called recreational eating.

Soylent was influenced by the kind of sci-fi futurism that’s so beloved by engineers and technologists. 
The film and literary genre often depicts a bleak, dystopic future whose inhabitants subsist on lab creations like the vats of goopy gruel in the Matrix series or the blue milk of the Star Wars trilogy. Even the name Soylent comes from the novel behind the 1973 sci-fi classic Soylent Green in which Charlton Heston’s character discovers the unthinkable secret behind the edible solution to the twin problems of overpopulation and an insufficient food supply (It culminates in one of filmdom’s most memorable lines, captured in this YouTube clip).

Could this really be food’s future?
Soylent is regularly showing up on lists of the top food trends for 2014. It’s seen as the perfect food for the stereotypical, heads-down coder who subsists on takeout pizza and data packets. It’s also expected to appeal to people who think that home cooked meals are not worth the hassle of shopping, cooking, and cleaning up afterwards.  
The investors are betting that even outside of Silicon Valley, that adds up to a sizable population.

 

 

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Forget Wine Flights. Now We Have Gravy Flights.

Numbered dishes available from Magenta Wholesale Home Décor

Numbered dishes available from Magenta Wholesale Home Décor

 

Tasting flights aren’t just for wine anymore.
The migration began with other drinks, and we started to see flights of beer, whiskeys, and tequila, often served on wooden pallets with cutouts to hold all the little tasting glasses. Now they’re showing up all over the menu, at any meal and every course. There are tasting flights of country ham at breakfast, lamb flights for dinner, and flights of cheesecake for dessert. And of course that gravy flight, so suitable at any time of day.

A flight is not just so many small plates.
It’s meant to be a progression of tastes that’s presented to allow for sampling and comparison. The selection should be deliberately chosen to show depth or breadth, to highlight differences or to emphasize similarities within a category. Traditional wine flights are often vertical tastings of different vintages of the same wine, or horizontal tastings of a certain vintage from different wineries. A cheesecake flight might offer tastes of cakes made from goat, cow, and sheep’s milk, while a chocolate flight could start you with a sweet and mild 60% cocoa Dominican Republic, move on to a smooth 72% Ecuadorean, and then contrast those against an earthy, cocoa-heavy 85% African blend. Whatever the category of food or beverage, a flight should always be constructed with a guiding discipline.

Here are some of the more interesting flights we’ve found:

frenchtoastflight

 

Experience the full range of sweet and savory playing off the egg-battered challah of the French Toast flight at Chicago’s Batter and Berries.

 

 

stew potsNew Orleans’ R’evolution Restaurant explores the seven nations that settled Louisiana (Native Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, English, Africans, and Italians) with a flight of seafood stews including French bouillabaisse, Spanish zarzuela, and Tuscan cacciucco.

creme-brulee-flight

 

Pisces Sushi and Global Bistro in Clearwater, Florida presents a fusion of Asian flavors and French custard in its flight of crème brûlée.

barclayprime

You’d break the bank trying to taste your way through the luxe steakhouse menu at Philadelphia’s Barclay Primebut the flight of NY strip steaks lets you compare and contrast among prime examples of wet-aged, dry-aged, and wagyu beef.

 

A flight of popsicles is appropriately the only dessert offered at Brooklyn’s street-food-themed Nightingale 9.

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The menu at Ray’s and Stark Bar explains its water flight thusly: Martin Riese, General Manager and Water Sommelier of Ray’s & Stark Bar, has curated a water selection that demonstrates the difference in taste between twenty different waters sourced from various regions of the world. Terroir affects water just like wine. Let us take you on a global journey of water. You have my permission to roll your eyes at this thankfully only-in-Los Angeles phenomenon. Oh, and that global journey of water will run you $12 for three three-ounce pulls of the tap.

gravyflightAnd about that gravy flight, you’ll find it at Biscuit Head in Asheville, North Carolina. The ‘big as a cat’s head’ biscuits are paired with a rotating menu of gravy specials plus the standard lineup of sausage, espresso red eye, sweet potato coconut, smoked tomato creole, and vegetarian seitan gravy. $7 gets you three bowls of three gravies. And there’s not a gravy sommelier in sight.

 

 

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Barrel Aging is This Year’s Pickle

ManWearingBarrel

Put the jar down. Step away from the beets. 
Pickling is so over. Sauerkraut and kimchi can stick around, corned beef and herring are forever, but trendy pickle plates on every menu and dare-you-to-try-it pickleback cocktails need to go. A mason jar and a vinegar cure are not always the answer. Today’s overzealous briners remind us of the We Can Pickle That! duo spoofed by the sketch comedians of TV’s Portlandia:  “Too many eggs? We can pickle that! Dropped your ice cream cone? We can pickle that! Broke a heel on your shoe? We can pickle that!” Before the opening credits had rolled on the segment they had pickled an old CD jewel box case, Band-Aids, a parking ticket, and a dead bird.

Barrel-aging is the latest down-home technique to get a hip, upscale boost.
Barrel-aging is usually associated with wine and whiskey, and sometimes beer and vinegar. The contents mellow and mature during the aging period and they take on some of the compounds found in the wood. In the case of whiskey, it actually goes into barrels as a colorless liquid with just a hint of flavor and fragrance from its grain and alcohol, but emerges with its aroma, color, and flavor transformed.

Mixologists have latched on to the technique to create barrel-aged cocktails.
Essentially these are pre-mixed drinks that spend some time in a small cask. Fruits and juices, sodas, bitters, and other mixers are all in there, which puts a lot of neighborhood bars on shaky legal ground with both the local liquor authority and the health department, but craft cocktail fans are swooning.

Barrel-aged condiments were the buzzed-about category at this summer’s gathering for the specialty food industry.
Salt, pepper, paprika, teriyaki sauce, salad dressings, soy sauce, fish sauce, worcestershire sauce, and especially hot sauce are all getting the barrel treatment, picking up complexity, a hint of smokiness, and even boozy notes if they spent their time in recycled wine or whiskey barrels. If you balk at the premium prices charged by the boutique condiment producers, you should know that good ol’ Tabasco is, and always has been, aged in oak for up to three years.

There are hints of a We Can Pickle That!-style frenzy that threaten to turn barrel-aging into the next culinary cliché.
The process turns sweets like cane sugar, sorghum, vanilla extract, and maple syrup into a bitter, charred, sticky mess. Barrel-aged milk and ricotta cheese are sour, smoky, funky-smelling abominations.

And most troubling, mostly because of its self-referential gratuitousness, is the appearance of whiskey barrel-aged pickles.

 

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Your Green Friend With Benefits

Paint-roller-with-green-p-001

Kale isn’t the only one.
It’s just the one with the best PR.

Kale is a true ‘superfood.’ It’s a low calorie, nutrient dense, brain-boosting, heart healthy, do-no-wrong vegetable. You can say the same about plenty of other dark leafy greens, but kale is the one that has captured the nation’s collective appetite.

A few short years ago, Pizza Hut was the single largest consumer of kale in the U.S., and they weren’t even serving it; it was treated as an inedible garnish used to decorate their salad bars. Today you’ll find kale on the menu of any restaurant worth its hand-harvested fleur de sel. Food manufacturers are tossing it into soups, snacks, and soft drinks. Juice bars are squeezing it, mixologists are crafting kale-tinis, and it’s so ubiquitous in the trendy quarters of Brooklyn that the New York Times proposed it as the borough’s official vegetable.

There are signs of kale craziness everywhere:

It’s peaking as a baby name. This chart illustrates how many boys were named Kale in the U.S. since 1880.

eat more kale shirt

 

It turned Bo Muller-Moore into a folk hero when his small, eco-friendly, Vermont t-shirt business was sued by Chick-fil-A for violating their Eat mor chikin trademark.

50-shades-kale_vg

 

We now have 50 Shades of Kale, the cookbook.

We learned that a rubdown does wonders for kale’s texture with more than 5,000 YouTube videos demonstrating proper kale massage technique.
MassageKaleSalad

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s feeling more and more like peak kale.
The market is reaching saturation, and the notoriously fickle foodies are getting restless. Thousands cast their votes in last month’s Huffington Post superfood deathmatch pitting kale against the likes of chia seeds and kohlrabi. You can practically hear the rustle of pages turning as food marketers pore over trend reports looking for the next big thing.

America’s vegetable sweetheart is out there somewhere.
Prognosticators say that there’s plenty of room at the table for another kale-like superfood. They’re prowling the farmers markets and produce aisles for another long-neglected leafy green that can be readied for its close-up.

Zagat looks at the likely contenders in Predicting the Next Kale.
They look at nine different leafy green vegetables like collards, escarole, and dandelion greens, evaluating the potential of each to be the next kale.

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Eat Your Veggies–For Dessert!

image via A Thousand Words

image via A Thousand Words

 

Sweets lovers, you may want to avert your eyes.
Vegetables are sneaking away from your dinner plate and landing on the dessert menu. Carrot flan, eggplant tiramisu, black olive madeleines, and celery sorbet are charming and confounding us in equal shares, and forcing us to recalibrate our tastebuds.

Forward-thinking chefs have been playing with a sprinkle of salt and the bite of hot pepper for a while now. Chile-spiked chocolate barely raises an eyebrow anymore and sea salt caramel has become a culinary cliché. Bacon desserts have gone so far past outré that even Burger King lards up a vanilla soft-serve sundae.

The vegetable-based dessert trend has a certain logic.
It takes diners along the same continuum as the salty-savory sweets, but at the same time, they’re new enough to dazzle. And it taps into all things seasonal and farm-to-table.

Vegetable-based dessert are hardly a new invention.
Think about sweet potato pie, carrot cake, and corn pudding. But where the classic vegetable desserts are intensely sweet, the trend is toward fresher, vegetal flavors. The sugar is toned down to play up the ingredients’ natural sweetness, and savory tastes are front and center.

As an added bonus- you can forget the old adage about finishing your vegetables before you get dessert.

The Centers for Disease Control have a Nutrition for Everyone tool that calculates recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables for your age, gender, and activity level.

Condé Nast Traveler rounds up 20 of the most interesting vegetable-based dessert menus around the country.

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Éclairs: A Choux-In as the Next Dessert Craze

Eclair-de-Genie-1-Paris-Select

image via L’Éclair de Génie

 

You heard it here first.
At least that’s true if you don’t follow the international food publications.
There’s plenty of buzz in Asia and Europe where éclairs are shaping up as the latest ‘it’ dessert, and the trend should land on these shores by winter.

The éclair is actually an unlikely candidate for fashionable status.
We think of it is a rather highfalutin treat, but to the French, it’s the first thing they reached for as a 10-year old in a patisserie; a beloved taste of childhood that as adults they’d rarely choose, and then mostly out of a sense of nostalgia.

There’s nothing wrong with the classic recipe of feather-light choux pastry, vanilla pastry cream, and a swipe of bitter chocolate, but the new éclairs have gotten a modern makeover. Stylish restaurants and boutique bakeries are creating innovative versions that bring some 21st century ingredients to the table. In Paris you’ll find éclairs with colorful icings and imaginative fillings flavored with fresh fruits, exotic spices, and varietal coffees and chocolates. Bakers are experimenting with mini savory versions stuffed with smoked salmon and dill or foie gras and fig jam, and even full-sized main course éclairs.

Éclairs are crossing the Atlantic to give us our next sugar high.
We’re already teed up for the next food frenzy. Donuts, whoopie pies, and especially cupcakes have all had their pop culture moment. First the trend watchers chased them down in gentrified urban enclaves, then outlets sprouted up in suburban malls and neighborhoods, and pretty soon they were on the menus of such cultural forces as Starbucks and Applebees.

Each has had a good run, but we’ve had our fill.
What was trendy is now passé. Macarons, cupcakes, cake pops, et al. have become too eye-rollingly common. Our greedy, sugar-riddled souls have already begun casting about for the next treat, and here come the éclairs. If they follow the familiar progression of food faddism, by this time next year éclairs will be on every menu from Michelin-starred restaurants to airport food courts, and trendy brides will be opting for éclair towers in place of wedding cakes. By then, we’ll probably start to look longingly at rice pudding and bundt cakes, but for now it’s éclairs. And if I’m right, pretty soon we won’t have to look very hard to find them.

 

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College Kids Are the Foodies of The Future

image via College Planning Advisors

image via College Planning Advisors

 

Kids these days…are tomorrow’s food trendsetters.
There are 20 million college students in the U.S., most in their teens and early 20′s
They’re young, impressionable, and eating Thai food for the first time.

Minds are expanding, horizons are broadening, and not just in the classroom. 
Today’s college cafeterias are serving up globally-influenced dishes, there’s always cheap, ethnic food close by the campus, and student populations are increasingly diverse. Campuses incubate political awareness and activism, and the politics of our food system are among the most immediate and accessible. A college can be big and urban or tiny and rural, it makes no difference—by winter break, every freshman knows tahini is a sauce and panini is a sandwich.

Students develop new eating habits and assert their culinary preferences during the college years, and these practices and penchants will stay with them long after graduation. The food industry is paying attention. It recognizes that these food choices are developing in ways that are distinct from previous generations, and the impact will be felt for decades to come. The food industry strategists at CCD Innovations have extensively studied this cohort, and they outline seven distinct profiles in the Collegiate Gen Y Eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report.

  • Profile 1: The meatless spectrum– 21% of students identify with the less-meat to meat-less diet, ranging from flexitarian to vegetarian to vegan.
  • Profile 2: The chickpea lovers– Students are crazy for this inexpensive and protein-packed food in any of its many guises.
  • Profile 3: Nut butters– They spent their early, allergy-prone years in nut-free classrooms and cafeterias, and are now coming to appreciate peanut butter, almond butter, and the cocoa and hazelnut combination ofNutella.
  • Profile 4: Consider the brussels sprout– They’re giving up childhood prejudices and delving deeply into the world of fruits and vegetables.
  • Profile 5: Not just chicken chow mein– Today’s students are looking beyond the Americanized Asian foods of their hometowns and exploring Korean, Thai, Malaysian, and Indian cuisines.
  • Profile 6: The new comfort foods– When final exams have students frazzled and stressed, campus dining services know it’s time to roll out the lasagne, enchiladas, and other filling, familiar Italian and Mexican classics.
  • Profile 7: Get it to go– The grab-and-go station has become a staple of campus dining. Students want something quick, portable, and easy to eat as they walk to class.
The recently-launched College & Cook Magazine relies on a national corps of student contributors to tap into the changing culinary landscape on campuses. Early issues of the online-only publication have covered topics like campus sustainability, the intricacies of kissing with food allergies (yes, you can cause a reaction in a partner if you eat one of their trigger foods), and calculating the measuring cup equivalent for baking with a shot glass.

 

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Yogurt is the New Man Food

yogurtman

 

Are you man enough for yogurt?
Forget about those too-small single serving containers with their soupy pablum lurking beneath a flimsy cap of tinfoil. Yogurt is being repositioned as sustenance for a manly man, with portions and packaging to match.

Powerful Yogurt, which was naturally dubbed ‘brogurt’ by the media, comes in a hefty half-pound serving. The sturdy carton has the utilitarian font and black and red color scheme of a bodybuilder’s tub of creatine, and the advertising is full of jacked and shirtless guys hoisting spoons past their bulging obliques. Ladies, you need to cast your mascaraed eyes elsewhere in the dairy aisle.

For all their progress, men still yield to the tyranny of gender stereotypes.
They’ve taken over shopping duties—a 2011 Yahoo survey in 2011 found that 51% of 18 to 64 year old men now call themselves the primary shoppers for their households—but are much more susceptible than women are to gender-driven food messaging. A study from Northwestern University demonstrated that taste and appetite prevail when a quick, 10 second decision is made; men will freely choose ‘girlie’ foods like yogurt, rice pilaf, white wine, and fish. But give them time to consider the choice, and the weight of early socialization combined with years of gender messaging from the evil geniuses of Madison Avenue takes over and it’s all about meat and potatoes, beer and pretzels. By contrast, women overwhelmingly choose feminine options and stick with them.

Better sex through yogurt?
Powerful Yogurt seems aimed at men who fear feminization through dairy products. Ironically, yogurt might play a positive role in male sexual function. Researchers at MIT reported on the phenomenon of mouse swagger–the distinctly showier gait of mice who’ve been fed a yogurt diet. Their coats were denser and shinier and their testicles were larger than those of the control mice. They also inseminated their partners faster and produced larger litters. Findings were similar when human subjects were studied in followup research performed at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

It’s a complicated business, eating.
The enduring gender lines are as resolutely retrograde as Beef Wellington. Men are no longer seen as hapless dolts who walk into a supermarket with a list and walk out with little more than chips, bacon, and beer. Yes, they’re buying yogurt, but just as one stereotype falls, another rises to take its place.

 

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