food trends

Not Pushing Caffeine to Kids? Yeah, Sure.

Which of these is being marketed to children?



clockwise from top: Energy Gummi Bears, Nixie Tubes candy powder, Brain Bits watermelon candy, Cracker Jack’d

  caffeinated_nixie_tubes              cracker_jackd_     brain-bits-watermelon-flavored-caffeinated-candy-3-pack_2407_400

According to their manufacturers, none of them.


The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it’s launching an investigation into the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children. Surprisingly, the agency doesn’t have any rules for caffeine in food. It classifies caffeine as a GRAS, an acronym for food additives that are Generally Recognized ASafe.  Any additive with the GRAS designation—and there are more than 4,500 of them—is exempt from safety testing when a manufacturer adds it to a new product. 
Caffeine’s GRAS designation dates back to 1958.

The proliferation of caffeinated foods, not beverages, is something new.
Caffeine has been popping up in the most unlikely of places. You can find it added to breakfast foods like instant oatmeal, frozen waffles, and pancake syrup. It’s being added to snack foods like potato chips, marshmallows, sunflower seeds, beef jerky, Jelly Belly ‘extreme sport’ jelly beans, and most recently a new line of caffeinated Wrigley’s chewing gum.

Caffeine is now consumed at levels that the FDA could have never anticipated when it first classified the additive as a GRAS.
In 1958, there were no energy drinks, sports beverages, or caffeinated ‘smart’ waters. Per capita soda consumption was one-third of today’s level. And now we have caffeine’s appearance in a wide range of new products, including foods that are especially appealing to children and teens.

We keep things loose when it comes to kids and caffeine.
The United States doesn’t have dietary guidelines for caffeine consumption for adults or children. Since we don’t know how much is too much, there’s little effort made to limit it. In theory, caffeine-added products aren’t supposed to be marketed to children, but it’s up to the manufacturers, advertisers, and trade associations to regulate it. Most manufacturers insist that they don’t target kids. Apparently they’re using kid-friendly cartoon mascots and logos to push caffeinated gummy bears and pixy stix to adults.

Where have we heard that one before?


joe camel


Posted in food safety, food trends, health + diet | Leave a comment

Food Trucks For Dogs Have Arrived

[image via K99]

[image via K99]

Seriously. Food trucks for dogs.
They roll through neighborhoods and downtown streets drawing four-legged foodies with cat meows and cow moos played over PA systems. Menus lean toward meat-flavored ice cream and peanut butter baked goods, and rely heavily on punny names like poochi sushi, spaghetti and muttballs, and chicken with grrr-avy.

Chicago’s Arrfscarf peddles meaty treats like bacon macaroons and beef brisket-flavored frozen yogurt. Central Florida’s Sit ‘n Stay Mobile Pet Cafe serves beef jerky sushi and meatballs made from locally raised, grass-fed beef and lamb. Tiki’s Playhouse cruises the streets of Baltimore scooping $3 cups of Frozen Woofy’s Treats in flavors like Barkin’ Berry and Banana Rama Ding Dong—described by one dog owner as “flavors which would be interesting to me if I were a dog.” And it’s not just a local phenomenon. Big players in pet food are jumping into the trend. Rachael Ray launched her pet food line Nutrish with a food truck that dished out samples of Chicken Paw Pie and Beef Stroganwoof on the streets of Manhattan, and Chef Michael’s Food Truck for Dogs is a project of Nestle Purina PetCare.

Dog owners are known to complain about the limited dining options for pets. They protest health code-imposed restaurant bans and push to expand access to street fairs and farmers markets. A survey of dog owners revealed that 84 percent believe that mealtime is a perfect opportunity to show their dog how much they love him or her. Food trucks finally provide them with the opportunity to share their dining passions with their pets.

Did someone forget that dogs are also fond of eating socks and cat feces?
For all of our own foodie-isms projected on pets, the fact is that dogs have a mere fraction of our taste buds and they will pretty much eat anything. We’re really just projecting our own culinary sensibilities. The problem is we’re also sharing our taste for high-protein, high-fat diets. It should come as no surprise that dogs, just like their human owners, are fat: about half of all dogs in American homes are overweight or obese.

We teach our dogs to heel and to roll over. Now they have to learn that they can’t always have a chicken sorbet.


Posted in diversions, food trends, funny | Leave a comment

Chia: So Much More Than Mr. T’s Hair



You can keep your kale, and flax, and goji berries; chia seeds are the hot new superfood.
Yes, chia, as in ch-ch-ch-Chia Pets ™, famous for stuttering infomercials that made a fad out of growing sprouts on ceramic doggies.

Chia seeds are making the leap from the healthy fringe into the mainstream.
Last year you had to look for them in health food stores. Now you’ll find them on the shelves of your local supermarket. They’re being added to frozen waffles, peanut butter, pasta, chips, and juice drinks, and companies like Dole are lacing entire product lines with chia seeds.

Why? Because chia seeds are unbelievably good for you.
Just look at this nutritional profile:

  • A complete protein with more fiber content than bran
  • Twice the omega-3 fatty acids as salmon
  • Five times the amount of calcium in milk
  • Three times the amount of antioxidants in blueberries
  • Three times the amount of iron in spinach
  • Three times the amount of fiber in oatmeal
  • Two times the amount of potassium in a banana

Even among superfoods chia seeds are extraordinary.
Foods like pomegranates, almonds, goji berries, green tea, blueberries, and now chai seeds are considered ‘super’ because they pack a big nutrient punch in a small package. They’re dense sources of disease-fighting nutrients like antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, and are often thought to confer health benefits. Chia seeds are all of that plus they’re gluten-free, easy to digest, and rarely cause allergies.

Are you already thinking this is too good to be true? Hang on, there’s more.
Chia seeds can also help you lose weight. The seeds are like little sponges that sop up nine times their weight in liquid. When you eat cereal or muffins that are spiked with chia it does a bit of that inside you, so even your morning coffee can become one with a belly-filling, slow-burning ball of dietary fiber.

And the taste?
It’s fine. Really. The seeds have a tiny bit of crunch and a very subtle nutty flavor if you look hard enough for it. You’re not going to get excited about your morning chia, but it’s a perfectly neutral addition to just about anything.


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Modern Matzo

[matzah iPhone case available at Sealed with a Case]

[iPhone case available at Sealed With a Case]

At the ripe, old age of 3,500, you might wonder what could possibly be new about matzo. You’d be surprised.

Staying current is a bit of a mixed bag.
Matzoh has a big head start since it naturally boasts so many of today’s culinary buzzwords: it’s vegan and sodium-free with no saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol. It’s got the artisan thing going on, with much of it made by hand in wood- and coal-fired clay ovens. And it’s the ultimate farm-to-table dish—the good stuff, the shmura matzoh, is watched every minute from the harvest through the baking to ensure that the grains never come into contact with any moisture that could lead to accidental leavening.

But truth be told, matzoh is not the most versatile of foods.
There’s not much room for tinkering with a centuries-old recipe that’s dictated by Talmudic law. Judaism takes its bread rules very seriously, and the specificity and complexity of kosher matzoh-making puts even a Thomas Keller recipe to shame. Still, a few hardy Jewish souls (yes, you have to be Jewish) persevere so that new matzoh treats can make their way to the Passover table.



Remember when a slab of Egg ‘n Onion was exotic?  This year you can buy your Manichewitz in varieties like Mediterranean (flavored with olive oil and rosemary) and Organic Spelt.




Note the labeling: matzo-syle squares. They’re not fooling anyone. It seems that if it’s gluten-free it’s only kinda-sorta matzoh. It’s kosher; even kosher for Passover; just not quite kosher enough for the seder. Sorry, celiac sufferers.



Vermont’s Naga Bakehouse is doing brisk online business with Vermatzah, its handmade, small-batch matzoh. Naga labels it as ‘eco-kosher’ for its embodiment of what it calls ‘ the deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom.’ Since it’s made without rabbinical supervision, Passover purists just call it traif .




The usual oats were swapped out for Streit’s matzoh to create Matzolah, the kosher-for-Passover granola. Named as the best new Passover product at Kosherfest 2013, Matzolah’s creator likes to call it “the Trail Mix of the Exodus.”


matzohice cream

We’ve heard the rumors out of Israel about Ben & Jerry’s Jewish holiday-themed ice creams. There was even a jokey thread circulating a while back listing flavors like Moishemallow, Wailing Walnut, and Bernard Malamint. Now we have our own with Chozen’s Coconut Macaroon and Matzoh Crunch.



Chocolate-covered matzohs are nothing new, but Coco Délice hits all the right contemporary notes with their version. It’s coated in high-end, high cocoa-count Belgian dark chocolate studded with cocoa nibs and the requisite sea salt.



You won’t see Ambacht Brewery’s Matzobraü until this summer, but beer’s not kosher for Passover anyway (it’s undone by the fermented grains). At holiday’s end, the Oregon brewer will collect donations of leftover matzoh to use in the mash that forms the base of Matzobraü, a golden ale with the unmistakable toasty notes of the bread of affliction.

This year’s seders begin at sundown on Monday, March 25th.
Happy Passover to all (with a special Chag Sameach shout-out to Barack Obama who will be keeping kosher for Passover 2013).

Posted in food trends, holidays, Passover | Leave a comment

Double Dipping: Fondue Makes a Comeback


So there you are at a dinner party.
The crowd is sharp, the charcuterie is local, the cocktails hit all the right notes with their craft bitters and small-batch whiskeys, and there’s a docked iPod playing the latest buzzed-about band from SXSW.
Dinner is served. It’s fondue?!

Yes, fondue.
That relic of the 1970’s that you thought had gone the way of streakers and shiny polyester shirts. It’s like a flashback to a decade that most food lovers would rather forget. While the roots of a new cuisine were sprouting in a handful of restaurant kitchens in places like New York and Berkeley, for most Americans, a Tequila Sunrise and water chestnut rumaki were the height of sophistication.

You’re not sure how you should respond.
You could laugh and say something clever about postmodernism. Treat it like an inside joke that you are hip enough to be in on, because you know that no self-respecting foodie would serve fondue without a side of irony.

Maybe it’s supposed to evoke loving nostalgia.
You could say how much you enjoyed Argo and that Ben Affleck was robbed by the Academy. Maybe share a childhood memory of spying on your parents’ cocktail party with its highballs and mini quiches and your mother presiding over it all in her elegant palazzo pants.

Or you could enjoy cheese fondue at its face value.
It’s not tough to do. The cheeses available are a lot better this time around. The bread too.

So many people are rediscovering the pleasures of fondue that we have the makings of a full-fledged revival.
Vintage fondue pots are a hot commodity on sites like Etsy and eBay. Roshco, one of the largest brands of fondue sets, saw sales increase by 40% last year, and expects to see another 50% rise in 2013. The wedding and gift registry site is rushing to expand its assortment now that fondue pots are among its top selling items. And the media (yes, all of us) are having a field day with punny headlines about ‘dipping into’ the latest ‘cheesy’ fad.

Fondue pots for the 21st century
Sterno’s gone green with plant-based bio-fuel and zero carbon emissions; otherwise there’s not much that’s different this time around. A fondue set is still just a vessel over a heat source. Here are a few modern twists:




Cuisinart makes a most undemanding fondue set. It’s an electric cheese melter that rotates on a Lazy Susan. It even goes in the dishwasher.



The world’s first desktop fondue set warms your lunchtime fondue by tapping into a computer’s power supply with a fireglow USB cable.





We think of fondue as a communal dish, but you can go solo with a fondue mug for one.



As seen on TV: the NuWave induction cooktop comes with a fondue set. It heats fondue by generating a magnetic field that warms the pot while the heating element stays cool.




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We Want Meatballs


meatball recipe


What we want: meatballs.
What we don’t want: a meatball trend.

Try as they might, the food press could not shoehorn meatballs into the latest food fad.
Bon Appetit dubbed 2010 The Year of the Meatball; People Magazine went with 2011 for Meatball Mania, and The Food Channel tried again in 2012. But for all the meatball-only boutiques and roving meatball food trucks in all the right neighborhoods, meatballs are not now— and will never be— the new cupcake.

Meatballs are universally and perennially loved; so much so that they are trend-proofed and fad-resistant. They never fall out of fashion or favor. They are rarely stylish but always in style.

That’s not to say that meatballs can’t have their moment.
In fact the added attention meatballs have received makes this an excellent moment. They’re more popular than ever in restaurants where they seem to anchor every small-plates menu ever printed. Meatballs can be Indian (köfta), Italian (polpette), Greek (keftedes), or Mexican (albóndigas), and they speak comfort in any language.

Chefs might want to reinvent meatballs with luxe and modern ingredients, but the best are those that barely tweak the classic recipes and humble traditions. They’re not a vehicle for expensive cuts of meat, but benefit from cheap and fatty grindings. They cry out for filler to add flavor and moisture, and are a perfect landing spot for stale bread and cheese rinds.

Meatballs are simple and inexpensive to prepare at home, and are nearly always a bargain on restaurant menus. They are at home in soup, on a sandwich, atop pasta, or stuffed in rice paper, grape leaves, or  dumpling wrappers. They make a fine appetizer, a winning lunch, and soothe our frazzled, modern souls in a satisfying dinner.

Who needs trendy when we can have meatballs?


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On Cupcakes and Tax Cuts







It’s 2013 and cupcakes are still going strong.
Once again cupcakes made year-end hot lists like The Year on Twitter and Google Zeitgeist. Their images are re-pinned endlessly on Pinterest and their recipes are among the most searched-for on cooking sites. They’re still the fastest-growing segment of the baked goods industry, and there’s no end in sight.

It seems like only yesterday that cupcakes were a humble homey dessert, just one of the pack, interchangeable with cookies and brownies. Then, in a perfect storm of economics and Sex and the City, cupcakes caught fire. Today, cupcake bakeries dot the landscape of gentrified urban neighborhoods and suburban strip malls. You can get a cupcake in a deli or a burger joint, waiting for a plane at the airport, in a hospital cafeteria, or a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Doomsayers have predicted a post-sugar rush crash for years.
Cupcakes are derided as tedious and over-exposed, ‘fake happiness, wrought in Wonka unfood colors,’ and ‘the favorite greedy treat of the me-generation.’ Washington City Paper dubbed them ‘the cockroach of the culinary scene,’ but the way they multiply is more like fruit flies. If it’s a cupcake bubble, as some say, when’s the burst?

Countless column inches have been devoted to media predictions of the ‘new cupcake.’ Once we had our fill of cupcakes, they wondered, what would be the next it treat to feed our sugar lust?

We scurried after macarons and whoopie pies, chased down cake pops and donuts, and listened to stray rumblings of support for dark horse candidates like bread pudding and bundt cakes. While each of these pastries might, in turn, have its pop culture moment, we don’t see cupcakes stepping aside anytime soon.

Cupcakes are shaping up as the pastry equivalent of the Bush tax cuts.
When they first popped up a decade or so ago, nobody expected either to stick around for long. But here we are in 2013 and both cupcakes and the tax cuts seem to have become permanent fixtures.

Just like fiscal policy, the rationale for cupcakes is a slippery one, capable of transcending the vagaries of our economy. You’re doing well? Trade up from cookies and treat yourself to a cupcake. Times are tough? For just a few bucks a cupcake will soothe you, body and soul. Cupcakes can be an indulgent treat or an affordable comfort. Just like tax cuts.

It’s all a matter of perspective. And that, it seems, is the secret to their longevity.


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Flavored Vodka Has Gone Too Far















[l-r from top: bacon, Froot Loops cereal, peanut butter and jelly, pumpkin pie, popcorn, hard candy (lemon drop, cinnamon, root beer barrel, orange creamsicle), and smoked salmon flavored vodka]



Glazed donut, marshmallow fluff, buttered popcorn, red velvet cupcake. Is it vodka or the shopping list for a middle schooler’s slumber party?

Vodka’s virtue used to be its absence of flavor. It was colorless, odorless, and tasteless, valued for its neutrality. Today, whipped cream flavor is the third most popular vodka.

Flavored vodka is big business. Vodka makes up a third of the U.S. market for liquor, and about 20% of sales volume comes from flavored varieties. While the rest of the market remains relatively flat, the flavored segment rose by 20% this year and accounted for three-quarters of new brand introductions, with the sweetest flavor profiles gaining the most traction.

You won’t find a lot of 50 year-olds ordering cookie dough martinis. 
Vodka flavors like cotton candy and marshmallow fluff are obviously aimed at a young demographic with a less refined palate, and many come from value-priced producers. Still, the higher-end brands aren’t just ceding the market. The more frivolous, confectionary-like flavors might not be consistent with their brand strategies, but premium distillers Grey Goose, Absolut, Skyy, and Charbay are pushing plenty of novelty flavors like green tea, chocolate, ginger, and dragon fruit.

Despite the continued growth of the flavored vodka category, there are grumblings that suggest the tide could be turning.
There’s a can-you-top-this mentality gripping producers. They keep stretching the flavor range so they can drum up press coverage and keep their brands in the minds of bartenders and drinkers. But the more unusual the flavor, the smaller the customer base it appeals to. And retailers are starting to push back on the growing assortment. They already devote nearly half their shelf space to a category that accounts for one-fifth of their sales.

Some of the gimmicky and outrageous incarnations suggest that palates are growing fatigued if not downright jaded. Smirnoff’s fluffed marshmallow, Cupcake Vineyard’s frosting flavor, and much of the Three Olives vodka lineup (the Froot Loops-flavored ‘Loopy’, s’mores, bubble gum, birthday cake, and the perplexing ‘Dude’ flavor) even veer into self-parody.

It’s no wonder that one of the hottest new brands out there right now is Purity Vodka launched with the following ad copy:  “We believe the smooth yet full-bodied taste of Purity Vodka is best enjoyed straight up or on the rocks.”
Vodka-flavored vodka. What a concept.


Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food trends | 2 Comments

2013 Will be the Year of Toast

image via Smash It Up!


That’s right, toasted bread.
Leading food industry prognosticators are calling it the next big thing. They polled the food pros, consulted charts and graphs, and gazed into their crystal balls. It seems all signs point to toast.

We snicker at the idea of a restaurant toast trend because it’s toast, for god’s sake. It’s as homey a staple as you’ll find. Bread regularly appears in 99% of U.S. households, and toasters have been a home kitchen workhorse for over 100 years. Restaurants will really have to dazzle us if we’re going to pay for something so ordinary—and did I tell you that you can kiss complimentary bread baskets goodbye? Yup, another trend.

Industry experts predict that restaurants will be charging for bread board samplers designed for sharing. There will be toasted, grilled, and griddled bread options and a whole  menu of savory toppings, spreads, dips, and schmears. The toppers and condiments will take their inspiration from other predicted trends like fruit paired with savories; bitter, sour, and fermented flavors; and meat from heads and necks (cow, pig, lamb).

Dessert will bring another toasty assortment, sweet this time. Restaurants will be toasting up brioche, cake slices, and fruit- and nut-filled breads to spread with flavored butters, fruit compotes, and sweet sauces. Expect to see plenty of the newly trendy ricotta cheese topped with the equally faddish hyperlocal (think zip code) honey.

Bone up on toast trivia. You’ll dazzle at the dinner table when that bread board arrives.

  • The scientific term for the toasting process is called the Maillard reaction—it causes bread to turn brown through a series of biochemical reactions between the sugars and amino acids that create new, darker molecules on the surface of the bread.
  • It takes precisely 216 seconds in a standard 900 watt toaster to achieve the perfect golden-brown slice of toast. So says a British researcher after toasting and tasting 2,000 slices.
  • The ancient Greeks used to char toast and drop bits into glasses of wine. The slightly carbonized surface creates something like the substance found in a Brita water pitcherfiltering out impurities and improving the taste of the wine. That’s why we call it a toast when we raise a glass before we drink.
Posted in food trends, gadgets, restaurants | 1 Comment

We ♥ Pie

We’re eating more pie than ever.
Pie consumption has been steadily rising for nearly a decade. We’re eating pie in restaurants and cafés, buying pie fresh from the bakery and frozen from the supermarket. Fruit pies, cream pies, nut pies, custard pies— we love all kinds of pie.

What’s not to love?
Pie is edible nostalgia; a big slice of Americana. Seniors and baby boomers never lost a taste for it, and younger generations are drawn to its simplicity and authenticity. It’s straightforward value in a wayward economy. And if you have it à la mode, it’s like you’re getting away with two desserts in one.

What? No banana cream?
Apple pie is the perennial, overwhelming favorite. But there are plenty of shockers in the Pie Slice of Life Survey brought to us by the makers of Mrs. Smith’s frozen pies (you’ll find the survey’s corresponding favorite pie pie chart below). Pumpkin makes a mind-boggling appearance in second place, while cherry pie is relegated to a middling fourth place. Key lime and peach, the southern states’ favorites, both have strong showings. But where’s the strawberry-rhubarb or maybe a little something from the custard family?


You don’t have to agree with the survey to show your love for America’s favorite pie with an Apple Pi decal.

We have Luxirare to thank for the pastry insanity that is Pie Pops.

Is pie the new wedding cake?

This is my kind of pie chart.

pie chart of pies via Robyn Lee


Are you looking for some good pie (and really, who isn’t)? 
Click on your state to find pie recommendations and reviews submitted by the discerning members of the Pie-of-the-Month Club.

Map  of the U.S.


Fighting the good fight:
The American Pie Council works tirelessly to raise awareness, enjoyment, and consumption of pie. It’s the only organization committed to preserving America’s pie heritage and promoting American’s love affair with pies. 


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Little Desserts are a Very Big Deal

mini s’mores via Cutest Food


Forget about ordering one dessert with four forks.

What’s big in desserts right now is small. We’re scooping itty bitty spoons into tiny tureens of tiramisu and downing shot glass shooters of passion fruit soufflé. Already precious cupcakes have morphed into the cake ball trend, and little pies are appearing atop lollipop sticks.

Restaurants are happy to accommodate the baby sweet tooth. They find that average checks are higher when small desserts are on the menu; customers that wouldn’t typically indulge are lured by the novelty and smaller commitment of the miniatures, and while they’re at it, they’ll order a coffee, a tea, maybe an after-dinner drink.

We are more adventurous with tiny desserts. We want a big taste in the small package and are willing to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients and preparations. The stakes are low– we’re committing to just a few bites at a lower price point than for standard desserts.

O.K., but just a sliver.

A tiny dessert can be perceived as a guilt-free indulgence. Whatever the caloric reality of a flight of custards or tiny nut tarts, we think of the minis as a lo-cal, portion-controlled treat– kind of like those 100-calorie pre-packed snack bags of chips and crackers. Is it technically even dessert? It almost doesn’t count.

For the true fan of bitty foods, you can get an eyeful at Cutest Food, which promises a daily fix of cute.


It lost the light bulb but it’s still baking little cakes. Revisit the original mini dessert trend:  Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven.


image courtesy of


Are you portion savvy? Gigabiting explores portion trends in Mini-Size Me.

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Try Some Rabbit. Or Would You Rather Eat a Cricket?

Bunny plate from Etsy


Scientists tell us we need to start eating bugs.
The booming global population is straining the world’s supply of meat, and the planet just can’t handle any more livestock, which already contributes one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations has been studying the problem and concluded that entomophagy—the proper term for consuming insects—could be key to future food security.

We should take a closer look at rabbit.

Like insects, rabbit is plentiful in the wild.
Nobody knows just how many billions of rabbits are out there. There are too many to count, and with their notorious fertility and reproduction rates the population is a fast-moving target. Wild rabbits are found on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, and overpopulation is a frequent complaint.

Raising rabbit is light on the environment.
You can get six pounds of rabbit meat from the same feed and water that it takes to produce one pound of beef, and it can all be foraged. In one year a single doe can produce ten times her own weight in the meat of her offspring. And they’re true locavores— rabbits and the grasses to feed them are found in all 50 states. They’re cleaner, quieter, and easier to butcher than cows, chickens, pigs, or sheep, and their droppings make the best fertilizer of the bunch.

Rabbit is a healthier meat.
Rabbit meat is lower in fat and more protein-dense than beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. There’s almost no cholesterol but lots of healthy fatty acids. And the timing couldn’t be better for introducing a new food into our diets. In recent years we broadened our palates with forays into snout-to-tail dining: we happily spoon marrow out of roasted beef shins; relish the gelatinous succulence of simmered pigs’ feet; and we don’t bat an eye at oxtail and pork jowl. Is rabbit really such a stretch? The meat is delicious— lean and mild-flavored, like a slightly sweeter, slightly gamier chicken. And like chicken, rabbit is a kitchen chameleon that takes well to a multitude of seasonings and preparations.

The pets-or-meat-problem.
We’ve always had an uneasy relationship with rabbits as food. They are cute and fluffy and starred in our Saturday morning cartoons. They bring us chocolate at Easter and are the third most popular pet in the country, after cats and dogs. But if you think about it rabbits are no cuter than baby lambs, and we make room on our plates for them.

We need to get past our rabbit squeamishness.
It shouldn’t be that difficult. Especially when you consider the creepy-crawly alternative.


Posted in food trends, sustainability | 3 Comments

Kids These Days…

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 of Nutella.
  • 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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We Should All Eat Like Hipsters (and I mean that unironically)


Campbell’s announced the launch of its hipster-ish line of soups, and the world responded with snark.

The new Go! Soups brazenly raid the hipster oeuvre. You see it in the packaging with its hand-crafted fonts and quirky Millenial models. It shows in the website stocked with irreverent slogans and lolcats where nutrition labels should be. And especially in the soups with their trendy flavors and ingredients like quinoa, chorizo, Moroccan spices, and coconut curry.
Campbell’s has been roundly mocked for its naked pandering and cultural appropriation.

Hipster culinary culture has always been an easy target.
It can be precious and pretentious with its small-batch alder-smoked Himalayan sea salt caramels and secret coffee handshakes of burr grinders, cuppings, and pour-overs. It is, in turn, both elitist and juvenile; hipper-than-thou but captivated by grilled cheese sandwiches. We can take our potshots (and there are plenty of smug, tedious, and irritating targets), but we also need to acknowledge the worthy substance of hipster foodism.

As a group, hipsters just might be the most knowledgeable eaters on the planet.
They have worldly, globalized palates and demonstrate discernment and sophistication in their food choices. They often embrace contrarian diets—vegan and vegetarianism; raw foods; pro-soy; and gluten- or dairy-free—but they can have profound knowledge of the implications and can credibly rationalize these positions.

Hipsters are great food voluptuaries.
All the shared instagram pics and meal-time tweets are not just notches in their vintage whiskey leather belts. They are discriminating sensualists who rightly savor the citrus and tobacco notes of a Mast Brothers 74% Dominican cacao bar and marvel at the tender crumb of a well-crafted white peach and rosemary scone. The mark of the true hedonist, hipsters don’t shy from indulgences but take their pleasures in carefully chosen doses—the better to fit into those skinny jeans.

Hipsters are fighting the good food fight.
They adhere to a culinary narrative that Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma dubbed ‘supermarket pastoral.’ The artisan-made pickles and the free range label on the Whole Foods chicken represent the labors of heroic family farmers who are battling the GMOs and monoculture of corporate agribusiness. The hipsters shop and eat within their cosmopolitan enclaves of visionary butchers and worker-owned collective bakeries, and they see themselves as modern-day urban homesteaders, filling Ball jars with honey from backyard bees.

We might mock their romanticized pretensions, but the fact is, the hipsters are getting it right.
They shun factory farmed meats and chemical-laden processed foods. They participate in building local economies and reviving regional food traditions. Mealtime for them is not a base act of mindless feeding at the fast food trough but a creative, communal endeavor balancing the pleasures of indulgence with mindful moderation.

You know what to look for: a curbside huddle of fixed-gear bicycles; a mustachioed barista manning the Japanese pouring kettles of an independent coffee roaster; a quirky pub with no sign in front and handmade bitters at the bar. You found the hipster habitat. You probably won’t find any of Campbell’s Go! Soup at the neighborhood grocery coöp, but good food is sure to be close by.



Posted in community, food trends, funny | 3 Comments

How Big is Your Cupholder?

image via The Onion


Car radios have come and gone. Ditto for pop-out lighters and GPS systems. But cup holders are forever.

Yes kids, cars really used to come without cup holders.
As indispensable as they’ve become, it’s hard to believe that manufacturers have only been building them into car interiors since the 1980’s. We so covet the perfect cup holder that an Autobytel survey found that 39% of us try out the cup holders when we shop for a new car, and 27% of us will completely reject a make or model solely on the basis of cup holders that aren’t to our liking.

It still doesn’t explain the Honda Odyssey—seating for 7, cup holders for 15.
The number one complaint reported by 70% of the survey respondents is that cup holders are too small. Back when cup holders were first installed, soda came in 7 ounce bottles and 12 ounce cans, and a large restaurant soft drink was 16 ounces; today the standard soda bottle is 20 ounces and the average restaurant serving is a whopping 42 ounces.

European car makers are legendary for their inability (or unwillingness) to understand the cup holder. Sensible German and Scandinavian drivers drink their coffee in proper venues, and they would never enter a vehicle with a sloppy, sloshing soda. For years the European manufacturers couldn’t bring themselves to condescend to the coarser habits of American car buyers. At first they refused to install cup holders at all. Finally, grudgingly, they came up with a too small, too flimsy, spring-loaded finger-like thingy, thereby helping to create a secondary market in jumbo car cup holder mounts and adapters.

Maybe Mayor Bloomberg is on to something.
In the pre-cup holder days of the 1970’s, the calories in the beverages we drank added up to a mere 2-4% of the total calories we consumed. Since entering the super-size-me-venti-big-gulp era, the average beverage intake now accounts for nearly 21% of the total.
The real problem,
of course, is not that the cup holders are too small, but that our drinks are too big.

Posted in diet, food trends | 1 Comment

It’s Not Beer; It’s Wine on Tap

image via Washington Wine Report


Don’t sneer. Don’t condescend. Just belly up to the bar for a cold one drawn straight from the tap. Proponents of the draft wine trend swear that tasting is believing.

Kegged wine is nothing new.
It’s been common in Europe for centuries, and has been floating around California’s wine-growing regions for a few decades. Now you’ll find it from coast to coast in thousands of restaurants, wine bars, and neighborhood pubs. It has advantages that are economic, environmental, and even quality-related that recommend it to both the high and low ends of the food and beverage industry.

Kegged wine starts out like any wine.
But at the end of the barreling stage, instead of heading to a bottle, it’s transferred directly into stainless steel kegs, usually holding the equivalent of about 26 bottles of wine each. Once tapped, it works like a beer keg minus the pressure required for carbonation; a flavorless gas pushes the wine from keg to tap and occupies the empty space in the keg to prevent oxidation. Once the kegs are empty, they’re returned to their respective wineries to be cleaned and re-used.

The economics of kegged wine are clear.
Skipping the bottling process allows the wineries to save nearly a third of their costs in both labor and materials, and reduces shipping costs. The lower costs are passed to the restaurants that see further savings from easier storage, less breakage, waste, and spoilage, and ease of serving.

The environmental benefits are numerous.
The transported weight of kegs is a fraction of bottle weight, saving fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions. Corks, foils, labels, and case packaging is eliminated, so there is less manufacturing and printing, and a lot less cardboard to recycle.

And then there’s the bottles.
80% of all restaurant wine is sold by the glass generating 600 million empty bottles per year, and less than a third are recovered for recycling. If even a small fraction of that was served from kegs, it would keep tens of millions of bottles out of landfills every year.

Of course it all comes down to taste.
Wines that benefit from bottle aging aren’t candidates for kegging, but the vast majority of wines are ready to drink at the point of bottling. Some wines even benefit from the large format of kegging in the same way that subtle tasting nuances can appear when wine is bottled as a magnum or jeroboam rather than a standard bottle. And there are no quality issues related to storage, corking, or oxidation; the taste is consistent from the keg’s start to finish.

Also, the wine industry has been careful not to keg just any old vinous liquid. In fact the wines available on tap are often an improvement over the typical by-the-glass offerings because the lower wholesale cost and higher profit margin for kegged wines has allowed restaurants to actually upgrade their selection without raising prices.

The only real barrier is consumer resistance.
Remember that a just few years ago wine drinkers were raising a stink over screw caps replacing cork bottle closures. Now the caps are found on the precious bottles of California’s top-tier producers and have even made inroads in tradition-bound France. You’re not sure about wine on tap? You’ll get over it.











Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food trends | Leave a comment

Sriracha-holics Anonymous












[images: The Oatmeal, Corvossalus, Food Beast, Cafe Press, The Sriracha Cookbook Blog, Jessica Hische]

It started out innocently enough: a squirt in the stir fry, a dab added to marinades.
You marveled at how a tiny hit of heat, sweet, and garlic perked up those dishes. You branched out: a few drops in dips and dressings, a steady squeeze into  scrambled eggs, a swipe of the basting brush on meats headed for the grill. Was there nothing that couldn’t be improved by this marvelous elixir?

Your second squeeze bottle was a lot bigger but disappeared just as quickly. It started keeping company with salt and pepper at every meal. You bought another bottle for the office fridge. A smidgen turned into a dollop, a smear became a slather.
Sound familiar? You just might be addicted to Sriracha.

Most of us saw our first red rooster bottle of Sriracha in an ethnic restaurant. Probably Thai or Vietnamese, but it could have just as easily been Chinese or Mexican. The sauce’s garlicky punch of sweet with heat puts it clearly in the Asian camp, but of indeterminate provenance, and its manufacturer Huy Fong Foods likes it that way. David Tran, the company’s founder and Sriracha’s creator, was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents; he named the sauce for a town in Thailand and prints the ingredient list on the back of the bottle in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish.

The All-American polyglot purée
Sriracha is a blend of red jalapenos, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt that would be unrecognizable in Mr. Tran’s native country but has found a home here. In its 25 years of existence, Sriracha has gone from ethnic exotic to pantry staple. We go through more than 10 million bottles of the stuff a year, finding it on Wal-Mart’s shelves and Applebee’s menu. Online, jokey pictures circulate of extreme consumption like hot sauce IV bags and aerated Spray-racha.

Hot sauce for everyone; a hot sauce for every taste.
Hot sauce is the rare food that crosses geography, cultures, and demographics. So much so that it’s flourishing even in the down economy, and was recently named one of America’s 10 fastest growing industries. Tabasco is still the indisputable leader. Sriracha’s yearly output of 10 million bottles is banged out every couple of weeks by the McIlhenny Company. But the dedicated legions of Sriracha addicts continue to grow. You can spot them by the trail of red sauce and the whiff of breath mints that don’t quite mask the telltale scent of garlic.

For the record, the other 9 industries on the list are: generic pharmaceuticals, solar panels, for-profit universities, pilates and yoga studios, self-tanning products, 3D printers, social networking games, green and sustainable construction, and online eyeglasses and contact lens retailers. You can download the full report on America’s top 10 fastest growing industries from IBISWorld.




Posted in food business, food trends | 1 Comment

The Dark Side of Goat Cheese: Killing the Billies


It’s the dirty little secret of the dairy goat industry.
Most male kids are killed at birth and their carcasses are tossed out as waste.

Birds and bees on the goat farm
Male goats serve little purpose on a dairy goat farm. They impregnate the female does so that they can produce milk, but artificial insemination minimizes even that need. After that, you don’t even want them around because of their smell. If you keep them around when the does are lactating, no one will go near the resultant cheese.

This is no ordinary farm smell—male goats are so stinky that they sully everything on the farm by association. It’s a smell so foul that it takes your breath away; so foul that even the liberal, permissive, and food-centric city of Berkeley, California has banned male goats from its city limits.

Male goats have scent glands on their heads that release an acrid, penetrating oil that’s like a skunk’s spray on steroids. Since the goats have little to do on the farm, they spend a lot of time excreting oil and spreading it all over themselves and everything in reach. Their other hobby is urination. They like to roll around in their own pee until their coats are yellow and matted and even smellier.

Of course about half of all kids are born male. Females tend to give birth to twins or triplets, so goat farms end up with a lot of these charming creatures. Without a strong end market for goat meat, the billy kids are disposed of immediately before they can become a logistical nightmare and financial drain on the farm.

The other red meat
Goat meat is a hard sell. Goats have a lowly reputation as gamey, scavenging beasts. At a time when adventurous diners are eating pigs from snout to tail and exploring the outer limits of offal, goat meat is the final frontier—at least to Americans. Goat is the world’s most popular meat, accounting for 70% of all red meat eaten globally. It’s got a lot to recommend it. Goat meat is lower in fat and higher in protein than chicken, beef, pork, and lamb. It conforms to halal and kosher laws. And goats are the ultimate free-ranging animals— they’re browsers rather than grazers, happy to munch weeds on tiny plots of land.

122 days til Goatober
Killing billy goats is ethically troubling and indefensible from a position of sustainability. Heritage Foods USA launched No Goat Left Behind in 2011 with the twin goals of raising awareness of the plight of male kids and raising the culinary profile of goat meat. The month of October was dubbed ‘Goatober’ when the Heritage Foods program partnered with farmers and restaurants in New York and the Bay Area. They’ll be bringing it to more cities for the 2012 season.
Save the billies and look for a Goatoberfest near you.

Posted in food trends, sustainability | 3 Comments

Intermarriage and the Price of Skirt Steak

image via Meat Sections


One in seven marriages in the United States is between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another.
That was the big news earlier this year when the Pew Research Center released its Social and Demographic Trends Report, a giant, once-a-decade, number-crunching project based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census. Of course anyone who’s shopped for skirt steak already knew this.

All those multicultural households means that more than a third of Americans can claim a family member, by marriage, of a different ethnicity or race. More and more Americans are sharing the cultures, customs, and especially the cuisines of a variety of racial and ethnic traditions. According to the Mintel marketing group, in a given month 63% of American households will have cooked Mexican food, 46% have cooked Chinese, and another 29% are fusion cooks. And a lot of those households seem to be cooking skirt steak.

For years, skirt steak lived in relative obscurity, ignored by America’s traditional home cooks. It’s a humble and homely cut that’s positioned on a cow between the flank and the brisket, and it basically acts like a girdle holding in those other belly parts. It’s coarsely-grained and chewy, but long marinating, quick cooking, and thin slicing reveals its distinctly juicy, decidedly tasty charms.

Until the 1980’s, skirt steak was priced below ground beef, and still butchers couldn’t give it away. Too tough and tendon-y to grind up for hamburger, most skirt steak ended up as dog food.

Then fajitas happened.
And Chinese stir-fries, Japanese negimaki, Korean bulgogi, and Brazilian churrasco. This flavorful, marbled steak proved to be the ideal cut for a multitude of robust, ethnic preparations. Its popularity skyrocketed,  fueled by the surging multiculturalism. Today the skirt steak is the second most expensive cut of beef at the wholesale level, with only the tenderloin costing more. It’s worth every penny.

Learn the ins and outs of shopping, prepping, cooking, and serving this (now) all-American cut:
Serious Eats has a skirt steak how-to guide (sponsored by the Texas Beef Council), and you’ll find more recipes and tips at The Art of Manliness.


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In Pursuit of Imperfection

image via MissOmniMedia


There’s a show on the Food Network in Canada called Dinner Party Wars:

Dinner Party Wars invites you to enjoy a deliciously hilarious hour of wining, dining and undermining as three couples go head to head in a ruthless, no-holds-barred dinner party competition. Hidden cameras capture every detail as testy guests come to blows and taste buds are either tickled or tortured.

A Canadian chef and a British etiquette expert serve as arbiters of taste and style by mocking, critiquing, and choosing an eventual winner from competitions like Gnocchi Knockdown and Chicken Bingo.

This is home entertaining as a full contact sport.
It’s soulless competition, a manifestation of our over-heated pursuit of foodie trophies that has turned dining into an emblem of status and lifestyle. And it’s a far cry from the simple pleasures of sharing a hand-crafted meal with friends.

It’s easy to see where we lost our way.
It started with Martha—the one we love to hate and hate to love. Martha Stewart taught us to sweat the details with her asparagus bundles braided with strands of chive. She instilled in us her mania for perfection and armed us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies.

Then the foodies took over. We learned to critique every morsel, abandoning genuine gustatory pleasures as we vet the preparation and provenance of each locally-grown, artisan-crafted, bee-friendly bite. Entertaining is fraught with political correctness and one-upmanship knowing that you’ll be drummed out of polite society if you serve the wrong coffee.

Dinner party perfection should be at most aspirational. We shouldn’t expect to reproduce the slick pages of Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living any more than a reader of Playboy expects to date a Playmate.
And in any case there’s always a lot of air-brushing going on.

Our current favorite antidote to dinner host anxiety is Kinfolk.
The magazine, online journal, iPad app, and monthly dinner series celebrate the soul of the dinner party. It’s about artistry, yes, but it’s scaled back to a simple elegance. Like the other publications, you’ll find recipes, table settings, and shopping resources, but it’s more inspirational than instructional. There’s nothing super-human about any of it. Feet on the ground, sleeves rolled up, and you’ll get there by dinner time.


Posted in cook + dine, food trends, home | Leave a comment
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