12 Most Interesting Food Trends of 2015

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By Greg Morago

Food trends hit us all the time. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t. For every trend that has legs (the cronut, the kale craze, the juicing phenomenon, kimchi everything, the quinoa colossus), there are those that are magical flashes in the pan (whipped lardo, shishito peppers, flavored marshmallows and bone marrow in everything).
The food-trend predictors have been busy this year. And they had a lot of material to work with. For 2015, they identified dozens of trending foods, flavors, dining experiences and behaviors in our culinary-obsessed culture. So farewell, shiso leaves and hello, bone broth! Here are a dozen of the most interesting food trends to mark a new year in food.

Flaky fabulous. “The Cronut has jumped the shark,” states trendwatcher Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America. “Foodies have moved on to a more classic, flaky comfort food: Southern buttermilk biscuits.” The interest in Southern foodways has created a hunger for something honest, such as a biscuit, as opposed to a hybrid like the croissant/donut merger or the cragel (croissant/bagel merger) or the pretzel croissant. But the biscuit seems to be busting out, too: San Francisco’s Biscuit Bender sells creative flavors such a pumpkin spice chocolate chip and sour cream and sage, Salzman notes.

Cauliflower power. The Specialty Food Association predicts these emerging superfoods will find their way into your culinary vocabulary this year: Kaniwa (pronounced ka-nyi-wa, it is a high-protein/high-fiber seed that is being called the new quinoa); baobab (pronounced bow-bab, the African fruit has been given the nickname “King of the Superfruits” for its high amounts of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, antioxidants and fiber); and soursop (a green tropical fruit popular in South America and used to flavor beverages and ice cream). But the association also states that one of the biggest trends to watch is cauliflower’s ascendency to kale status. “Cauliflower is the new kale,” reports Stacy Baas, brand strategist and trend-watcher for Earthbound Farm. “We’re happily rediscovering this amazingly versatile veggie that can be roasted, mashed, steamed or even cut into ‘steaks’ and barbecued,” Baas writes. “Cauliflower has become a go-to gluten-free staple, with cauliflower-crust pizza and cauliflower ‘mac’ and cheese becoming comfort food alternatives.”

Tech time. Technology has emerged as the biggest factor in changing the way we dine, according to Baum & Whiteman restaurant consulting firm. More restaurants are experimenting with tablets (letting customers order food and drink from their tables), as well as allowing patrons to pay with their smartphones. “Even that’s not efficient enough: Skip the tablet and let people reserve a table and preorder dinner from a mobile device that also tracks how long it’ll take to get to the restaurant,” the Baum & White trend-watchers write. “Got people standing five-deep at the bar? Why push through the crowd when you can order from your mobile(?)” It’s going to get even more Big Brother with Google Glass, they predict. “With face-recognition software, a server can know the names of everyone at the table.”

Jiminy Cricket! Trend-watcher Salzman said more chirping is going into some of your favorite foods. “Crickets and their ilk are hopping their way into energy bars, cookies, chocolate, and chips, all in the name of good health, sustainability and yumminess,” she writes. We’ve gone from deep-fried grasshoppers to cricket protein bars and cricket flour. “The conversation about eating bugs is just beginning but it won’t go away,” Baum & Whiteman predicts. “Would you really care if your chips or nachos or tacos were fortified with cricket powder? If your bread got a protein boost from ladybug flour? If your pasta (gluten-free, of course) contained low saturated-fat grasshoppers?” According to Specialty Food News, the daily newsletter from the Specialty Food Association, American foodies are ready to embrace alternative proteins: cricket flour, and meat and cheese made from plants.

Crazy for kolaches. Of all Bon Appetit’s predictions for 2015 food trends (the ascendency of gyros and bacalao, the global domination of Shake Shack, the newfound love for beef tongue), one should be dear to a Texan heart: kolaches. According to magazine editor Andrew Knowlton, the kolache triumphs the cronut. “Based on fruit-filled pastries from Central Europe, these filled dough pockets are a Texas-by-way-of-the-Czech-Republic tradition,” he writes. “Whenever I’m in Houston I grab a few stuffed with things like jalapeño, cheese and sausage. From the new St. Philip in Austin to Kings Kolache in Brooklyn, the kolache reigns supreme.

Beloved bivalves. Gulf Coast residents will be happy to see oysters show up high on Baum & Whiteman’s trend list. “Chips and pretzels are disappearing as happy hours on the coasts keep booze flowing with dollar-apiece oysters,” the trend-watchers write. There’s even a new term, “merroir,” that refers to the unique flavors imparted by an oyster’s native waters. Like the wine term terroir, “merroir” could certainly be applied to the appellation oysters (from specific geographic areas) of Galveston Bay. Baum & Whiteman suggest the oyster renaissance is keeping bartenders and sommeliers on their toes as they scramble to concoct cocktails and find wines that pair best with bivalves. The trendy oyster these days? Tiny kusshi oysters from British Columbia, they say.

Bitter pill. Bitter is the new bold, says Technomic, the research and consulting firm for the food-service industry. “Look for darker coffees, deeper chocolates, next-gen cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and collard greens, hoppy beers and cocktails with the bite of bitters,” according to its 2015 trend report. Everyday coffee drinkers are seeing the darker/deeper trend already as both Dunkin Donuts and Tim Hortons have rolled out their first dark-roast coffees. Technomic said bitter flavors are also the hottest trends in cocktails as Italian liqueurs such as Fernet Branca, Campari and Aperol, as well as bitter digestivos such as Amaro, are the cool kids at the bar. Baum & Whiteman agrees that herbal liqueur with powerful botanical blends make “bitter” an easy pill to swallow. Benedictine, absinthe, Averna, Cynar, Punt e Mes and Fernet Branca make nice at the bitters-flooded bar.

Ferment fervor. J. Walter Thompson, the marketing and communications giant, predicts that pickles, vinegars and other fermented flavors are on the rise. “As interest grows in sour over sweet in food and drink, more fermented products will find their way onto menus and shelves,” according to the JWT Intelligence report. Examples? The rise in drinking vinegars and the consumption of fermented foods as a way to aid digestion. Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, states: “Once toppings or side items, things like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi, will become commonplace on dinner tables.” Lempert also predicts smoke flavors will permeate our foods: “The demand for smoked foods has risen as chefs begin to apply smoking and grilling to add some sizzle and impart new flavor to other proteins and alternatives like vegetables, butters and even cocktails. And, with smokers gaining in popularity in backyards across America, at-home cooks are also experimenting with smoking nontraditional foods.”

Bone collectors. Bone broth as a trend? Yes, says J. Walter Thompson, pointing to the Paleo diet trend in which “meat and meat-associated products have become fetishized.” The next step, the company’s 2015 trend report predicts, is the rise in bone broth. “Bone broth is the often-forgotten superfood that forms the basis of nearly all our soups and stews. It’s nourishing, simple, cheap and makes everything taste amazing,” says Jasmine Hemsley, who, along with sister Melissa Hemsley, own Hemsley & Hemsley in East London. Their mantra, according to the report, is “boil your bones.” Need further proof? Chef Marco Canora has opened Brodo in New York, an animal-broth take-away concept that calls broth “the world’s first comfort food.”

Bar buzz. Technomic also reports that spirits and cocktails starring honey are on the rise. Sweet sips such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Bushmills Irish Honey, Red Stag by Jim Beam Honey Tea and Rebel Yell Reserve Honey are enjoying impressive sales growth since hitting the market, Technomic states. Cocktails made with spirits such as Barenjager honey liqueur or Krupnik honey vodka liqueur are hot players with cool bar-goers.

Planet Z. Look for Generation Z (people born after the millennials) to be catered to this year. Technomic says the influence of younger diners will step up “demands for speedy high-tech service, heightened experiences, louder music and kinetic visuals.” These Gen Zers also may be a new breed of discerning foodies. “Exposed at a young age to more flavors and variety than previous generations, Gen Z’s collective attitude toward food is simplicity and health,” Lempert writes. Indeed, market researcher NPD says these youngsters are interested in eating more organic foods and are driving the growth for better-for-you snacking.

Hidden gems. Pinterest gets into food-trend forecasting with its predictions that “cauliflower is the new kale” and “tequila is the new vodka.” But its most interesting observation is that “hack the menu” is on the rise: ordering off secret or hidden menus at your favorite restaurant or coffee spot. Hackthemenu.com lists secret menu items from the top fast-food franchise. For instance, did you know that at Whataburger you can get pancakes and chicken? Frito pie at Sonic? Buffalo chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A? A “Cheesarito” at Taco Bell? If you want to really go off the menu, this is how to do it.

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