Farm-to-fork, allergen-free food trends, etc. still gaining steam

Story by Valerie Phillips
Mon, Jan 7, 2013
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Well, it’s that time of year when I write about the hot food trends. I check out quite a few “Top 10” lists, but it’s interesting how some of the predictions from the national experts never trickle down to the masses here in Utah.

Every year, the spice producer McCormick & Company does a Flavor Forecast, created by company chefs, food technologists and trend trackers. I’ll give them some credit for correctly predicting the popularity of chipotle and smoked paprika in the early 2000s. And a few years ago they predicted root beer would be a biggie, which is supported by all of the microbrewed root beers out there (including “Roost Beer” from Rooster’s Brewing Company in Ogden and Layton).

But frankly, some of their other predictions (such as hibiscus, or tarragon with beetroot) haven’t gained traction in the average American kitchen.

Here are McCormick’s flavor predictions for 2013. Mind you, these combinations are supposed to be eaten together.

1. Bitter chocolate, sweet basil and passionfruit

2. Black rum, charred orange and allspice

3. Cider, sage and molasses

4. Smoked tomato, rosemary, chili peppers and sweet onion

5. Farro grain, blackberry and clove (farro is an ancient grain touted for health benefits)

6. Broccoli with dukkah (dukkah is a blend of cumin, coriander, sesame and nuts)

7. Hearty meat cuts with plantain and sticks of cinnamon

8. Artichoke, paprika and hazelnut

9. Japanese katsu sauce and oregano

10. Anise and Cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce)

I take these flavor predictions with a grain of salt — or coriander. After all, McCormick’s job is to sell spices, so you can’t expect a prediction of plain old vanilla.

I can see cider, sage and molasses as a nice autumn combination — maybe for braising pork or turkey. The smoked tomato/chili pepper combo would work in a sauce or for homemade ketchup. I wouldn’t mind trying artichokes with paprika and hazelnuts. But I never thought of basil and bitter chocolate together, much less with passionfruit.

Here are some of the trends that, in my opinion, have gathered steam and will probably be with us through 2013:

• Farm-to-fork: This saying has almost become a cliche, but the movement continues to grow as more people become interested in where their food was raised, how the animals were treated before they became steaks or bacon. The recession also fueled the trend, as backyard gardens, chicken coops and beekeeping came back in style out of necessity.

When I first started an annual list of farmers markets about 10 years ago, I could find a handful of them in major cities such as Ogden. Now, there are dozens of them throughout Utah. Years ago, the menus of high-end restaurants used to boast about imported foods. But today’s menus name-drop Utah products such as Christiansen pork, Creminelli sausage, Beehive Cheese, Slide Ridge honey and so on. This is a great way to spotlight local producers who do a good job.

• Allergen-free products: It’s hard to say whether food allergies are on the rise, or whether we’re just becoming more aware of them. But gluten-free has become almost as popular a term as “low-fat” was in the ’90s. Some of the gluten-free options have been spearheaded by people with celiac disease who wanted some good-tasting choices, such as Alison Regan of the Sweet Cake Bake Shop in Kaysville. Manufacturers are also coming out with more food products that are free of other key allergens, such as dairy, peanuts, egg, soy and shellfish.

• Chia seeds: These seem to be replacing flax seed as the latest superfood to supply omega-3 fatty acids. Chia Pets, those clay figures filled with chia seeds that grow into grassy “hair,” have been around since the ’80s. Is this a case of having your pet and eating it, too?

• Just say yo to yogurt: In the 1980s, Americans embraced frozen yogurt as a low-fat alternative to ice cream. But like leg warmers and Jane Fonda workouts of that era, the yogurt fad waned over the years.

But today, frozen yogurt is riding the probiotics popularity wave, thanks to all of the hype about “live and active cultures” and “digestive health.” Self-service stores let you dispense flavors such as Red Velvet Cake Batter and add toppings from diet-right to decadent.

Greek yogurt, which is strained to remove much of the whey, lactose and sugar, has also come into the spotlight for its higher protein and lower sugar content.

• Salty desserts, sweet entrees: This year’s million-dollar Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe illustrates the crossover between sweet and savory: Pumpkin Ravioli With Salted Caramel Whipped Cream. I suspect the “salted caramel” thing is finally fading, after we’ve eaten our share of “fleur de sel” chocolates, salt-sprinkled caramel ice cream and other salty confections.

But on the flip side, savory items like chicken, fish and meats are being sweetened up with honey glazes and sugary barbecue sauces, often with a little heat.

• Sweet potato fries: When fast-food giants like Burger King start serving them, you know they’re here to stay. Sweet potatoes used to be more of a Southern thing, except for their annual Thankgiving appearance with melted marshmallows on top. But they got a boost during the low-carb fad, when dieters learned that these orange tubers are lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes. And, they contain lots of beta-carotene as well. In the past few years, sweet potato fries have shown up on Utah menus such as Arctic Circle, the MacCool’s pubs and Crown Burger.

Unfortunately, the low-carb “healthy halo” doesn’t quite cancel out the fat and calories of deep-frying!

• The Paleo diet: Modeled after what our ancient ancestors ate during the Paleolithic era, this diet is based on fish, grass-fed meats, vegetables and nuts; and excludes grains, dairy products, potatoes and refined sugar. While the premise may be different, this “caveman” eating plan sounds pretty similar to the low-carb diets that were popular in the early 2000s, such as South Beach and Atkins.

Do you have some opinions on food and flavor trends? If so, perhaps we can sit down and discuss them over a lunch of broccoli with dukkah, or farro with blackberries and cloves. Just kidding.

Valerie Phillips blogs at

Features, Food, trends
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