If you grow (at least some of) your own food, prefer scratch cooking at home to dining out/ordering in, and aim to eat for optimal health, you’re already in sync with many of the major food and food gardening trends prognosticated for 2018.
You may even be part of the driving force that’s been moving these trends forward for years. Let’s focus on a few:
Flowers and flower-flavors
Edible flowers and flower extracts made everybody’s trend list this year, showing up in high-end food products and pricey restaurant menus. They come in such a wide array of flavors and colors that chefs (including home chefs) can find a few petals of to perk up any main dish or salad.
Most home gardeners have tried stuffing squash blossoms or tossing a few edible flower petals into their salads for a burst of color and a little kick of unexpected flavor. Even gardeners without much space can find room for a pot of nasturtiums, calendula, or pansies. If you have more space, plant sunflowers and squash. And if you have a patch of lawn, don’t spray away those dandelions and wild violets.
A few caveats (applicable to all wild foods):
- Introduce flowers gradually and one species at a time, not only to see if you like the flavor, but also to check for allergic reactions.
- Don’t eat wild or cultivated flowers that have or may have been sprayed with pesticides.
- Don’t pick wildflowers for food or tea near the edges of cultivated fields or close to a heavily trafficked highway.
- Never eat any part of a wild plant you haven’t identified. Some plants with edible flowers (e.g., elderberry) may have other parts (leaves, stems, roots, berries) that are toxic.
I’ve never tried making flower extracts to flavor foods, but I see an abundance of online instructions for doing so. Middle Eastern cooking (also trending, see below) makes use of distilled orange blossoms and roses, especially in desserts.
Middle Eastern flavors
It’s always fun to explore the foods, tastes, and textures of other cultures. Front and center this year: the warm, complex flavors of the Middle East. This large region encompasses 17 nations, numerous ethnic groups, and many food cultures. There’s a lot to celebrate in our own kitchens.
You’re probably familiar with shish kabobs, falafel, hummus, and pita bread. Why not seek out a restaurant featuring schwarma, turlu, besara, kushari, or shakshuka. These dishes all use ingredients readily available to American home gardeners and cooks. Try whole-wheat baladi next time your menu calls for stuffing things into puffy flatbreads.
I’ve written about spice mixtures, many from the Middle East—Baharat, Za’atar, Bebere, and Harissa—that can transform a humble dish of lentils, beans, or chickpeas into something downright exotic. A mixture might include any or all of the following: turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne. Every mideast household seems to have its own combination of ingredients, so don’t worry about getting it right. Mix and match until you find a blend that suits you and the regulars at your table.
Among the common culinary herbs you’ll find in Middle Eastern cuisines: mint, cilantro, dill, scallion, and parsley. Fortunately, a small outdoor garden space or a few pots on the balcony will yield a continuous supply of these herbs year-’round.
Pickles and fermented vegetables
Who’d have predicted that pickling, the ancient art of preserving foods by brining, fermenting, or immersing in vinegar, is a booming culinary trend.
Pickles seem ho-hum to many serious food gardeners. We’ve always pickled, especially as a way of preserving the fraction of a bumper crops they can’t possibly consume as fresh—cucumbers, green beans, tiny zucchini, carrot thinnings, peppers, green tomatoes—or as a way of co-mingling those end-of-season dribs and drabs into the spicy heirloom pickle that’s graced our family Thanksgiving table for generations.
People who study food trends say that 40 percent of restaurants already feature pickles on their menus. The Pickle Guys, a popular store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, specializing exclusively in Kosher pickles, will soon open an all-pickle restaurant, tilting heavily toward fried pickles. Fried pickles are everywhere.
One burgeoning branch of the pickle trend: an explosion of interest in lacto-fermentation and its health benefits. This pickling method takes advantage of naturally present “good” bacteria to convert the sugars and starches in raw vegetables (and sometimes fruits) into acids (also gases and/or alcohol), creating a low-pH environment that preserves and flavors the product.
Think beyond sauerkraut and kimchi. You’ll find all manner of fermented vegetables, including beets, carrots, onions, green beans, radishes, turnips, okra, rutabagas, and cauliflower appearing in natural-food stores. Check the flyers; some stores offer tasting events for consumers who’ve never tried fermented pickles.
These stores often sell equipment for home fermenting, though special tools and vessels aren’t really necessary. Why not give it a try?
One caveat: Pay attention to the food-safety aspects of home fermenting.
Increased emphasis on plant-based eating
This trend has been building for decades, and today takes many forms, from vegan (no animal products), to eggs and milk products only, to no red meat, to fish-only, to flexitarianism, which doesn’t eliminate animal foods, but simply adds more vegetarian entrees to the family table.
People cite many reasons for adding more plant foods to their diets:
- Concerns about animal cruelty and use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
- Clinical studies that support the health benefits of eating more, and a wider variety of vegetables and fruits.to increase the density of key nutrients in your diet.
- Environmental considerations: Plant proteins require less land, fossil-fuel inputs, and water than animal-based agriculture.
Natural foods outlets have begun selling “bleeding” veggie-burgers and tomato-based “raw-tuna” sushi, but home cooks can compose their own plant-based burgers, loaves, soups, and casseroles by laying in a supply of foundation ingredients: dry beans, lentils, quinoa, grains, nuts, and seeds; mix and match with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices.
As an enthusiastic home gardener for half a century, I always add a couple of new seed introductions to my garden.This year, among the dozens of exciting new seed varieties, I’m planning to try Burpee’s Fioretto 60, a sweet, “virtually pest-free,” sprouting cauliflower that produces small heads growing on long stems, and keeps on producing side shoots to extend the season, much like broccoli.
Also Biquinho (“little beak”) peppers, both red and yellow. Of Brazilian origin, these tiny beaked peppers appear perfect for pickling and adding color to winter salads.
And I’ll plant more hills of last summer’s favorite fruit, Little Baby Flower watermelon. The growing season was really tough on melons of any kind (irregular moisture, leaf-spot diseases, insects), but Little Baby Flower took off and matured so rapidly it outgrew the worst of the problems, producing a heavy yield of exceptionally crisp, full-flavored melons. Another advantage: the plants don’t take up anywhere near as much space as other watermelons.
Purple fruits and vegetables will become more common in 2018. Credit: Avdeyukphoto/Shutterstock
A more vibrant, colorful plate
Plants evolved the pigments that give them their vast array of colors to help protect them against the environmental assaults of diseases, insect attacks, and extreme weather. Health researchers suggest that animals (including humans) eating a variety of colorful plant foods appropriate some of those health-promoting powers. The deeper the color, the better, they say.
Plant breeders, supermarket produce buyers, and restaurateurs have apparently responded to that research.
Dip into any 2018 seed catalog and you’ll find carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes in dozens of shades ranging from deep orange, to yellow, red, fuchsia, purple, cream, and white. Purple asparagus, cauliflower, lettuce and other “greens.” Radishes in classic red, but also in white, cream, black, fuschia, and “watermelon.”
Trend watchers note they’re also seeing a wider range of vegetable colors in supermarket produce departments, restaurant salad bars, and the fantastical plates of food on television cooking shows.
For me, just looking at a platter or salad of vibrantly colored vegetables (and fruits, too) makes me feel happy and healthy.
The “slow loaf”
The notable trend in bread for 2018: a resurgence of interest in the ancient art/science of long, slow rising and proofing (resting the shaped loaf before baking), relying on natural yeasts in the wheat rather than commercial baker’s yeast. Nutritionists say the process, with or without sourdough starters, renders the bread more digestible and nutritious.
Home cooks should note that although slow loaves take a long time—typically, you start your loaf 48 hours or more before sliding it into the oven—it doesn’t take much of your time.
You’ll find hundreds of recipes, many of them for slow-rising and sourdough breads online and in cooking books.
Vegetables and fruits in your wedding corsages and boutonnieres
I don’t know if it’s a new trend, but this is the first year I’ve noticed it, and it’s all over the place, and not only in rustic settings: Wedding bouquets, boutonnieres, and table decorations composed partly or entirely of vegetables, herbs, and fruits (or sometimes mixed in with flowers).
So adorable! Baby carrots or beets, broccoli and cauliflower florets, radishes, frilly kales and mustard greens, tiny artichokes, colorful peppers, sprigs of ripe blueberries, and more. Here’s one of hundreds of Web pages that feature vegetables in wedding arrangements.
Do any of these food trends spark your interest? We’ve long enjoyed pickling and fermenting here at the Almanac. Browse our fermentation articles to discover recipes!