At the end of each year or early into the new year, famous chefs, food critics, food writers, restaurant and supermarket associations, and others predict food trends for the coming year. I always enjoy these prognostications.
Some simply repackage old ideas about food; others reflect contemporary ideas that have been bubbling up for years and have finally burst into the wider public eye.
If you’re into great-tasting food, good health, and a healthy environment, you’ll probably find yourself ahead of the curve for many of these trends.
What’s trending for 2017?
The big “food concepts” most prognosticators list for 2017 include:
Although the term remains ambiguous, in the universe of food, it’s linked to lessening the “carbon footprint” of a food source and eliminating other negative environmental impacts, such as overfishing. Sustainability concerns partly drive other trends, such as waste reduction, plant-based meat and dairy substitutes, home cooking, and local sourcing.
Waste reduction The message that half of all fruits and vegetables and 30 to 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted has finally gotten through to chefs, restaurants, food processors, supermarkets, and eaters.
Reducing food waste helps the environment in many ways, since it eases the burdens of agricultural production (fertilizer, herbicides/pesticides, farm labor, mechanical production), transportation, and managing it as waste.
Plant-based meat and dairy substitutes
Look for an increasing variety of plant-based beverages (e.g., “milks” from lentils, beans, and chickpeas), as well as many new kinds of plant-based burgers, sausages, meatballs, roasts, butters, yogurts, and cheeses. This trend reflects not only the health and moral concerns many people have about consuming animal foods, but also a new understanding that animal agriculture involves a much more intensive use of water, land, and pesticides, as well as antibiotics that may contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Soy beans and soy milk.
Everybody loves it, but fast-food and processed-foods advertising have long tried to get us to believe their products are as good as what came from Grandma’s kitchen. A growing understanding of the benefits of family mealtime, as well as simpler, less-processed foods, has occasioned a new emphasis on scratch cooking in home kitchens.
Among the newest takes on home cooking, especially for those who don’t have time to shop or who don’t know much about cooking: home-delivered “meal kits,” packages of fresh ingredients and instructions for preparing them into nutritious meals. These services are forecast to increase; in more urban areas, you’ll probably also see restaurants, and maybe even upscale supermarkets getting in on the action as a trendy form of takeout.
Also catching on: Apps that let you order food from home cooks, or attend home-cooked dinners in your neighborhood.
“Clean food”/”Clean labels”
Though it doesn’t have any established or legal definition, clean is the new buzzword for what marketers often call real, simple, or natural food. Clean labels generally mean labels that contain only natural ingredients consumers can understand.
Health, especially “gut health”
Get used to labels that advertise food products as prebiotic, probiotic, or “gut friendly.” A large and growing body of research suggests that a big, diverse population of gut bacteria exerts profound effects on the whole body, especially the brain and nervous system. Since so many aspects of modern life, especially antibiotic use, kill useful gut bacteria, health scientists recommend finding ways to replace and rebuild them.
Kimchi, a Korean dish made of fermented cabbage, contains beneficial bacteria.
Food Trends of 2017
The royal hues are hot this year: purple cauliflower, broccoli, rice, “greens,” whole grains, black beans, and more. A purple (also burgundy or red) pigment indicates the presence of anthocyanins, phytocompounds plants produce for their own protection, and that research suggests may in turn help protect humans against some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline.
Cauliflower and celery
Vegetables like cauliflower and celery are the new in-foods, and while kale is still on the menu, the glamorous new greens now include dandelions and seaweed.
Fermented foods and drinks
Fermentation uses age-old techniques to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in a food or juice, while discouraging the growth of harmful microorganisms. Look for an increasing proliferation of traditional fermented foods/beverages such as miso, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha, as well as packages of fermented beets, carrots and other vegetables joining fresh sauerkraut and kimchi in the dairy case.
I could go on: ethnic cuisines (especially “street food,” e.g., kabobs, dumplings, tempura, falafel), exotic spice mixtures, egg yolks escaping breakfast, vegetable entrees, coconut...
The best note I saw during my investigations into the hot food trends: butchers embracing “new, and often affordable” cuts of meat. Good news! Affordable food!
Finally, one part of the nose-to-tail waste-reduction trend is the creatively named “glamorous offals.” This is one trend I’ll probably let pass.