Artisan salts are being used in dishes both savory and sweet. | Jim Noelker~AP
Updated: February 26, 2012 8:02AM
SAN FRANCISCO — So we know dark chocolate is good for us because it has antioxidants and lamb is the new pork, which was the new chicken. Or was it beef?
But a walk through the 206,000 square feet of exhibits at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show is a glimpse into the possible future of your grocery cart or dinner table. At this year’s show, held earlier this month, 17,000 attendees visited 1,300 booths to see the future of specialty food. From the aisles, here are 12 food trends for 2012:
Forget Morton. If it’s not Himalayan or Northwest Indian Salish-inspired, alder-smoked, it’s so 20th century. Salt’s in chocolate, on caramels, and sailing off store shelves. It’s the finishing touch to multiple dishes. At the SaltWorks in Woodinville, Wash., they sell Black Hawaiian sea salt, Bolivian Rose salt, Merlot-infused crystals and Yakima applewood smoked sea salt. “We’ve started refining our own salt from Pacific Ocean water at our plant near Seattle,” says the company’s Megan O’Keefe.
Salt has really gotten big in the past two years, says Ron Tanner, with the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, which puts on the show. “We just did a salt and pepper tasting for our members,” he says. These specialty salts can run up to $8 an ounce, or $128 a pound. “Though it seems expensive, in the long run it’s not that much. You might get 10 uses out of that package, so the cost per use isn’t high. And it’s a great finish to a dish.”
2. Artisan chocolate
Small producers who carefully source their cocoa beans are turning out chocolate bars that can cost as much as a mega-bag of M&;M’s, but taste a lot better. These bars are often all-natural and cater to grown-up tastes. Think lemongrass, lavender-blueberry or French toast.
Standing at Poco Dolce Confections, Italian for “a little sweet,” Adam Smith points to owner Kathy Wiley’s olive oil with sea salt chocolate. “It hits just the right notes.”
3. Korean is the new Thai
The spicy, robust tastes of Korean cuisine are the latest Asian food to sweep the country. At Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi in Brooklyn, founder Lauryn Chun sells pints of the spicy-hot Korean signature pickled cabbage nationwide. She sees a new “openness and curiosity for the spices and flavors of other countries.” For Americans who haven’t encountered the fiery pickle, she has this breakthrough taste sensation to suggest: grilled cheese with kimchi.
4. QR’s on packaging
Look for Quick Response codes on food packaging in the near future. These fractal-looking squares that are readable by cell phone are showing up in ads right and left and will be popping up more and more on food packages. They’re a way for the industry to get more info out to consumers than they can fit on a package. Wines, especially, are a prime market because they can offer information about suggested food pairing and even videos about the winemakers.
5. Seaweed for lunch
It’s one of the hottest trends in West Coast lunchrooms and starting to take off nationwide. Nori seaweed (called laver in England where it grows on the west coast) is roasted, salted, flavored and sold in lunch-box sized packages that keep it crisp. Grace Clark packs it in her kids’ lunch where it’s a sure-fire tradable commodity at their elementary school in Mountain View, Calif. — always a good sign. “It serves the place of chips but it’s got zero bad stuff in it,” she says. Another mom just e-mailed her this past weekend asking where she gets it, so she can buy some for her daughter’s lunch, she says.
The nori, a spiced version of the purple seaweed used to wrap sushi, used to just have a market among Asians, says Brian Lee of Ace Farm USA in Bronx, N.Y., which sells the seaweed in wasabi, sesame and olive oil flavors. “In the past you always needed a bowl of rice to go with it. But then we realized our kids ate it like potato chips So we made it more like a snack, crispier, less salty and less oily.”
6. Gluten-free gets respect
The craze for all things gluten-free is turning up some better-tasting options for those who need to avoid this wheat protein. Star chef Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry (named “best restaurant in the world” in 2003 and 2004 by Restaurant magazine), has launched a multi-purpose gluten-free flour blend called Cup4Cup. Gluten-free pastas and cereals were much in evidence at the show. Carbon’s Golden-Malted pancake and waffle flour, a staple of restaurants since 1937, has now come out with a gluten-free version. “It was just the demand,” says Becky Beckman, vice president of sales for the South Bend, Ind. company. It took six months of working on the mix of soy, rice and corn flour to get it right, she says.
7. DIY comes to food
The public fascination with how our food is made shows up not only in numerous food shows on TV, but also kits that help people create foods that seem out of reach. These do-it-yourself food kits contain all the ingredients and detailed instructions, making the novice a pro in the kitchen.
“There’s a real trend in people wanting to understand how their food is made,” says Leslie Kozupsky, a longtime dairy woman and president of Roaring Brook Dairy in Chappaqua, N.Y. She sells kits to make mozzarella and butter that require only the addition of whole milk or cream. “So many people love cheese but they don’t know how to make it, I give them everything they need to make it.”
The trend extends to many traditional dishes as well. “We have members making pie kits, to make cooking easier,” says Tanner. One example is Elizabeth Jean’s Apple Pie Kit, which contains a pie tin, crust, spice pack, sliced apples and a pop-up pie timer. “Our research shows that 34 percent of people who buy specialty foods say they don’t know how to cook them,” says Tanner. The kits help guide even the most tentative cook.
8. The butcher is back
We’re in a renaissance of the butcher, says Tanner. “The meat that’s coming through supermarkets isn’t really as flavorful” as it once was, so there’s a resurgence of heritage pig and cattle breeds. Yet when people are paying a lot of money for their meat they want someone selling it to them who really knows the cuts and how to prepare them. Suddenly “it’s cool to be a butcher. Back in the 1970s if you were a meat cutter you didn’t go around saying ‘I’m in the meat department at the supermarket.’ Now people in their 20s are taking it as a career.”
9. Food trucks
Food trucks are the hot new thing in cities across the United States. These “roach coaches” were once the haunt of construction workers. Now they’ve gone high end, gourmet kitchens on wheels that sell creme caramel, Thai food and hand-made creations as good as anything served in the finest restaurants, at a lower price point. They’re big in New York, in Los Angeles, in Chicago and anywhere where there’s a strong food culture, Tanner says. “It’s a way for entrepreneurs who like to cook to get their product out to the public without having the expense of a restaurant.” A mini trend to look for coming off of this one is popular food trucks coming up with products, “maybe their special salsa that they’ll bottle and sell” in supermarkets.
10. Drugstores as food stores
With so much eating on the go, drugstores have become a source of food for people. Stores are branching out beyond snack foods and cookies. Duane Reade stores in New York have installed specialty food areas in their stores, and Walgreens is branching out with more fresh and prepared foods to go, as evidenced by the sushi bar in the new Walgreens at State and Randolph.
11. Mindful snacks
Snacks today don’t have to simply taste good, they also have to be good for you. Store shelves are starting to sport an array of chips and other snack foods with inventive, healthier ingredients. Sweet potatoes are big and lentils in the form of crisp cakes are popular. Probably the furthest-out in this category are the crunchy kale chips made by Kaia Foods in Oakland. “As delicious and satisfying as potato chips, but they’re as healthy as salad,” says the package, and sold in flavors such as BBQ, chili-lime and sea salt and vinegar.
12. In a pickle
Finally, the lowly American pickle is staging a big comeback in the East and South. There’s old-fashioned chow-chow pickle relish, artisan cucumber pickles and a host of cultured products, the result of lactic acid fermentation, that would make an Amish housewife proud, if a little puzzled. Pickled peppers, pickled burdock root, pickled golden raisins, with artisan sauerkraut being especially hot. Using high-quality vinegar, artisan salts (see above) and organic produce, these are not your typical gherkins. There’s been a strong resurgence in the South “where because of the heat, produce won’t last,” says Tanner.
Gannett News Service