If there’s a crystal ball for the year’s upcoming food trends its the annual winter Fancy Food Show held in San Francisco in mid-January. Eager start-ups go shoulder to shoulder with international conglomerates to get the attention of food buyers who will stock their products in the coming year.
The biggest buzz are at two ends of the food spectrum: Plants and meat. We’re seeing healthy, plant-based superfoods in everything as the public embraces a more veg-friendly lifestyle. Conversely, the popularity of the Paleo diet has brought a new wave of conscious meats (grass-fed, sustainable, artisan) to the forefront with jerky as its poster child.
Here are a few more of the coming trends for 2016 and what you’ll be seeing on store shelves in the coming months:
Bugs In Your Food: Yup, get ready for crickets and meal worms on your plate. But before you yuck out, know that there’s a method to this madness. Easy to raise, sustainable and insanely high in protein, futurists are looking to insects as an alternative to the very unsustainable practices of factory-farmed meat. Cricket steaks? No (duh, they’d be way too small). But ground cricket flour is finding its way into things like Chirp Chips and Chiridos (tortilla-style chips), along with more novel things like salted-chocolate crickets from SF’s Don Bugito.
Super Herbs and Flowers: Turmeric was the buzzword of 2015, and it continues to be a popular superfood added to teas and other tinctures like Pok Pok’s Turmeric soda and Numi Turmeric Tea. Other super herbs that have been used for millenia for everything from hangovers to constipation include Republic of Tea’s Milk Thistle or Reishi Mushroom teas, along with a matcha-charcoal detox tea. Hibiscus is also getting its moment in teas and sodas.
Super-Snacking: Snacks are casting off their bad raps as empty calories loaded with fat and salt to become between-meal health-boosters. We’re seeing lots of snacks with a healthy dose of antioxidants, or more familiar snack items getting a makeover with less sugar (or alternative sweetners), and boosts of vegetables or fruits. CabernayZyn cabernet grape raisins pack a crunchy resveratrol kick, while Love Beets Beet Bars get their sweetness from beets and Barney Butter vanilla bean and espresso almond butter is a tasty alternative to peanut butter.
Almost A Meal: One of the biggest trends at the show were mix-ins, spices and “almost meals” to make dinner a snap. We saw booth after booth of bagged and powdered sauces with bold Mexican, Japanese, Thai and Indian flavors that simply need a protein to be complete. Just Cook “Close to Curry” spices,
Korean: We’ve seen lots of Korean influences over the last few years, as Thai wanes, and the pungent flavors of Southeast Asia get more popular. Move over sriracha, because the new heat is Gochujang, a spicy, fermented Korean condiment. We saw it in a number of snack foods, including Say! Cruch Roasted seaweed snacks with gochujang. Also remaining popular is fermented kimchi and seaweed snacks.
Authentic Japanese: One of the least-known styles of food to Americans is Japanese. With lots of fermented, strongly-flavored ingredients and seafood, for 2016 Japanese cuisine is hot, hot, hot. Miso is getting the most love, but not the dried stuff in soup packets. True fermented misos are making their way into everything from dressings and soups to marinades, and one of our favorite is Aedan SF, with their artisan line of fermented rices (koji), aged country miso, Shio Koji (an umami-flavor blaster) and 358 Sagohachi Pickling Sauce. Also at the show were Koji Rice Milk drinks and other miso-marinades.
Meat, Meat and More Meat: Paleos rejoice, because meat isn’t going anywhere. What’s different about the meats we’re seeing in 2016, however, is how the animals are raised, careful processing and more healthful ways of eating animal protein. Bone broth is still fringy, but gaining popularity for its health properties. We’re seeing commercially available pork and duck lard, along with beef tallow (EPIC Foods) that have been a restaurant kitchen staple for years; jerkies from here to eternity and even “healthy” fried pork skins that are no-carb and only 100 calories (Pork Clouds). Our favorite, however was Little Red Dot Bakkwa (a southeast Asian-style grilled jerky) in flavors like beef chipotle, turkey-fish sauce, lemongrass ginger beef and pork-soy sauce.
Grassfed Grows Up: People continually praise the wonders of grassfed beef, but honestly, it can be hit or miss flavor-wise. As demand grows, sustainable beef is coming into its own, along with grassfed milks used in yogurt, ice cream and milk-drinks (like lassis).
Alt.milk: Alternative dairy sources continue to be a growing market, expanding to macadamia nut milk, coconut milk, lots of almond milks, and a new quinoa milk.
Vegan: Plant-based foods are the hottest trend for 2016, as health concerns as well as sustainability and animal welfare take center stage. One of the most interesting we saw at the show was from a local, Sophie’s Kitchen in Sebastopol with their “vegan seafood”. Using elephant yam root (konjac) that’s been a popular Asian ingredient for many years, they’ve created vegan “toona”, “crab cakes”, scallops and even shrimp. We were also fascinated by Dardimans Dried Fruit Lollipops made with beet sugar.
Chocolate: There’s always a huge showing for chocolate, in every form at the show because, well, who doesn’t love chocolate. The biggest trend of the last few years are mix-ins with everything from bacon to mushrooms. Bacon and chocolate continue to be popular, along with more subtle flavors from Chuao’s new “Lovely” brand of chocolate that features flavors like blueberry lavender, raspberry rose and coconut hibiscus (plus it donates money from the bars to Girls, Inc.)