Over the last decade, I’ve spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s poring over thick piles of food-trend reports prognosticating how consumers will eat over the new year. These reports are often as reliable as a Magic 8 Ball; trends are notoriously mercurial.
But there are always tidbits of truth in them, from industry insiders who watch what consumers buy at grocery stores and what chefs add to their menus.
Usually, these are gradual changes that swell into waves of interest. Plant-based eating has gained traction since 2016, moving from a niche outlier to taking over entire sections of grocery stores and restaurant menus. In 2024, expect even more changes in this category as it becomes more mainstream and refines itself to appeal to broader audiences.
Some are trends no one saw coming. TikTok’s #watertok (consuming massive amounts of flavored water) garnered millions of page views, sparking nationwide shortages of 40-ounce Stanley tumblers and spawning an entire category of fruit-flavored syrups and powders.
For the most part, trend reports are just an exercise in observation. Forecasters’ 2023 predictions — the rise of mocktails, sustainable eating, plant-based seafood and label watchdogging — were accurate and will be reinforced in 2024.
Other “trends,” like the butter board (a charcuterie-esque board of flavored butter), flopped after a few months. Why anyone thought Yaupon, an herbal tea with stimulant properties, was going to take the American kitchen by storm is beyond me. The same is true of camel milk, a trend forecast for years but which never gained traction.
This year, we’ll continue already-popular trends, including “newstalgia” (nostalgic eating) and straightforward plant-based ingredients. The popularity of Korean cuisine has been on the radar since 2018, but it’s now hitting its stride. And there may be some surprises, like the return of the Pavlova and buckwheat becoming a household staple.
Here are some things I predict we’ll see in 2024. Click through the above gallery for a peek at the trending dishes.
Ditching junk ingredients
Labeling matters as more and more eaters are wising up to preservatives, sugars and chemicals in everyday foods. We’ve had enough of ultra-processed foods and confusing ingredients. “Healthy” has become meaningless, and consumers want to know the environmental impacts of their choices, according to market research company Mintel in their annual Global Food and Drink Trends report.
But there’s a catch. In 2024, we’re also not giving up on our favorite snack foods. It may seem like a paradox, but it’s more about truth in labeling. Consumers just want to know whether they’re indulging or eating well, and that hasn’t always been clear. “Giving consumers more information doesn’t necessarily result in them abandoning specific categories of food and drink,” according to the Mintel report.
Putting plants back in plant-based food
Eaters are beginning to realize that highly processed meat alternatives aren’t an automatic dietary win. Watch for the reemergence of old-school bean burgers and shorter lists of ingredients in plant-based foods. According to Whole Foods 2024 food trends forecast, mushrooms, walnuts and legumes will replace “complex meat alternatives.”
Also on the rise is plant-based seafood. Though the idea of line-caught tempeh isn’t especially appetizing, tuna and shrimp alternatives are excellent. Plant-based shrimp is usually made with konjac, an Asian root vegetable. Trumpet and lion’s mane mushrooms are good stand-ins for scallops. Find it at Vegan Mob, 13 W. Third St., Santa Rosa, veganmob.biz.
The 2023 frenzy over fancy tinned fish isn’t slowing. It’s gaining traction at wine bars like Punchdown (6770 McKinley St., Sebastopol, punchdownwine.com). The Redwood (234 S. Main St., Sebastopol, theredwoodwine.com) has an entire section devoted to sardines and tuna. Stellina Alimentari (160 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma) also has a large selection of Italian tinned fish.
This environmentally friendly cover crop is gluten-free and highly nutritious, according to Whole Foods food trend forecasters. Is it the next quinoa, or will it be an also-ran like sorghum and millet? Find it at Whole Foods or in grain bowls.
The candy bar made with fair-trade chocolate, macarons and all the other little treats beckon our sweet tooth and make us feel indulgent at the cost of a latte. As consumers watch their pocketbooks, these satisfying rewards are a feel-good buy when you can’t afford bigger spends. Find it at Fleur Sauvage, 370 Windsor River Road, Windsor, fleursauvagechocolates.com.
Looking back at nostalgic childhood foods has been a predicted trend for years, begging the question of whether it’s a trend at all. When politics, the environment, doom scrolling and plain old bad days at work take a toll on our mental health, coming home to a nice tuna noodle casserole will always be in style. Millennial retro foods include Bagel Bites, Fruit Roll-Ups, Lunchables and Uncrustables (PB&J with the crust cut off). One of the most comforting menus in Sonoma County is at Mac’s Deli, 630 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, macsdeliandcafe.com.
As Gen X moves into their later years, they’re looking for food to help them live healthy. Foods that offer balanced nutrition consider hormonal changes and sleep issues, offer nutriceutical benefits or contain high amounts of antioxidants and omega acids (like krill). Where to find it: Soft Medicine Sanctuary (186 N. Main St., Sebastopol, softmedicinesebastopol.com) and Farmacopia (95 Montgomery Drive, No. 90, Santa Rosa, farmacopia.net).
We’re all dehydrated, according to the #WaterTok videos featuring jug-like 40-ounce Stanley tumblers that come in every color of the rainbow. But who wants just plain water? Adding sugar-free syrups, tablets and powders transforms simple hydration into beverage hot rods. Think of flavors like blackberry-elderberry, orange creamsicle, cotton candy and pina colada- endless combinations.
Also on the rise are health tonics, mocktails and low-alcohol cocktails that are social and won’t lead to morning-after regrets. High-end restaurants are getting on the bandwagon with mocktail pairings that are as well-thought-out as wine pairings. Find it at Cyrus, 275 Highway 128, Geyserville, cyrusrestaurant.com or SingleThread, 131 North St., Healdsburg, singlethreadfarms.com.
Throwback cocktails like the espresso martini and Cosmopolitan are also having a moment, along with the much-maligned Mai Tai. Find them at Jackson’s Bar and Oven, 135 North St., Santa Rosa, jacksonsbarandoven.com and 19Ten, 115 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 19ten.com.
And are you ready for savory, food-inspired cocktails? Drink your dinner with a taco-inspired cocktail at Fern Bar (6780 Depot St., Suite 120, Sebastopol, fernbar.com) with cotija cheese tequila, roasted pineapple butter, sweet corn, chile liquor, cilantro, malic acid (for creaminess) and pineapple chile foam.
With shrinking disposable incomes, many diners are looking for more than just a meal — they want an experience. Petaluma’s Kapu, a modern tiki bar, offers tropical cocktails, Hawaiian-inspired food and immersive island and pirate decor (including cozy tiki huts). 132 Keller St., Petaluma, kapubar.com
Trend forecaster AF & Co. calls Korean food the Cuisine of the Year for 2024, and we’re not surprised. When Trader Joe’s carries gochujang, tteokbokki, and japchae; K-pop girl band Blackpink is the headliner at Coachella; and Korean beauty products are a $100 billion business in the U.S., it’s safe to say Americans are embracing K-culture. Korean fried chicken chain Bonchon now has 131 American restaurants and continues rapid growth — expanding to Petaluma in late January. Find Korean barbecue at Han Bul (522 Seventh St., Santa Rosa) and more classic Korean dishes at Soban Korean, 255 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma.
The National Restaurant Association’s 2024 food predictions say soups and stews will be another big player this year. The twist: Look to more global flavors like birria, the ongoing ramen obsession, Thai soups like chicken tom kha and the Spanish salmorejo (a cold tomato soup). Where to look: Kiraku Sushi and Ramen, 1985 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, kirakullc.com; and Khom Loi, 7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, khomloisonoma.com.
Dessert of the year: Pavlova
Baked meringue with fruit and whipped cream is the “it” sweet of 2024, according to AF & Co. They note Napa’s Press restaurant’s sweet corn Pavlova with chamomile ice and blueberries, but we’re bigger fans of the similar Floating Islands, made with softer poached meringue and crème anglaise. Where to find it: Augie’s French, 535 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, augiesfrench.com
Supposedly rich in antioxidants and vitamin A, camel’s milk has been touted as the next big thing. But until herds of camels munch grass in American pastures, the price will never compete with cow’s milk or plant-based milk. Good news: You can buy frozen or fresh camel milk from Desert Farms for $20 on their website, desertfarms.com