Flavor of the Month

Once again I'm back from two key shows, the Research Chefs Association (RCA) and Natural Products Expo West (NPEW), in which many attendees' objective is to determine “what's hot and what's not.” After eating my way across two show floors, some fundamental truths remain. Chefs do create really great-tasting foods--better than most all packaged natural foods. And, the natural products industry turns out truly “good for you” foods, many with slightly bitter components since sensory quality is not allowed to trump health.

These two elements--culinary wizardry and “health first” foods--are still further apart than many believe. It can be argued that efforts to create the ultimate pleasurable food or ultimate health food should not be the same. Each goal is distinctly different. When achieved (or closely approached), such ultimate products become gold standards in their own industry that others can then improve on.

Of course, culinary creativity and healthfulness merge in many ways as well. The biggest trend among the culinary-inclined may well be to deliver more healthful products. And, as a long- time NPEW attendee, I can absolutely say that foods have gotten better. (Dehydrated seaweed is now sugared and enrobed in chocolate.)

Another point in common is the pursuit of what's hot in flavors. At NPEW, the following exotic fruits and berries (some touted as flavors) were in abundance: noni, açai, maca, pomegranate, mangosteen and goji berries. Seabuckthorn (a berry) was more apparent than at previous shows, although another attendee said it's been around. Less exotic, but still “antioxidant-blessed” was a long-time favorite of mine that seemed everywhere: cherries! In this month's issue, Kerry Hughes predicts the natural products industry will increase its use of other antioxidant fruits such as blueberries and black currants.

As for trends in ethnic cuisines, Marcia Wade writes on PF's Flavor Survey of R&D and marketers. Time-honored favorites, such as Mexican, Italian, Tex-Mex, Chinese and Thai, still reign. “Other regional American” foods came in next.

So, what food is very Americana, yet exotic and healthful that may be the next emerging trend? A recent newsletter reports European celebrity chefs are touting rhubarb. Coincidently, after work today, I'm bringing “heirloom” rhubarb roots (they were my mother's) to a research chef for personal use. It's hard to predict what will be the “flavor of the month,” but it is sure fun trying.