From market research firm Packaged Facts, here are 10 food trends (listed in alphabetical order) that you'll probably be seeing or start seeing more of in 2018. The trends are based on our upcoming 2018 Food Forecast ebook available soon on the company's website.
Aloha. The Zombies are back, along with the craft cocktail movement and the relighting of the torch for Tiki bars, with their outré, escapist karma. More than that, it's about the foodways of culturally polyglot Hawaii, where the East and West do meet. Poke has already swept the mainland. There's also Moco Loco and (you knew this was coming) Spam in sushi. Keep an eye out for malasadas, the Portuguese-origin eggy donuts iconic in Hawaii and popular in California. Hawaiian foods are DNAed for fusion, and especially primed for cities and eaters with complicated cultural geographies.
Color Is the New Sugar. In a good way. The eye candy colors of high-antioxidant botanicals signal natural and healthy, even if it's your matcha donut from Brooklyn's Dough or vegan turmeric ice cream from Van Leeuwen. Chefs have increasingly taken on a Jean Arp-ian aesthetic of juxtaposing and layering, more than blending, food ingredients and colors with sushi as hero on one hand, and the sensually duo-tone egg on the other. In this corner, too, the beet goes on: earthy, vivid, and almost-too-familiar yet endlessly reinvented, beet continues to gain traction, including for its color bleed. Plus there's purple cauliflower.
Cracked Pepper Is the New Sea Salt. Peppercorns are eaten cracked, just as salt pretty much comes from the sea, but that's not the point, especially for mass-market salty snack products. Calling out black or cracked pepper in chips and crackers says you're more than conventionally serious about bringing it with flavor. Pepper is also flexing its flavor muscle in artisanal foods, including for dessert. Pepper has come to the fore partly because of the renaissance of interest in cured meats, pastrami and pancetta, plus gravlax, as a Nordic variation on smoked salmon or lox.
Everything Ancient Is New Again. If French cuisine no longer rules the roost like she used to, given our globalized food culture, she remains a very spirited Dowager Queen. In the wake of macaron mania, a revival in interest in French cuisine has stormed menus high and low: foie gras, tartare, charcuterie, and confit in fine and upscale casual dining, an avalanche of crème fraiche, and those fast-food brioche buns. French Revival shares the stage well with the artisanal food movement's emphasis on tradition, technique, and passionate standards.
Featuring Fig. Apples are great, berries may be better, but fresh figs just have more going on. They also have been doing it longer, with the easily propagated fig going back to the salad days of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Rim agriculture. Chefs and specialty foods call out varietals, including for regional notes with the California Black Mission fig or the Turkish Calimyrna. In restaurants, figs' home base is fine dining, but upscale casual dining is where the growth has been. Fig brings star power to sweet & savory, and you can make it a double feature with fresh figs plus a balsamic fig vinaigrette or a fig-bacon jam.
Meatballs on a Roll, and Spreading. Where there's been meat, there have been meatballs — from Italy to Sweden to Japan (chicken-based tsukune), India (lentil idli), and back to the Mediterranean rim (falafel). This global comfort food form has apotheosed into a menu specialty, celebrated in meatball-only concepts such as The Meatball Shop. Think of global and next-gen meatballs as a spinoff of the hyper-creative, consumer-welcomed alternative burger trend. And Meat isn't just on a roll, it's also spreading. Nduja salumi from Calabria and pork rillette from France, both soft with pork fat, are showing up on breads and pizzas, in sandwiches, and as umami flavoring in sauces.
Pistachio Country Transcontinental. Pistachios are "re-glamorized and nutritious." This brightly colored, deeply flavored, and protein-packed nut has still legs, suiting up sweet or savory for Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or Indian or regional-accented California/Southwestern dishes. Then-newer products such as Sahale Snacks Moroccan-spiced Pomegranate Pistachios pointed the way by combining nut appeal, superfood cues, and foreign accents for exotic-but-accessible food innovation with global game.
Sheep in Wolves' Clothing. Or rather, non-meats in meat formats, taking turkey bacon one degree of separation further while stopping well short of lab meat. Veggie and black bean burgers have escalated into restaurant concepts such as Beefsteak (tomato beefsteak, that is) by José Andrés in Washington, and to menu offerings such as the shiitake bacon at Gunshow (Brazilian churrascaria meets Chinese dim sum) in Atlanta.
Sweet Potato Isn't Just for Southern Accents Anymore. Along with dwelling in the inner sanctum of Soul/Southern food and giving potato fries a run for their money, sweet potato has been speaking in many tongues in cheffy restaurants. Predating Columbus, the sweet potato has always been farm/garden-to-table south of the border, and today's chefs and specialty food producers are re-connecting the dots. Or take another trade route and ply sweet potato with fusion flavorings such as dukkah, miso, paprika, or shishito, or cross the waters to pair with Kabocha squash. For a multicultural health halo, pair with blue/purple corn or quinoa, ginger or turmeric. Like beets, sweet potatoes also bring stick-to-your ribs ballast and gorgeous color to vegetarian/vegan plates. As with cauliflower and corn, there are also the purples, including the Filipino ube, called out in Packaged Facts' 2017 Forecast: Culinary Trend Tracking Series.
Vegan and Non-GMO Are the New Green Badges of Food Formulation Courage. With packaged food innovation focused on clean label, vegan and non-GMO have become all-star package callouts, raising the ante on organic and all-natural. Vegan is a positive cue even among those who are merely friends of vegetarians or vegans, as has also been the case with gluten-free.