From every corner of the globe, rice and corn (maize) have been staples of the human diet for centuries. Rice and corn, along with wheat, feeds the vast majority of the world’s population. Therefore it’s easy to assume that we’ve seen virtually every conceivable incarnation of foods and dishes that incorporate rice or corn. Yet new and emerging culinary trends in restaurants across America indicate that there’s still plenty of innovation left for these “new” ancient grains, according to market research firm Packaged Facts in the recent report, Grain and Bakery Innovation: Culinary Trend Tracking Series. These creative modern innovations offer takes that are healthy, flavorful, distinctive, and drenched in tradition.
“Grain innovation is a wide field of fertile soil. There’s a rising foodie fascination with traditional grains and grain food methods,” says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “For instance, the corn renaissance is playing out perhaps most obviously with multicultural foods such as chilaquiles & migas, more broadly with tacos as street food gone sacred, and even as taco-style toppings and tortilla chips are spiked into breakfast bowls. Plus, we can’t forget the trendy appeal of the natural and high-antioxidant colors of plant foods which play into the healthful aspects of specialty corns, rices (yes plural!), and grains.”
Even recent dietary trends favoring low-carb lifestyles haven’t been enough to derail innovation in the grain industry. Packaged Facts’ survey data published in Grain and Bakery Innovation: Culinary Trend Tracking Series, reveal that 80% of consumers are eating the same amounts of grain (58%) or have added more grain to their diets (22%) compared to five years ago. Additional survey data show that 85% of consumers don’t avoid any type of grain for dietary reasons. It adds up to good news for rice and corn.
The Reason for Rice: Why all the rice, and why now? Because #plantfoods, #healthygrains, #globalinfluences, #localsourcing, #elevatedcomfortfood. Specialty rice varieties—many of them ancient crops rescued from oblivion—and intriguing rice preparations answer all of these calls. Their tremendous variety and endless versatility open them up to innovation, and their familiarity with consumers—who may not yet know their amaranth from their farro—count for easier converts. (Corn is analogous.) Expect this trend to go far and wide.
The Case for Corn: What’s old is new again, and what’s regional is turning national. Traditional corn specialties ranging from elote (seasoned grill corn) to grits and corn nuts are being made new again by innovative menu makers and food producers, trading on neutral flavor and varied texture, as well as consumer fascination with artisanal processes and global inspirations. Elote corn on the cob is popping up as a fast-casual specialty in rainbow-hued preparations as well as a street food-inspired appetizer/snack interpreted by adventurous chefs who prize novelty. Corn nuts (chulpe or cancha in Latin America) add a pop of ultra-crunchy texture to recipes and can be flavored with all manner of adventurous seasonings, from chili powder to seaweed. Grits have evolved from a comfortingly creamy regional breakfast porridge into a cheffy signature dish, led by traditional Low Country Carolina shrimp and grits to become one of the newest trendy grains.