Restaurant Trends That May Trickle Down to the Food Industry

From umami to yuzu, these could influence packaged food and beverage products … some day.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Burrowing out of the recession, hungry consumers will explore more exotic territory in the quest for unique flavors and nourishing foods in 2011, according to San Francisco-based The Center for Culinary Development, and Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., a division of MarketResearch.com.

Using CCD's signature five-stage Trend Mapping technique — where Stage 1 trends are emerging from independent restaurants and Stage 5's have landed in the mainstream — CCD and Packaged Facts identified eight culinary trends that will attract adventurous diners, influence product development and create buzz in 2011.

"These are obviously very trend-forward, emerging-stage trends, so they will take a while to trickle into the consumer package goods world," says Trendologist Kara Nielsen of CCD. "I certainly think umami is something every food package goods manufacturer should be thinking about in ways they haven't thought about before. With all the interest in sodium reduction, as well as consumer demand for bigger flavors, umami is going to be key to creating exciting and craveable products."

Umami is in Stage 3. American consumers are becoming more sophisticated about great tastes that come from umami, the fifth flavor found in many fermented and aged products, as well as seaweed, meat stock, parmesan cheese and tomatoes. Expect to see more applications of umami-laden ingredients — soy sauce, fish sauce, dashi, and mushroom broths — in 2011.

"Food ingredient suppliers have been working hard on creating new products with the umami feature like mushrooms, concentrations and extracts," says Nielsen.

"Kikkoman is working on a new generation of flavor enhancers that is getting away from MSG and moving it into a seemingly more natural derivative of umami ingredients. We will see more Eastern-style applications using sea vegetables (seaweed) and algae and new applications from Western-style umami, which comes from meat stocks." And she adds, "Interest in fermentation is also going to lend itself to umami benefits for diners and health benefits in products, such as kim chi and fermented cabbage or sauerkraut in jars, as well as pickles, which is a big trend in farmer's markets."

Free of artificial hormones and containing higher levels of healthful fatty acids, products made from grass-fed cows (in Stage 3) appeal to both health-focused consumers and those seeking more natural, traditional and authentic foodstuffs. "I'd like to see more products made with grass-fed dairy," says Nielsen. "Interest in CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] will continue to grow. It's a really healthful fatty acid and it fights certain conditions [inflammation, etc.], so there is a lot of promise in CLA. Consumers' interest in organic and hormone-free, grass-fed dairy is the next step. I've seen raw milk cheddar from grass-fed cows coming out of New Zealand, so the American market will need to respond."

Overarching interest in flavor adventure and wellness is driving food and flavor trends this year, illustrating how worldly our palates are becoming and how good-for-you foods also can be delicious and a little exotic.

Yuzu and other exotic citrus are in Stage 2. New foods made with the floral-flavored Japanese lime have been spotted at Fancy Food Shows lately, and this trend is ready to blossom. With lime already such a flavor standard, yuzu and other more specialty citrus varieties like sudachi will offer consumers an exciting exotic twist for salad dressings, beverages and condiments. "I recently tried yuzu kosho – a delicious fermented condiment made with yuzu peel, salt and chilies, one of the hot new ingredients in restaurants right now," says Nielsen.

Word is spreading about the many health benefits of coconut oil, now in Stage 2. It has a positive effect on metabolism due to its medium-chain fatty acid structure and also is a great substitute for butter in dairy-free baking and cooking. "There is a lot of opportunity for processors in coconut oil, as long as it's accompanied by consumer education," says Nielsen. "I expect highly-processed vegetable oils will eventually get the backlash that trans fats did."

American consumers are ready for new savory baked goods to freshen up the breadbasket. The traditional airy popover and gougères, cheesy French cream puff, are in Stage 2 and well positioned to do just that, since they are versatile, pop-able and novel.

In Stage 1, fine dining chefs have a new source for ingredients: nature. They are finding new ingredients by foraging in forests and along seashores, seeking new plants, herbs and flowers to flavor creative dishes and add a touch of the wild, including Douglas fir and other "wild by nature" flavors. Mixologists will join in the fun, adding "wild" flavors at the bar.

Cloudberry, an alpine and arctic berry, is an element of trendy Nordic cuisine. Although traditionally made into jams and liqueurs, it's now appearing in beer, wine and sparkling drinks. Could this be the next elderberry for the beverage world?

Also in Stage 1 are arepas. This South American griddled cornmeal patty is both tasty and versatile, and areperias (equivalent to the American lunch counter) are spreading across Latin America and areas in the U.S. with Colombian and Venezuelan immigrants. Arepas are commonly stuffed with your choice of any number of ingredients, including cheese (queso), fish (pescado), octopus (pulpo), beans (frijoles), vegetable salad (ensalada) and tuna salad (ätún). One San Francisco-based Venezuelan restaurateur has turned arepas into trendy sandwich carriers for local foodies, and expectations are they will spread to many more urban areas since they filling, delicious, vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free.

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