10 (plus) trends for 2008: Advances bring world to our taste buds


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Plenty has changed in the food world in the past 25 years.

Once-unfamiliar foreign foods have gone mainstream. Travel has broadened our culinary horizons, whether from our own explorations, the trips of friends or vicariously via the travel channels.

Just two decades ago, sushi was a novelty to most of us. Now you can buy it in almost every supermarket.

Italian, Mexican and Chinese meals, once considered ethnic and exotic, are now everyday fare. Vietnamese? Spanish? Bring it on.

The ideal of from-scratch cooking has been shoved aside for convenience and speed. Encouraged by the manufacturers of premade sauces, spice and rub mixes, frozen entrees and other quickie conveniences, we now buy or assemble many of our meals more often than we cook them.

Refrigeration, transportation and better-living-through-chemistry have encouraged a global pantry in which all produce is in season all the time, shipped from someplace in the world.

   
Our dining critic predicts ...

PG dining critic China Millman looks into 2008 toward China:

The upcoming Olympics will expose more Americans than ever before to authentic Chinese food. Chinese fusion will become more common, and there will be a renewed interest in Chinese regional cuisine.

However, the weak dollar and rising airline prices will also leave Americans more interested in exploring areas and cuisine closer to home. We've already seen it in a new focus on bourbon in just the past few months. American specialty products -- including cheeses, olive oil, meat, and produce -- will be big in the New Year.

Though we may be more interested in food and dining than ever before, recent trends suggest we're all getting a little tired of over-the-top fine dining. I predict fewer really upscale restaurants and more neighborhood bistro-style businesses. The steak-house craze of the past few years may become the burger-joint craze of 2008 (especially if Thomas Keller finally opens the burger joint rumored to be his next project).

Finally, I predict that Alice Waters' influence will continue to grow in 2008. Concerns about our own and the planet's health will make us all more interested in knowing where our food came from and how it is grown or raised. More restaurants than ever before will join in the trend and start focusing on organic, local, seasonal products. Menus will list more farm names, and, as demand increases, more restaurants will go the additional step of starting their own gardens.

-- China Millman

   

When trendspotters made those forecasts back in the '90s, we thought they were off base. Shows what we knew.

What's next?

We asked three food professionals to gaze into the crystal ball for 2008 and beyond to spot the trends they see developing for American shoppers and consumers.

"I think that 2008 will be the year of the informed consumer," says Jennifer D'Aurora, spokeswoman for McGinnis Sisters. "We are eating smarter. Customers are more interested than ever in what they are putting in their bodies."

Giant Eagle supermarkets spokesman Dick Roberts agrees. "Our customers are seeking information about nutrition, origin, ingredients and environmental impact," he says. "Local and all-natural foods will continue to gain in popularity. Folks are looking for bold, exotic flavors and ethnic variety. And we see a big trend toward foods that provide solutions for consumers with allergies. Gluten-free food is a front runner as far as consumer demand and availability of product. Energy drinks, functional beverages and flavored waters will also be big trends."

"Americans want it both ways," says Ron Tanner, vice president, communications and education for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. "People are looking for flavor and taste, from both near and far. They might purchase an artisanal cheese made within 20 miles at a local farm, but serve it with a wine from halfway around the world,"

And now, the trends ...

1. Going local

We told you so. Last year, the Post-Gazette predicted that consumers would think hard about the food supply, would want to know their sellers and producers and would demand food that is fresh, local and sustainably grown. In 2008, expect that trend to go mainstream. More of us will shop at the stores that respect our needs. More of us will show up at farmers markets and spend more time in the kitchen, cooking from scratch. Or at least assembling good-for-you meals.

The trend for local is being picked up by food manufacturers as well. Ready meals made with ingredients from the same region in which the product is sold are hitting stores. Food writers and pundits are turning their attention to this hot topic, following the lead of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," and Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."

Expect consumers to put pressure on manufacturers and restaurant chains as they realize their power comes from a vote with their forks and shopping carts.

2. Vegetarian

This trend will continue to grow. Mark Bittman, author and journalist, just put out his latest tome: "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food." When asked why he wrote such a comprehensive book on vegetarian cooking, Mr. Bittman said he "was seeing the handwriting on the wall" and that "the days of all meat, all the time ... could not go on." Even Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" was re-released this year -- after having sold more than 300,000 copies during the past decade. For some, going veggie will be a passing fad. For others, it'll be a life-changing habit.

   
What will be the food buzz words in 2008?

Sustainable, healthful, seasonal, local, organic, antioxidant, artisanal, kids, yumberry, probiotics, carbon footprint, locavore, cage-free, pasture-raised, micro-greens, gluten-free and (all things) Latino.

   

Pittsburghers can check out a new vegetarian eatery, Hoi Polloi, 1100 Galveston Ave. at West North Avenue on the North Side. The cafe opened in mid-December. The menu emphasizes local, organic and fresh ingredients, but nothing too fancy or complicated. Look for freshly squeezed juices and smoothies, classic comfort foods such as chili, grilled cheese and PB&J, soups, salads and sandwiches. Owners are Sandra Tellep and Jessica Burgan (412-586-4417).

3. Green


Green-itude is rampant. Homeowners and eateries alike will be pressured to reuse, recycle, use renewable resources and seek sustainably grown products. The National Restaurant Association has set up a Green Task Force. Soon you'll see visible rightousness showing up as menus printed on recycled paper, uniforms made out of wholly natural materials and a decrease in bottled waters. Come on, people, think of your planet!

4. Eating for health

With health and diet concerns front and center, watch for rating systems to keep score of "good-for-you-ness." Expect to hear about probiotics, a fancy word meaning friendly bacteria that benefit gut health. Yogurt has been the go-to source for probiotics, but expect to see more advertised in cheeses, supplements and, good grief, even chocolates from Callebaut.

If you wonder where the flavor went this year, notice that "low-" is a favored prefix for calories, salt and fat. To make up for any absence of flavor, look for an increase in texture, as in "crispy" and "crunchy."

Food manufacturers are beginning to purge their products of superfluous additives. There will also be pressure to reduce high-fructose corn syrup.

5. Kids are hot

A round of applause, please, for vastly improved school lunches, funded by school administrators who recognize the value of good and healthful food for children and the role they play in the offense against obesity. A big thanks goes to Alice Waters for keeping the pressure on schools and her tireless tirades against fatty, salty, mystery foods in school cafeterias.

Another thanks goes to Chef Anne Cooper, author of "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children," for revolutionizing the way we think about school lunches in this country from a user-friendly point of view.

Kids are the next gastronomic frontier, with a raft of cookbooks and cooking classes and camps showing up in hotels and resorts. Parents are rebelling against so-called kiddie menus (pizza, fried chicken fingers, hotdogs) in restaurants. Both adults and kids want child-size portions of real food from the regular menu.

But watch out. Kids are being targeted to buy high-priced, flashy-colored vitamin waters.

6. Super fruits

Look for high-nutrient "super fruits" to go mainstream. Mangosteen, a high-antioxidant fruit from Southeast Asia, is making waves. Subtly sweet and a bit tangy, mangosteen is set to show up in juices along with goji berries, acai and more pomegranate. But the yumberry may edge out the competition. The subtropical fruit, originally from China, has a high antioxidant content and cranberry-like flavor ... and a made-up name, like kiwi.

7. Make mine hot and spicy


In '08, spicy food looms large, and the target market is, who do you think? Aging baby boomers. As we grow older, we all experience "the graying of flavor." Our senses of smell and taste head south along with our eyesight and hearing. Translation: Consumers will demand hot, spicy and bold flavors. If you can't take the heat, keep Tums within reach.

8. Hispanic

If America's obsession with all things Mediterranean had any influence on cartography, Med-rim countries would represent an area the size of South America on the world map. But watch out, Italy et al., because Latino food is on a roll. The Hispanic population continues to be the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S. and is expected to reach the 50 million mark by 2010.

Expect grocers and restaurants to pay attention to the needs, preferences and shopping habits of this consumer group. Look for foods of specific regions, as well as countries such as Mexico and Spain, to be spotlighted.

China boycott


The news is filled with reports of tainted food imports from China -- food contaminated with E. coli, farmed fish grown in contaminated water -- and myriad recalls. Because food fears will trump the markets clogged with cheap Chinese-made foods, much of the U.S. public will avoid Chinese products altogether. McGinnis Sisters' spokesperson Jennifer D'Aurora is clear on the subject: "Each one of us has the responsibility to know what we are eating and how it may affect our health."

10. Rise of Asian food

Even so (see No. 9), with Beijing the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics, the spotlight is on all the foods of Asia. The foodways of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and India pique our interest, but the rising star of the stage will be Korea, as a cuisine, culture and commercial hub.


Marlene Parrish can be reached at 412-481-1620 or mparrish@post-gazette.com First Published December 27, 2007 5:00 AM


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