The Future of Flavors

Adventurous foods and probiotics rank among top trends for 2018, according to forecasts.

Glow-in-the-dark donuts and moringa lattes may be among the hottest food fads this year, according to a new list of culinary trend predictions by Sterling-Rice Group. A continued interest in global flavors, superfood ingredients and Instagram-ready dishes will drive product development on restaurant menus and retail shelves in 2018, says Liz Moskow, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group.

The annual report is the culmination of in-depth research, international travel and input from more than 175 chefs, restaurateurs and food experts.

A growing interest in gut health has propelled probiotics to “mega-trend” status. More consumers are seeking less-processed, easier-to-digest foods, fueling a “frenzy for fermentation” and paving the way for pinsa, an ancient Roman style pizza.

Already popping up in cities including Brookyln and Seattle, pinsa is made using a flour blend with long fermentation periods.

“When dough is fermented, it gets bubblier, and the resulting crust is crispier, and it absorbs more water so you get fuller faster and eat less,” Moskow says. “And it’s crispy and airy and light and better for digestion. So when people eat pinsa as opposed to pizza, they report they don’t feel as bloated or sick, and it’s sort of predigested by the fermentation before it gets into the American belly.” Sourdough is on the rise for similar reasons, she adds.

High-flavor fillings are merging with crepes, breads, and buns to create unique street fare.
 
According to new National Restaurant Association research, consumers will look for more healthful, sustainable and simple choices at foodservice operations. The 700 chefs surveyed for its 2018 list of Top 10 concept trends say hyper-local foods, chef-driven fast-casual concepts, clean menus and veggie-centric foods will be among the most desired dining trends next year.

More restaurants are serving foods grown, picked and processed on the premises. Why? Consumers think local equals freshness. Customers are eating more simply and healthfully when dining out. They want menu items made with high-quality greens, grains and proteins, among other things. Restaurants who cater to their needs win their loyalty and business.

Likewise, the restaurant group’s 2018 What’s Hot survey points to top menu trends: New cuts of meat such as shoulder tender, oyster steak, Vegas strip and Merlot cut, nabbed the top spot, while house-made condiments was No. 2. Falling from No. 2 to No. 3 is street-food inspired dishes. These are the go-to meals for adventurous diners. Popular picks include, tempura, kabobs, dumplings and pupusas.

According to McCormick’s 2018 Flavor Forecast, a major theme in this year’s forecast is the convenient and adventurous nature of food. Street food flavor fusion is big across the globe, as carts, trucks and food halls are making an impact in local food cultures.

McCormick predicts that bao buns will feature a sweeter side in 2018.
 
The innovative idea has become big with many bakeries in 2017, and that will look to continue in 2018. High-flavor fillings are merging with crepes, breads, and buns to create unique street fare. One of those items expected to be popular is dessert bao buns. These soft, steamed buns first gained traction in China, where they are typically served in a savory fashion. This makes great casing for sandwiches at places like New York City’s Black Seed Bagels and BaoHaus. The former recently featured a combination of a bao bun and bagel, “The Baogel,” which was filled with Chinese restaurant Nom Wah Kuai’s signature sweet pork belly. The latter specializes in the Chairman Bao, an open-faced bao filled with tender and fatty pork belly, topped with Haus Relish, crushed peanuts and Taiwanese red sugar.

McCormick predicts that bao buns will feature a sweeter side in 2018. To create a product more akin to a handheld dessert, they can be made with a simple dough and classic pie fillings. The flavor forecast gives the example of the British banoffee pie bao, which has bananas, cream, cinnamon and toffee.

Other trends on the Flavor Forecast include cuisine from East Africa, Japanese Izakaya eats, wellness beverages and soups, and hot pot dishes.

Instagram-ready bakery products

The rise of social media has set the stage for such Instagram-worthy innovations as Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino, a colorful blended beverage that created plenty of online buzz during its limited run. For many millennials, it has become second nature to snap a photo of a meal or beverage before the first bite or sip, according to Moskow of Sterling-Rice Group. “The picture is more than a picture of the food; it’s documenting where they’ve been and what they’ve seen and what they’ve eaten,” she says. “Now we’re starting to see these experiences and/or dishes start coming out with the sole purpose of engaging with a camera lens.”

At Black Star Pastry in Australia, consumers may order a Glonut, a donut with icing made with riboflavin, which glows under ultraviolet light. “Nobody wants to eat a glow-in-the-dark donut,” Moskow says. “They just don’t. They want to take a picture of it, though. And it will go viral.”

Australia's Black Star Pastry made headlines in 2017 with its radiant glonuts.
 
As for beverages, cinnamon, cardamom and other herbs and spices are set to gain steam in coffee. “What we’re starting to see is taking coffee as the base layer and adding functional ingredients or flavor elements to it in the form of healthier, better-for-you flavors and spices and herbs as opposed to a shot of syrup,” she says.

Moringa is poised to supplant matcha and turmeric as the next hot superfood. Derived from the dried leaves of a plant native to parts of Africa and Asia, moringa is rich in protein, fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamin A.

“Moringa has a dried spinach flavor, so it’s pretty benign in smoothies,” Moskow says. “Some progressive chefs are starting to cook with it. You can find it in bars. I think it might be the next matcha latte.”

Spicy heat should stay on the front burner in food and beverage flavor trends in 2018, according to another new survey. An online survey from Kalsec, Inc. found that 90 percent of United States consumers and 80 percent of European consumers say they enjoy hot and spicy foods. In the U.S., one out of four consumers said they were eating spicy foods more often than they did one year ago. The pepper varieties of serrano, Szechuan, poblano, habanero, chipotle, cayenne, and jalapeño are popular among people who enjoy spicy food.