Culinary trends in transition

by Keith Nunes
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 Chef
Culinary trends are constantly changing - chefs are no longer focusing on large meat portions as center-of-plate staples. 
 
Culinary trends are constantly changing – chefs are no longer focusing on large meat portions as center-of-plate staples.

Culinary trends are lasting longer, according to Guy Meikel, corporate chef for Mizkan Americas, Mount Prospect, Illinois. It is no longer three years and out, he said. They evolve and change, but the underlying nugget of inspiration remains.

To illustrate his point, Meikel brings up bacon. “Bacon is the poster child of people embracing the different with the tasty,” he says. “For a while you saw bacon paired with everything. Now we’ve seen the trend hitting short ribs and cuts of meat you don’t normally see. We are seeing sweet bread tacos, lengua (beef tongue) and chicharron (pork rinds).”

Janet Carver, senior manager of the culinology group and food pilot plant for Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Illinois, says meat’s role as a center-of-the-plate staple is diminishing as well.

“The focus no longer is on the 5- to 6-oz., or many times larger, amounts of meat on the plate as the lead character,” she said. “Vegetables and meat protein alternatives are taking a bigger role not only for sustainability but for health and wellness and peace of mind that we as individuals are doing our part.

“Bon Appetit magazine named Al’s Place, in the San Francisco Mission District, its best new restaurant in 2015 and meats are listed as side dishes. Many chains now offer a vegetarian option, including White Castle. McDonald’s Japan has a chicken and veggie burger with edamame for a healthy option kid’s meal.”

Core Ingredients 

Carver’s points about meat lead her to such core ingredients as pulses, legumes and ancient grains that are helping product developers become more creative in the development of new menu items and finished products.

“Pulses, whole and as flours, proteins and protein isolates are being used widely for a flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyle. They are also functional and being used in a variety of ways from meat analogs, vegan meringues, egg replacement and in gluten-free flours.

 Tapas
Eating smaller portions throughout the day allows for little indulgences diners don't always get with larger meals. 
 
“Many fine dining chefs and restaurants were touting ancient grains and their flavor and textural interest along with health and wellness. Ancient grains are becoming almost common in the food store and in the new way of eating.”

Several companies are making ancient grains a focus. Grainful, Ithaca, New York, features oatmeal as a risotto-like base for such savory toppings as porcini mushrooms and chicken, mild curry with organic coconut milk and tofu, and kidney and garbanzo beans with Italian spices and chopped kale. The Simplot Food Group, Boise, Idaho, has introduced its new Simplot Good Grains. The frozen pre-cooked and seasoned blends of grains and vegetables are in packs small enough that consumers are willing to try. The line includes an ancient grains and kale blend with brown and red rice, kale, red quinoa and black barley.

Garth Vdoviak, product development manager with Mizkan, points to the more frequent use of some exotic chili peppers.

“One example is the Aleppo pepper,” he says. “In terms of sauces, the Mediterranean peppers are coming on strong.”

From Asian cuisines, he noted a rise in the popularity of gochujang, but added it may be a difficult ingredient to source in large quantities.

“We’ve developed a mock gochujang,” he said. “Gochujang is fermented red pepper paste with soybean in it. We blend miso with red jalapeño pepper puree and add a sweetener like evaporated cane juice and it makes an awful good duplicate of gochujang.”

Heat remains a trend, but Meikel sees the flavors of some of the hottest chilies being a focus in the future.

“I love a ghost pepper, but I don’t like the heat of a ghost pepper,” he said. “There is a cranberry note that comes from it that can be used in a vinegar or a dressing. I think there are some people who want the heat, but there are others who would like to capture that sparkling cranberry note and enjoy the flavor without it being painful.”

Carver also sees what she describes as the “new snacking culture” trending from such heritage cuisines as Spain and Portugal where tapas are popular.

“Smaller bites sustaining you several times throughout the day has been dubbed the ‘millennial’ way of eating, but it is not a new way of eating at all,” she says. “Eating smaller portions several times a day also allows for small indulgences of fats and oils that you may not eat as a larger meal. This is also heralding back to eating rich, authentic, beautiful foods whether they are regional, heritage or global infusion.”
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