You are what you will eat

Thank millennials for making the future of food a little spicier

Susan France

Millennials and members of Generation X and Y are constantly being blamed for everything from the election of Donald Trump to the rise in texting-related traffic accidents. As a much-maligned Baby Boomer, I think they are just getting their fair share of blame. However, let’s applaud the current younger generations when they change the prevailing paradigm for the better, especially in the food world.

You can hug your local millennial for broadening the American palate to embrace more exciting global flavors and dishes. Culinary trend-watchers credit them for the increasing popularity of everything from tikka masala and mole negro to Lampong peppercorns and Ethiopian harissa spice. Thanks to them we have sriracha sauce and “the new sriracha” — sweet-spicy Korean gochujang sauce. And we have more diverse Asian fare such as regional Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indian dishes.

A parade of experts has already predicted the food, drink and dining trends that will be hot in 2018. Somehow the bone broth and jackfruit burgers that were supposed to sizzle in ’17 are missing on these lists.

Sometimes prognosticators predict weird foods just to sound edgy. I like the cheesy Georgian flatbread kachapuri, as well as burnt caramel and purple yam, as much as the next culinary soothsayer, but I know that few Americans will taste them in the next 365 days.

Whole Foods Markets’ 2018 hot list includes turmeric, matcha, maca and cacao powder in smoothies as well as mushrooms in tea, broth and in chocolates. Personally, I prefer my mushrooms sautéed and my chocolate truffles fungi-free.

The Boulder-based Sterling-Rice Group says plant-based proteins, chai-style coffee (like Bhakti Iced Chai Coffee Blend), moringa tea and fresh sardines are on the front burner … at least through December.

Here’s what you may (or may not) taste on a menu or at a supermarket near you in 2018.

Pupusas with house-roasted coffee

Forget Taco Tuesday. In 2018 it will be Pupusa Wednesdays. The National Restaurant Association surveyed more than 700 chefs who forecast that international street food will be hot, especially Salvadoran pupusas. You can already find the griddled rounds of corn middled with beans, meat and veggies at the Pupusas stand at CO-42 and South Boulder Road in Louisville and at El Tazumal Restaurant & Pupuseria in Denver. Boulder-born Tres Latin Foods creates first-class frozen pupusas which are sold at many supermarkets. 

The chefs’ survey also predicts we’ll see more house-made soft drinks, house-roasted coffee and doughnuts with savory and nontraditional fillings like the sweet red bean-filled doughnuts I tasted recently at H Mart in Westminster.

Cashing out in ’18

Is it classist to go cashless when you are in a service-based industry? According to the New York Times, more eateries across the country are choosing to stop dealing in cash to speed transactions and because counter folks don’t want to handle unhygienic paper and metal money. Locally, Alpine Modern Café in Boulder recently posted signs announcing that it will soon no longer accept cash. How do you then deal with a patron, a cranky elder perhaps, who walks in with cash? Will you turn them away in favor of a millennial using Apple Pay?

Good signs on the food horizon

Some trends bode well for a food future that is equitable and sustainable. Trend watchers predict that more chefs and butchers will use a whole animal approach to beef and market affordable “other” cuts like oyster steak and Vegas strip. (Sign up for the Charcuterie and Whole-Animal Butchery Course Feb. 18-19 at Il Porcellino Salumi in Denver.)

Meanwhile, a number of new startups are using fermentation to make vegan egg whites, cheese and milk. In seafood news, Finless Foods is producing lab-grown tuna and Loliware is introducing Lolistraw, a compostable straw made from flavorless seaweed. I’m also happy to hear that kelp is the new kale. Frankly, anything that replaces kale, that glorified rabbit food, is welcome. By the way, environmentally friendly rabbit is predicted to become “the other white meat.” Crispy Buttermilk McRabbit tenders, anyone?

According to a national survey of dietitians, fermented foods like kefir, tempeh and kimchi will be the top superfood in the coming year. They are already huge in Boulder along with the diet experts’ other nutritional faves: avocado, seeds, nuts, green tea, ancient grains, coconut and salmon.

One sobering fact: Even after decades of focus on organics and the rise of Whole Foods and its cohorts, The Nielsen Co. estimates that organic produce is still only 10 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. That percentage is probably much higher in Boulder County. A full 30 percent of all organics sold are lettuce and berries. 

Foods jumping the shark in 2018

Some foods have really overstayed their welcome. Spiral “noodles” made from vegetables were an interesting alternative even if they didn’t taste like linguini. Clearly they have jumped the shark now that Olive Garden is debuting a zucchini noodle pasta dish in 2018. Mochi (MOW-chee) has also gone mainstream and non-ethnic. That was clear when I spied a freezer at King Soopers in Louisville devoted solely to the modestly interesting dough-wrapped ice cream.

The “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” food trends

Some of the news doesn’t bode well for the future of food. I urge restaurateurs to avoid “ambient scenting,” a term that would have prompted snickers from me and my brothers. Restaurants are apparently diffusing synthetic aromas through air systems to hide smells or enhance the experience. A better choice is to serve food that smells great. It doesn’t stop there: The future may be forkless. Lab researchers at the University of Sussex have devised TastyFloats, a “contactless food delivery system” that acoustically levitates food into the mouth. What could go wrong?

Finally, there is dietary horror in the cereal aisle. Kellogg’s is introducing Unicorn Cereal with red, purple and blue circles, as well as Donut Shop cereal in “pink donut” flavor and Lucky Charms Frosted Flakes cereal. Post is launching Chips Ahoy! and Nutter Butter cereals. This is how America’s breakfast makers will display their commitment to fighting the childhood obesity epidemic in 2018.

Words to Chew On

“The most indispensable ingredient of all good home cooking: love for those you are cooking for.” — Sophia Loren

John Lehndorff has written about national food trends for national magazines including Cheese Connoisseur and Flavor & The Menu.