Five questions for a food trendspotter

by Monica Watrous
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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Sweet potato ice cream, jerk watermelon and pickled turnip greens may be coming to menus in 2017, according to the latest trends report from Baum + Whiteman L.L.C.

“In a nutshell we’ve become a nation of flavor junkies,” said Michael Whiteman, co-founder and president of the Brooklyn-based international food and restaurant consulting company.

Radishes
Radishes are set to soar on menus in 2017.

Each year, Baum + Whiteman releases a list of predictions of the hottest food and beverage trends in restaurant and hotel dining for the year ahead. On the list for 2017 are savory ice cream flavors, elaborate breakfast tacos, pickled vegetable stems and trims, and radishes.

“We’re seeing a rash of radishes because they are colorful, are shapely, make a lovely crunching sound in your brain, enliven the palate, enliven the plate, and do their magic without requiring a talented chef's handiwork,” Mr. Whiteman told Food Business News.

Check out the full report here. Other highlights include bowls of grains and greens, comfort food vegetables, and “freakshakes,” which are milkshakes topped with heaping quantities of cake, cookies, donuts or candy.

Freakshakes
“Freakshakes,” which are milkshakes topped with heaping quantities of cake, cookies, donuts or candy, are also trending.

In an emailed interview, Mr. Whiteman shed additional light on the latest trends report, including how his company predicts the hottest new foods and flavors and why we can expect to see fake cheese on more menus next year.

Food Business News: In your trends report, you highlighted heartier breakfast items such as crunchy fried chicken, crispy chorizo and coarse whole grain cereal. What’s driving that trend?

Michael Whiteman: We’re redefining the meaning of “comfort food” by moving away from fattymouth dishes. This is true not just for breakfast but for main courses as well, where vegetables-with-texture are growing in demand while mac-and-cheese and lasagna are declining.

Coarse whole grain cereal
Heartier breakfast items, such as coarse whole grain cereal, are taking the place of comfort foods.

People in stress or discomfort no longer automatically opt for boring, mushy food, as they did after 9/11 — although the first few months of Trumpdom could reverse all that. Think of the transformation of cauliflower as a shining example.

In terms of trending desserts, you described a few over-the-top calorie bombs, which seems to buck the whole health and wellness trend. What’s going on here?

Mr. Whiteman: Something always has to buck the trend.

You also mentioned globally inspired desserts and savory flavors. Can we really expect to see sweet potato ice cream as the next big thing on dessert menus, or is this simply a flash-in-the-pan fad for the adventurous or health-minded eater?

Sweet potato ice cream
Sweet potato ice cream may be coming to menus in 2017.

Mr. Whiteman: Plain, fatty vanilla may be fine for some, but the rest of us crave excitement, so we’re seeing herbs and spices migrating from the dinner plate to desserts. Most of those herbs and spices come from other shores, hence globally-inspired creations. You have something against sweet potatoes?

In the report, you included a few buzzwords for 2017, including radishes, clean label cold cuts and fake cheese. What’s up with those?

Mr. Whiteman: I think you’ll see (fake cheese) popping up in mainstream restaurants as an appeal to vegetarians and vegans.

(Regarding) clean label cold cuts, the perception is that things like bologna, salami, etc. are filled with the sort of “nasties” that people have been shunning.

Vegan cheese dip
Baum + Whiteman predicts more vegan cheese alternatives will pop up in mainstream restaurants.

What goes into identifying these trends each year? Do you follow up at the end of a given year to see how your predictions pan out?

Mr. Whiteman: In our office, things that might become trends are constantly flagged and categorized, and these might come from restaurants we visit around the world, supermarket shifts, street markets and things that you write. Sometimes they linger in our files for a couple of years until we see them about to take off; sometimes they just linger.

We’ve never evaluated each year’s predictions, but I think we’ve been pretty accurate. Occasionally I see someone else’s forecast for next year and say to myself that we wrote about that last year — only to discover that in fact we predicted it two or three years ago. 
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READER COMMENTS (1)

By Leslie Nist 11/28/2016 8:22:54 AM
Thrilled to see sweet potato ice cream on your list of trending new items. Sweet Potatoes versatility and popularity continue to grow. Try a few Crasins on your sweet potato ice cream for a little tang!