More vegetables. Improved gut bacteria. Cocktails with less alcohol. And cheese tea.
As we pored over dozens of lists handicapping the next big food trends, and interviewed people who get paid to drill into consumer behavior, we kept in mind that everyone could be dead wrong. Food forecasting is not a science, or even an art. Still, the game is a fun one.
Here are some of the most intriguing guesses at what and how Americans will be eating in the new year.
THE NEW ‘IT’ CUISINES
It’s a toss-up. The market research firm Technomic says popular dishes will come from eastern Mediterranean nations like Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Consulting firm Baum & Whiteman is betting on food from the “Stans” — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The global buyers for Whole Foods Market have money on flavors from the Pacific Rim. San Francisco food consultant Andrew Freeman is calling it for the nation of Georgia, with its Instagrammable star, khachapuri — a cheese-filled bread boat topped with a runny egg.
THE NEW ‘IT’ VEGETABLE
It’s a tie between mushrooms — expected to pop up in teas, desserts, jerky and cocktails — and sea vegetables (basically, seaweed). Consumption of seaweed is growing 7 percent annually in the United States, James Griffin, an associate professor at Johnson & Wales University, told Nation’s Restaurant News. It checks all the boxes: healthful, environmentally sound and full of umami.
THE DRIEST DRINKS
Lighter wines, natural wines and drinks with less or no alcohol will be popular. Americans ages 18 to 34 are more interested in spirit-free cocktails than any other demographic group, according to Mintel. Bartenders will replace high-alcohol liquors like gin with lower-alcohol wines like prosecco in mixed drinks, and make more use of shrubs, craft vermouths, botanicals and distilled nonalcoholic spirits. Outlier prediction: Forbes magazine is betting that the breakfast cocktail will be big.
THE NEXT LETTUCE
The great romaine scare of 2018 — a strain of E. coli eventually traced to a reservoir in California — has helped make lettuce ripe for a new star in 2019. Expect to see little-known varieties on menus, and an explosion in lettuces grown hydroponically, many of them in urban container farms. Even wild weeds like dandelion greens or sorrel may get a shot. Whichever wins, kale is still over.
THE HOPE FOR DOPE
Major food and beverage companies are researching ways to get THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, and cannabidiol, a part of the plant that may have therapeutic properties, into more food and drinks. The authors of the federal farm bill have removed hemp from the list of controlled substances.
THE NEW FLAVOR PROFILE
Sour and funky, with shades of heat. This is what happens when you mix the interest in fermenting with the millennial palate. Melina Romero, a trend insights manager at CCD Helmsman, a food-research and product-development firm in California, explained the generation that loves global mashups and bold flavors this way: “They grew up with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and while they still want spicy, I think, beyond that, they have grown to become interested in flavors that are acquired — sour flavors and even funky flavors like fermented foods.”
THE PLANT-BASED MAIN COURSE
Substantial vegetable entrees will become a fixture on restaurant menus, in the way that alternatives to dairy creamers became standard at coffee bars a few years ago. At the same time, laboratory-grown proteins will enter the mainstream. KFC, Tyson Foods and Cargill are investing heavily, and the products are catching on so fast that ranchers have started campaigns to stop the engineered proteins from being called “meat,” Forbes reports. Prepare for the next generation of plant-based alternatives to dairy products: substitutes for cheese, butter and ice cream made with nuts, soy or coconut.
THE BIG HEALTH FIX
Expect more ways to ingest probiotics, prebiotics and foods designed to improve the bacterial health of your intestinal tract, according to several grocery store chains and wellness market analysts. As the obsession with digestive health dovetails with the fascination for fermenting, sauerkraut, kim chee and pickled things will work their way into new territory. Smoothies with kefir will be popular, and kombucha will show up in unexpected places like salad dressings.
THE THING YOU WILL TRY AGAINST YOUR BETTER JUDGEMENT
Cheese tea, an import from Taiwan, will hit the American mainstream. Green or black tea is sipped through a cap of cream cheese blended with cream or condensed milk, which can be either sweet or slightly salty. It’s already a hit in San Francisco, where it’s made with Meyer lemon and mascarpone.