Ethnic food, local ingredients on 2018 food trends lists

Ethnic spices are predicted to be a big hit in 2018.

Predicting future food-and-beverage trends can be tricky—what is popular and what is not can change in the blink of an eye. But the National Restaurant Association went to the experts, in this case 700 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, to find out what to expect in the coming year.

According to the NRA survey, menu trends that will be heating up in 2018 include doughnuts with nontraditional filling, ethnic-inspired kids’ dishes, farm/estate-branded items, and heritage-breed meats. Trends that are cooling down include artisan cheeses, heirloom fruits and vegetables, and house-made charcuterie.

“Local, vegetable-forward, and ethnic-inspired menu items will reign supreme in the upcoming year,” said Hudson Riehle, SVP of research at the National Restaurant Association. “Guests are implementing these trends in their own lifestyles and want to see them reflected on restaurant menus. In response, chefs are creating more items in-house and turning to global flavors.”


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Here’s the NRA’s top 20 food trends

  • New cuts of meat (e.g. shoulder tender, oyster steak, Vegas Strip Steak, Merlot cut)
  • House-made condiments
  • Street food-inspired dishes (e.g. tempura, kabobs, dumplings, pupusas)
  • Ethnic-inspired breakfast items (e.g. chorizo scrambled eggs, coconut milk pancakes)
  • Sustainable seafood
  • Healthful kids' meals
  • Vegetable carb substitutes (e.g. cauliflower rice, zucchini spaghetti)
  • Uncommon herbs (e.g. chervil, lovage, lemon balm, papalo)
  • Authentic ethnic cuisine
  • Ethnic spices (e.g. harissa, curry, peri peri, ras el hanout, shichimi)
  • Peruvian cuisine
  • House-made/artisan pickles
  • Heritage-breed meats
  • Thai-rolled ice cream
  • African flavors
  • Ethnic-inspired kids' dishes (e.g. tacos, teriyaki, sushi)
  • Donuts with non-traditional filling (e.g. liqueur, Earl Grey cream)
  • Gourmet items in kids' meals
  • Ethnic condiments (e.g. sriracha, sambal, chimichurri, gochujang, zhug)
  • Ancient grains (e.g. kamut, spelt, amaranth, lupin)

Predicting the future in terms of F&B is also the goal of Andrew Freeman & Company, which has developed and launched concepts for more than 120 restaurants and hotels and created culinary events of all sizes. The company’s 2018 outlook names Washington, D.C., as the food city of the year, chicken as dish of the year, “fine-casual” as concept of the year and Israeli as cuisine of the year.

In addition, Andrew Freeman predicts the following food trends to become popular:

  • Colorful, photo-friendly food
  • An effort to reduce restaurant waste
  • An increase in vegan menu items
  • Mexican cuisine
  • Pizza
  • Food inspired by childhood preferences
  • Classical entertaining
  • Contemporary Chinese dishes
  • Kosher offerings

Ingredients to keep any eye on, according to Freeman:

  • Insects
  • Sumac
  • Za’atar
  • XO Sauce
  • Paletas (Mexican popsicles)
  • Shakshuka
  • Halva
  • Koji
  • Tahini
  • Harissa
  • Pandan
  • Synthesized proteins and lab-grown meat
  • Tapioca (and bubble tea)
  • Calabrian chilies
  • Cactus / nopal
  • Queso
  • "Other" wings (cauliflower wings, duck wings...)
  • Sardines
  • Everything bagel spice
  • Cookie dough
  • Geoduck

The NRA also shared what chefs listed as the top 10 concept trends for 2018:

  • Hyper-local (e.g. restaurant gardens, onsite beer brewing, house-made items
  • Chef-driven fast casual concepts
  • Natural ingredients/clean menus
  • Food waste reduction
  • Veggie-centric/vegetable-forward cuisine (e.g. fresh produce is star of the dish)
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Locally sourced meat and seafood
  • Locally sourced produce
  • Simplicity/back to basics
  • Farm/estate-branded items

“Chefs strive to strike the right balance between offering consumers what they want to eat now and guiding them toward new and exciting culinary frontiers," said ACF National President Stafford T. DeCambra. “ACF chefs dedicate countless hours to continuing education and professional development to stay at the forefront of culinary innovation, allowing them to respond to and redefine diners’ expectations in an ever-changing foodservice landscape.”

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