ROCKVILLE, Md. – As the world seemingly gets smaller and local trends find their way to the rest of the world, our palates are expanding to adapt.
Packaged Facts’ Culinary Trend Tracking Series (CuTTS) tracks global trends and opportunities that are putting their imprint on some menu decisions in restaurant, foodservice, retail prepared foods, and packaged food and beverage sectors. It profiled five ingredients that are gaining traction on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves—either foreign fare being introduced to a widening range of American consumers, or as more integrated ingredients being reintroduced in new dishes and applications.
The five include:
- Teff Stretches Out.Familiar to some Americans as the main ingredient in injera, a spongy Ethiopian flatbread, teff is the smallest grain in the world but carries a hefty dose of nutrients. Teff also is high in fiber, low in fat and sodium and ideal for wheat- and gluten-sensitive consumers. Upscale gluten-free bakeries use teff to create breads and pastries with an artisanal flair, but this grain has also started popping up in grocery aisles in the form of cereal bars and chips, joining the “ancient grains” wave of novel but nutritious ingredients.
- Avocado in Desserts and Drinks. While avocados are most often associated in the United States with savory foods such as guacamole or sandwiches, in many other cultures, from Brazil to Sri Lanka, the avocado is treated as the fruit it actually is, most often incorporated into desserts and sweet drinks. The nutritional benefits of the avocado are substantial, and its mild flavor and creamy texture makes it an adaptable culinary ingredient. Bringing avocado into desserts and drinks is therefore a prime opportunity to combine tradition, innovation, nutrition and good taste.
- The Matcha Difference. Cultivated in Japan’s Shimoyama region, matcha is identified by its vibrant color and a rich grassy flavor, and is at the heart of the Japanese tea ceremony, a tradition dating back nearly a millennium. While green tea generally is regarded as a superfood, matcha is special because of the extra dose of antioxidants generated by its distinctive growing method. With its tradition, special nutrition and brilliant color, matcha is the new alternative to soda.
- Pepitas Power. Pumpkin seeds, particularly their hulled kernels, are gaining in culinary popularity. Pumpkin seeds—known in Spanish as pepitas—are especially associated with Mexico. Pepitas’ power comes from several factors. One is nutrition: Pepitas are high in various minerals and moderately high in protein and fiber. Another is their authentic Mexican food draw and appeal to adventurous eaters. Pepitas are also versatile in that they can be used whole, ground up into foods or as a garnish—and as garnishes, their green hues give them a visual leg up over most of their nut and seed rivals.
- Lentils as Souped-Up Nutrition. The tiny seed known as a lentil was possibly the world’s first cultivated crop. Lentils now span dozens of cultures; the versatile food crop is featured in traditional Indian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, European and South American recipes. As a pulse crop, lentils contribute to soil conditioning by fixing nitrogen into the soil, thereby mitigating the need for chemical fertilizers and also providing an environmental benefit. Associated in the United States with the health-food movement of the 1960s and ’70s, lentils are most commonly used in soup or paired with rice. However, commercial kitchens are now exploring the use of lentils—in whole, dissolved and flour form—in salads, veggie-based burgers, sauces and gravies, breads and pasta, chips and other savory snacks, and even sweet baked goods and desserts.