As I alluded to in my first post with John Ivanko, we were amazed by the breadth of food and beverage offerings at the nation’s largest, annual food-service trade show, the NRA Show, hosted by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center.
Perhaps this comes as no surprise since the food service and hospitality industry is booming right now, with many a farmer or homesteader supplying the chefs, cooks and restaurateurs with fresh, seasonal produce, grass-raised meat products, or organic, free-range eggs. Or perhaps you, like us, have struck out on your own and started up a farmstay B&B or offer on-farm food service of some sort or another. Given the economy, there’s no shortage of customers willing to pony up for a great pizza from a wood-fired oven or sumptuous B&B breakfast.
“Menu trends today are beginning to shift from ingredient-based items to concept-based ideas, mirroring how consumers tend to adapt their activities to their overall lifestyle philosophies, such as environmental sustainability and nutrition,” says Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of Research for the National Restaurant Association. Nettle, daikon radish, garlic scapes and wild-foraged mushrooms are just some of the many items you might entice a local chef, eager to embrace these culinary trends.
“Also among the top trends for 2017, we’re seeing several examples of house-made food items and various global flavors, indicating that chefs and restaurateurs are further experimenting with from-scratch preparation and a broad base of flavors,” adds Riehle.
Here are a few more food trends and innovations surfaced as we wandered the aisles of the NRA Show in 2017, many well suited for growers prepared to take advantage of them:
Ginger Bubbles are Big
Ginger may be the biggest oldest newest thing. Used for centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes, ginger kept popping up throughout the NRA show, particularly in the beverage category. But this isn’t your grandma’s ginger ale from the supermarket shelf.
Companies like Bruce Cost use fresh ginger and cane sugar, adding up to a not-too-sweet sipping soda. Hipster adult sodas take it a step further by adding additional exotic flavors such as such the Joia Life All Natural Soda’s Ginger Apricot Allspice. The growing popularity of Moscow Mule cocktails provide an on-ramp for more ginger beer, a key ingredient in this drink traditionally served in copper mugs. It’s no surprise that craft cocktail mixer company Powell & Mahoney earned the 2017 NRA Food and Beverage Innovation award for their Blood Orange Ginger Beer.
While veggie burgers and meat alternatives have been around a while, some new products on the market now vie for the best flavor and texture combo. They’re so good that you just might be able to fool a meat-based hamburger devotee. Of course, satisfying a vegan is easy. Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burgers are juicy, sizzle when they cook, and even “bleed” like real meat, thanks to the beet juice inside.
Beyond Burger looks and cooks just like ground beef. It contains no soy, no gluten and is GMO free. It’s 100% plant based, with peas being one of the main ingredients, and packs a satisfying protein punch of 20 grams. As many a vegetarian will attest, moving to a more plant-protein-based diet can help head off the impacts of climate change, improve human health and conserve the environment. Eating Beyond Burgers, especially with your farm-fresh lettuce, tomatoes and red onions, does so in a tasty way; if you make your own buns, pickles, mayo and relish, all the better. You’ll find Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burgers in the meat section of a growing number of grocery stores throughout the country, including Kroger, Safeway and Whole Foods Market.
Of course, the product needs to taste good, but something packed with both flavor and meaning really strikes a connection with today’s more discerning customers. Detroit Friends Potato Chips exemplify this “food with meaning” movement. Not your typical start-up, this venture launched not just to make quality potato chips but as a community effort to revitalize the Hope District of Detroit, Michigan, once a thriving part of town now scattered with vacant lots. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for the soup kitchen and other activities.
“Potatoes are perhaps the world's most popular vegetable,” says Michael Wimberley, founder of Detroit Friends Potato Chips Co. “We started growing them for that reason. And we thought they would be easy to grow. Potato chips were a natural extension for us. Motown is the potato chips exemplar for consumption.” There’s several flavors of Detroit Friends Potato Chips to crunch on: lemon pepper, sea salt and onion and celery, and barbecue.
It’s no longer unusual to see compost bins alongside recycling and trash bins at a growing lineup of conferences, fairs and other public events. As more events strive to go “zero waste” by recycling or composting all the “disposable” dishes and utensils, the industry has responded with an amazing array of plant-based, compostable items.
BacknWood showcased a wide range of eco-friendly plates, cups, lunchboxes and trays and utensils; they had tableware made out of the leaves of palms, plates made out of bamboo. Even the NRA got into the swing of things by encouraging their exhibitors to use compostable service ware and plates; it was clear to us when visiting many of the booths that the restaurateurs, chefs and vendors enthusiastically embraced the appeal to shun the plastics and Styrofoam.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband and photographer, John D. Ivanko, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of Lisa's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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