Foodies are fickle folk.
Remember the summer of the cronut or the mania surrounding food trucks? Burgers, cupcakes and coconut water have all had their moment on the plate, but the obsession disappears almost as quickly as it’s digested. Next year promises a new crop of food fads.
Some of the trends are influenced by Americans’ desire to eat healthy, while others play off existing trends. Here’s a look at what’s on the 2016 menu:
1. Seaweed is the new kale.
Packed with antioxidants, fiber, iodine and good fats, seaweed is in the spotlight as more nutrition-focused Americans search for the next super food. The ocean vegetable is “set to explode thanks to its sustainability angle and umami appeal,” referring to the Japanese word for the fifth basic taste, according to the 2016 Trend Forecast from the Specialty Food Association.
2. GMO animals hit the plate.
Last month, the FDA approved AquAdvantage salmon for sale, making it the first genetically modified animal to get the controversial approval. Almost of a third of Americans said food that is not genetically modified is an important factor to them, according to a recent survey from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. While salmon is the first GMO animal to reach consumers, up to 80 percent of processed American foods contain plant GMOs.
3. African flavors are hot.
Chefs are looking to Africa for inspiration in 2016, with 20-percent more chefs naming flavors from the continent as a hot trend for next year, according to the National Restaurant Association. This month, Conde Nast Traveler declared that African cuisine is pushing Mexican aside as the ethnic cuisine of the moment, noting that chefs of Harlem’s Red Rooster and L.A.’s Revolutionario are tapping into their African backgrounds to create new dishes.
4. Fast food restaurants go healthy.
As diners become more aware of chemicals and additives in their food, fast food chains are adjusting their menus, according to food consultant Baum+Whiteman. Already, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, McDonald’s, Papa John’s and Subway have made moves to make their menus healthier and devoid of artificial ingredients and additives.
Early next year, well-known chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson will launch LocoL, a nutritious, eco-friendly, fast-food chain in so-called food deserts to bring healthier options to those who haven’t been able to afford them. “They’re committed to offering chef-driven, real, quality ingredients at fast food prices,” says L.A.-based food expert Jason Kessler, who runs the blog Fly & Dine.
Related: Born in the USA: 24 Iconic American Foods
5. The battle for grocery delivery heats up.
Amazon Fresh has been giving Fresh Direct a run for its money, but the supermarket delivery market is getting even more crowded. This month, Target expanded its partnership with startup Instacart to offer home delivery of foodstuffs in Chicago, in addition to San Francisco and Minneapolis. Instacart has similar partnerships with Whole Foods, Costco and Petco. Walmart in September expanded its free grocery pickup service in eight U.S. cities. Market research firm IBISWorld forecasts online grocery shopping to grow 9.5 percent each year with the potential of becoming a $9.4 billion industry by 2017.
6. Beer cans are back.
While canned beer may conjure thoughts of high school house parties, the cheaper containers are experiencing a resurgence, thanks to growing demand from craft brewers. Demand for the highly designed, 16-ounce cans favored by craft brewers (versus the 12-ounce variety used by big brewers like Anheuser-Busch) has grown so quickly that there’s a shortage of the larger containers.
7. Coffee gets creative.
The latest coffee trends will perk up even the most jaded java lover with newfangled caffeinated concoctions that range from carbonated coffee to iced coffee mocktails, according to Sterling-Rice Group’s 2016 Culinary Trends report. ”Coffee is no longer just a hot beverage you have in a cup with breakfast in the morning,” says Andrea Graves, business planning and marketing specialist with the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University.
8. Restaurant prices are on the rise.
While overall food prices haven’t changed much this year, the cost of dining out is growing five times faster than inflation, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data. Next year, the cost is expected to increase slightly faster than the cost of food at home. Chain restaurants are hiking prices to make up for weakening traffic, according to trade website Burger Business. Shake Shack and Chili’s also are planning menu price increases next year to accommodate rising wages.
9. Sugar is enemy du jour.
Led by health-conscious Baby Boomers, sugar has become the top item that consumers are trying to avoid in their diets. The number of sugar-free, unsweetened, or reduced-sugar products being shipped and consumed increased by double digits last year, according to the NPD Group. The group expects consumers to return to eggs and oils as recent research has shown the nutritional benefits of certain fats.
“This isn’t just something that consumers are saying they want to do,” says Darren Seifer, the company’s food and beverage industry analyst. “They’re actually doing it. They’re cutting back on soft drinks and fruit juices and shifting away from sweetened snacks to fresh fruit or savory items.”
10. Snacks take center stage.
Nearly a quarter of all snack foods consumed last year were eaten at mealtime, according to NPD group, which expects the trend to continue into 2016. One of the main drivers is the growing number of single-person households, since solo eaters are more likely to opt for snack foods for dinner. When making their selection, single diners prefer single-serve packages and are increasingly turning to “better-for-you” snacks, like fresh fruit, breakfast bars, and yogurt.
11. Ramen gets upscale.
Once the stereotypical fare of cash-strapped college students, the classic Japanese noodle soup has soared to new heights. This month, a Tokyo restaurant became the first ramen shop to receive a Michelin star, and Conde Nast Traveler expects more ramen shops to pop up in 2016. “From Milan to Madison,” Conde Nast Traveler says, “ramen has spawned slurpworthy iteration after iteration of its standard components: noodles and broth.”