Ten years ago saw the rise of chipotle pepper flavors. Then came the sriracha phenomenon that took off these last few years. Once-unfamiliar flavors to American palates are now being accepted in the mainstream across the country—appearing in supermarket shelves and family restaurants—and experts in the culinary field see more worldly influences in 2018, including Tanzanian barbecue, seaweed, and black garlic.
Mike Kostyo, who helps identify food trends with Datassential, said there’s an increased willingness by Americans to experiment with international flavors, even if it’s with unfamiliar tastes. “There’s interest in pretty much all global cuisines at this point,” Kostyo said.
McCormick’s Flavor Forecast, in its 2018 report predicting flavors and dish trends, believes consumers will incorporate east African flavoring, Japanese izakaya dishes, and Asian hot pots in the forthcoming year.
East African flavors in particular may strike a chord, exemplified in a Tanzanian meat skewer known as mishkaki that’s flavored with lemon, ginger, and tamarind. Another, according to McCormick’s chef Kevan Vetter, is an Ethiopian spice mix called berbere: “It blends together an array of spices to create a hot, sweet and citrusy flavor that is as perfect for stews and meats as it is for lentils and veggies.”
Dataessential’s Kostyo also expects black garlic—a browned, aged form of garlic common in Asian cuisine—will take off in 2018. It has a “sweet, kind of nutty” flavor, Kostyo said; he suggests home chefs mash it with salt and olive oil and put it on steak for an “amazing” flavor.
Another increasingly popular ingredient according to Kostyo: rose water. Traditionally used in Middle Eastern dishes, rose water has a floral flavor and its syrup can be used desserts, such as ice cream, and beverages and cocktails.
McCormick’s Flavor Forecast also cited Asian hot pot flavors, unexpected cultural fusions (such as South American street food with Greek flavors) and dishes found at Japanese small-plates gastropubs known as izakaya—these trends may prove popular on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves in 2018. One particularly intriguing ingredient gaining traction in the U.S. is seaweed. Restaurants have taken advantage of its deep umami flavors and used it as a French fry seasoning or hot dog topping. Furikake (also cited as a forthcoming trend from McCormick), is a variant that builds on seaweed, and adds dried seafood, sesame seeds, sugar, and salt as a savory sprinkle for rice and vegetable dishes.
“When we first started releasing the flavor forecast in 2000, trends usually took three to five years to take off,” said Kevan Vetter, who leads McCormick’s flavor forecast culinary team. “Today, they’re catching on much faster—thanks to the internet, the availability of global ingredients, and everyone’s desire for more flavor.”
Kara Nielsen, a vice president and food trends expert at CCD Innovation, echoes others in believing global favors to take a greater foothold in the United States in upcoming years.
Nielsen said the interest in international flavors—such as pandan leaf and za’atar—is especially strong among older millennials, a segment now approaching their mid- and late-30’s. They are “much more adventurous” with their flavors because some of them have traveled and been exposed more to the rest of the world than prior generations, she said.
Za’atar is already “a little more mainstream,” Nielsen said, but it could become even more popular because it’s now readily available in spice shops and part of a rising desire for Middle Eastern foods and flavors. Za’atar, which Nielsen called an “all-purpose seasoning blend that adds a very complex aromatic angle,” can be sprinkled on chicken and pizza, served as a dip for flatbread or tossed on roasted vegetables. Za’atar and dukkah—a spice mix similar to za’atar but includes chopped nuts—can even be put on top of avocado toast.
Pandan leaf isn’t yet quite mainstream, but the growth potential is there, Nielsen said. It’s used in ice creams in the same way vanilla is, and it gives the dessert a “grassy note” and a slight green color, Nielsen said. Home cooks can find pandan extract if they want to experiment with the flavor.
Not all these flavor predictions may take hold, but what is certain: the growing willingness by consumers to try the unfamiliar, and liking much of what they taste.