My Top 10 Picks for 2011 Trendy Foods

By Janet Helm, RD

There’s been a lot of talk about 2011 food trends. In fact, the entire practice of predicting food trends has become a trend. I know I’ve certainly devoted a lot of space to the topic of food trends.

Food may not be as trend-ridden as fashion but it’s getting close, writes Lisa Gosselin, the editorial director of Eating Well in the Huffington Post – Food Fads: What’s In and What’s Out in 2011. I really liked her take on what’s trending up, what’s trending down and what is so, so over for 2011.

Trending down
• Super fruits – Once the darlings of the nutrition world, Lisa says super fruits like pomegranates, acai and goji berries have become the victims of their own hyper-marketing.

• Cupcakes – We still love you, but it’s time for something new. Now it’s all about pie, especially fruit pies in all their deconstructed formats (crisps, grunts, slumps and betties).

• Bacon – It may be the most lip-smacking, tastiest treat on the planet, but do we need it to be candied, covered in chocolate or added to just about everything from breakfast to dessert?

Trending up
• Gluten-free diets – Giving up gluten has gone mainstream, but while it’s beneficial for the 3 million Americans with celiac, gluten-free processed foods are not healthier than their counterparts.

• Street food – First it was hot dogs, then tacos, now food trucks are dishing up everything from Korean barbecue to French crepes.

• Omega-3 – These fatty acids have some of the broadest and strongest impacts on our health, yet not all omega-3s are created equal; EPA and DHA are most powerful.

• Probiotics – The jury is still out on some of the claims, but the good bacteria in fermented foods may offer some digestive health benefits.

• Growing your own – Last year saw an 28% increase in gardening for food among 28- to 34-year-olds. Watch for even more young farmers in 2011.

• Meatless meals – Meatless is not just the new vegetarian, it’s bigger than that. Meatless Monday has become a movement – for personal and planetary health.

• Simpler, more wholesome food – The growth of more “natural” foods with few simple, healthy ingredients.

Here are my picks for the top 10 trendiest foods in 2011 – or at least what I hope will be hot.

1. Chickpeas – I’ve frequently talked about my love for the ”humble chickpea,” which has now become a superstar among legumes. We’ve seen hummus become the new salsa and now Subway has introduced falafel in Chicagoland. It’s only a matter of time before these fried chickpea nuggets will go mainstream. With “Meatless Monday” trending up, expect to see more legume-based entrees and I can’t think of a better bean to use.

2. Kale and other bitter greens – Kale is suddenly everywhere on restaurant menus. This sturdy, bitter green is wonderful sautéed, used fresh in salads, tossed in soups and pasta, and even baked crisp for kale chips. It seems America is warming up to bolder, stronger flavors, which helps open the door for kale, swiss chard, turnip greens, broccoli rabe and other bitter greens. That’s a good thing!

3. Freekeh and other ancient grains – I’m crazy about Freekeh, an ancient smoked wheat from the Middle East. But I haven’t met a grain yet I didn’t like. Expect to see other ancient and exotic grains like amaranth, kamut, millet, quinoa and spelt strike it big in 2011.

4. Pumpkin and winter squash – Pumpkin is not just for Halloween anymore. This beta carotene beauty will become a year-round favorite, along with other nutrient-dense squashes.

5. Black rice – Black rice, often referred to as forbidden rice, was identified as the top side/starch for 2011 in a survey of chefs conducted by the National Restaurant Association. This nutty, chewy rice is rich in antioxidants and it’s being touted as a new superfood.

6. Ethnic sandwiches – We have street food to thank for the sandwich trend. Last year was all about the gourmet hamburger, now it’s the sandwich’s turn to shine, especially ethnically inspired sandwiches, such as the Vietnamese Banh Mi that is one of the featured offerings at Graham Elliot’s new sandwich restaurant, Grahamwich, in Chicago. The new hip sandwich shop also sells amped up popcorn and vegetable pickles – two additional trendy foods.

7. Pies – OK, I think you’ve heard by now: Pies are the new cupcakes. I think we’ll always love cupcakes, but pies are definitely hot, hot, hot. They’re showing up in every size, form and format, from savory to sweet and from deep-dish to individual deep-fried ones.

8. Artisanal ice pops – Gourmet, handcrafted popsicles are popping up all over the country. Check out Travel & Leisure magazine to find out where you can find these high-class, big-flavor treats that are “the most fun you can have on a stick.”

9. Varietal honey – Artisanal, single-source honeys are joining chocolate and olive oils as a new wave in the single-origin trend.

10. Sumac – Sumac is not always easy to find outside of Middle Eastern markets, but I think that will change as more people discover the wonderful fruity-tart flavor of this deep red spice. I’ve noticed sumac showing up on restaurant menus and more people are writing about it, so I think 2011 may be its year. If sumac is not available in your area, you can buy it online (including at Penzeys and The Spice House).

Janet Helm, RD is a writer, Registered Dietitian, mother of twins and author of the blog “Nutrition Unplugged.” Janet has been a media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and has discussed the latest hot topics on nutrition on various TV outlets, including Good Morning America, Today, ABC News and CNN. She previously lived in New York, where she taught nutrition education at New York University. She now lives in Chicago, and is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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