Whether you’re venturing out to restaurants or choosing to continue to dine at home, pandemic-weary foodies are seeking familiar foods with a twist while paying attention to dietary and health needs, according to the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA) 2022 Trendspotter Panel.
The panel consists of chefs, food writers, educators, market forecasters, and retail and food service buyers, among other industry professionals, who look for commonalities between ingredients they found prevalent in their corners of the industry during the year.
“Often, we are spotlighting cuisines and ingredients that have been around for millennia and are integral to different cultures, but are beginning to gain more attention in the U.S.,” says Denise Purcell, vice president of content and education for the SFA. “Or a well-known product category like pasta, for example, begins trending because of innovative ingredients or shifts in consumer habits.”
Food trends often start in restaurants that utilize an unfamiliar ingredient in an interesting way. Then, as more people become curious about that ingredient, products eventually begin to appear on store shelves, Purcell adds.This year, the panelists identified five new food trends that they expect to take off in 2022, along with several familiar trends that they believe will continue to be popular. Here’s a closer look at the panel’s predictions of what you may be eating in the new year.
1. Pasta is back
Although consumers had strayed away from carbohydrates in recent years as low-carb and keto diets gained in popularity, people are starting to eat pasta again, according to SFA panelist Jonathan Deutsch, a professor of culinary arts and food science at Drexel University.
A big part of the reason is that pandemic stress has driven people to seek out comfort foods. But it also helps that new shapes of pasta — less common to U.S. consumers — have appeared on the market, such as the newly created cascatelli. Italian for waterfall, this shape was designed to maximize how well sauce adheres to it, its ease to eat with a fork, and the satisfaction from sinking one’s teeth into it.
For health-conscious eaters, there are pasta options made from unexpected ingredients — such as black rice, pumpkin, red lentils and purple carrots — that add color and make dishes look more vibrant. Many of these alternatives to traditional pasta made from wheat flour can also offer benefits such as providing extra protein, being gluten-free and relying on sustainably sourced ingredients.
2. Plant-based comfort food
The ever-growing presence of meat alternatives such as hamburgers or sausages on store shelves is undeniable. Expect it to grow into other food categories. “The dominant trend this year, no doubt due to COVID, was comfort food. And we’re seeing it combine with plant-based foods in some really interesting ways,” Deutsch says. “For example, very melty, unctuous vegan cheeses coming on the market are just as satisfying in mac and cheese or a fondue as a dairy cheese.” Breaded, fried appetizers are also joining the explosion of plant-based products. Look for foods such as chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks and fried shrimp made with everything from pea protein to seaweed.
3. Snacks go global
Would-be travelers stuck at home during the pandemic have been exploring foreign locations through snack foods. Regional cuisines from Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America have been gaining traction among U.S. consumers, and global ingredients are finding their way into snacks ranging from beverages to chips, Purcell says.“Food is such a great way to bring the world to you. And such an affordable way to have a really unique experience,” says Deutch, who recommends searching for international food products online to recreate flavors you miss from your travels. Think spicy Thai-style peanuts and Latin American-inspired ice cream flavors.
4. Peppers are hot
Long gone are the days of simply asking if something is “spicy or not spicy?” Now, there is a lot more nuance to how peppers are used in dishes and how they affect the taste buds. “For example, you can actually have distinct blends of crushed red-pepper flakes,” Deutsch says. “When I grew up, it was the crushed red-pepper flakes at the pizza shop. And you never even thought to ask, ‘What kind of peppers are these?’ ”Consumers are getting savvier when it comes to the range of peppers on the market, from the mildest bell pepper to the hottest ghost pepper. Seek out a range of budding products, including dried peppers, unique regional peppers and chili crisps, which are oil-infused chili condiments that contain bits of peppers, garlic or other aromatics. Add them to sautés, stews or soups.
5. Functional foods
Another outcome of the pandemic is that consumers are taking their immune system’s health more seriously. Instead of being limited to beauty supplies and pharmaceutical alternatives, many foods and beverages are incorporating so-called functional ingredients that claim to offer antiaging, immune-boosting and other health benefits. Examples of functional ingredients include turmeric, thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, and butterfly pea flower extract, which purportedly fights the effects of aging on skin and hair. “We’re seeing it in beverages, or we’re seeing it in dry cheese, loose cheese. We’re seeing it in chocolate and we’re seeing it in snacks,” Deutsch says. “So, you name it, and there’s a functional ingredient included in it.”
Current food trends that aren’t going away in 2022
Minimizing waste: Consumers are continuing to support sustainable brands that utilize leftover food products that would otherwise go to waste — a trend known as upcycling. Upcycled products include ready-to-drink beverages made from avocado seeds and vegetable broth concentrates made from hard-to-sell produce and scraps.
Bars for nondrinkers: Nonalcoholic spirits are helping teetotalers imbibe along with everyone else. Home bars can be stocked with no- to low-alcohol wines and mixers, while vitamin- and botanical-infused recovery shots and beverages can be alternatives to classic bar drinks.
Chocolate with a twist: Chocolate makers continue to appeal to anyone with a sweet tooth by creating confections in innovative shapes (hippos) and with unusual flavor combinations (decaf coffee).