Food & Beverage Trends in 2012

People in the food scene have been talking about all the exciting food and beverage trends coming up this year in the general market, including:

  • Comfort foods gone gourmet — Looks like the tough economy is driving fine dining chefs into food trucks, sandwich joints, and pop-ups.
  • As America loses the ability to see its toes and in search of healthier cuisine, North African/Moroccan/Middle Eastern dishes are on the rise.
  • Gluten-free baked goods — From bakeries to home bakers, more people are serving gluten-free pastries and breads than ever before…and, finally they taste good.
  • Popularity of street food — Take a look at the new, Southeast Asian sandwiches growing in popularity, especially the Bah mi Vietnamese sandwich.
  • Gin makes you sin!  Move over vodka because drinks with Gin are what the hipsters are sipping these days if they’re not tasting a new craft beer.
  • “Farm to table” will continue to grow, but you will start seeing more Sea-to-Table, Nose-to-fin, crate-to-plate, etc., as commercial fishing stocks continue to dwindle.  It is time to kick the blue fin tuna habit and embrace the sustainable mackerel.

But, we wondered what were some of the Latin food and beverage trends happening across the country? Here’s a few we found:

Peruvian Cuisine

There is no denying that one of the top food trends for 2012 is the cuisine of Peru.  With Spanish, African, Chinese, and Japanese influences, the cuisine of Peru fuses cultures and flavors that will have you licking the plate, or skewer.  The rise in popularity has been slowly percolating since the City of Lima was declared the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas” in 2006 by the Madrid Fusion gastronomy conference.  Today in Los Angeles, we have Chef Ricardo Zarate, of Picca and Mo-Chica, to thank for bringing the taste of Peru into our foodie hearts.   Mo-Chica was voted 4th Best Restaurant in Los Angeles in 2010 by Los Angeles Magazine.  Last year Chef Zarate also elevated Peruvian Cau Cau by winning Best Nouveau Street Food at the L.A. Street Food Fest and was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in America. The last few years have been big for Peru, but this year Peruvian cuisine is poised to take center stage in our backyards as the U.S. experiences the mainstreaming of its cuisines and ingredients, to say nothing of Peru’s national spirit: Pisco!

 Ancient Grains

As the nation’s demographic continues to shift, all the big food markets are tripping over themselves trying to expand their “Ethnic Aisle.”  With 16% of the population seeking out produce, proteins, and other foods to create more authentic meals at home, food companies are rushing to the shelves with products like dulce de leche cereals.  The big trend in the ‘Ethnic aisle” will be ancient grains.  That’s right folks, you won’t have to trek to Whole Foods just to purchase packaged quinoa.  Latin American grains, quinoa and amaranth (along with some other international grains, such as freekeh, farro, millet, and teff) are sure to start turning up in your local food mart, if they haven’t already.  You may even see blends, like my recently purchased bag of tri-colored quinoa.

Paletas

Hot on the heels of the artisan gelato and specialty ice cream craze of last year, paletas will be the next big frozen thing.  Mexican ice pops, both water/juice and milk/cream based paletas with big chunks of fresh fruits and sprinkling of nuts or shredded coconut, will be available in a shocking array of unique flavors ranging from balsamic-strawberry, cucumber-chile, and Meyer lemon-ginger to the more traditional paletas of fresas, hibiscus, and tamarindo.  With Chefs like Fany Gerson opening up her New York paleteria, La Newyorkina, one can imagine a day when paletas are as ubiquitous as cupcakes.  Check out LA Weekly’s list of the top 10 Paletas/Popsicles in town.

Pisco/Mezcal

From ancient grains to ancient spirits, mezcal and pisco are the two must-haves for any restaurant, lounge, bar, and even your home wet bar.  The popularity of mescal has given rise to Mezcalerias from sea to shining sea, with a few here in the Southland.  And, to continue the Peruvian theme from earlier, pisco is returning to cocktail lounge menus beyond the pisco sour.  Picca has a wonderful pisco cantina and one of my favorite cocktails last fall was a Pisquito from Seta Lounge in Whittier.  While they still have some catching up to do, pisco and mezcal are, dare I say it…intoxicating.  I think pulquerias will start popping up in the next few years as Mexico’s Facebook generation continues to embrace ancient brew. Let’s keep an eye on that trend.

Arepa

Sopes and tacos are seeing some competition with a new popular Latin food receptacle – the Arepa. Arepa’s are flatbreads typically made of ground corn dough and popular in Colombia and Venezuela as well as many other Spanish-speaking countries. It’s the perfect pocket for any number of meats, cheeses, vegetables and spices.

The Arepa is only one small example of more traditional Latin dishes emerging, especially on the food truck scene. There are also native Colombian, Oaxacan, and Salvadoran (think Pupusas, a close cousin to the Arepa) on offer in any number of cities.

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