Three 2016 Food Trends To Look Out For

For so many of us, food is a tool to excite. We use it not only to nourish our bodies but for entertainment, to tickle our taste buds, as an excuse for a night out, a way to better understand other cultures. We carefully plan our dinner parties to use food and libations as conversation starters, as the stars of debate, and to satisfy mental and physical hunger.

If you're one of the food lovers who likes to stay ahead of the curve, the person who always introduces friends to new flavors and culinary sensations, then you're probably always looking for the next big thing.

You might expect that the future "hot" flavors and food trends are developed in laboratories by the R & D teams of culinary corporate giants, which the rise to the top is carefully strategized by advertising and marketing gurus long before words like "quinoa" and "acai" roll off the consumer's tongue. But in reality, the trends start small. They're typically teased out by a number of small artisan food producers who seem to latch on to a similar flavor, ingredient, or concept around the same time. And then they all appear together at The Fancy Food Show, a specialty food and beverage trade show, a marketplace for anyone in the business of buying, selling or marketing artisan and gourmet foods.

This year's show was held this January in San Francisco, with record-breaking attendance. The hottest food concepts and flavors showcased at this one-of-a-kind event will trickle down into the mainstream over the next one to two years. (Rumor has it that the world's first kale chip made its debut at the Fancy Food Show a few years back. So you get the idea of how these things work.)

I attended this year's show on the lookout for what's to come. Based on the event's vast offerings, here are three trends you can expect to emerge over the months to come:

Southeast Meets West Flavor
"East meets West" isn't exactly a new idea, but as the Fancy Food Show's own expert panel predicts, this year you can expect to find typical Western packaged foods with Southeast Asian flavors. Notes of coconut, chile, ginger, and fish sauce incorporated into everything from pickles to chicken nuggets could be found at the show's every turn. The two standout food products that exemplified this trend for me were Blue Hill Bay's Sriracha Smoked Salmon and Hey Boo's Thai Iced Tea Coconut Caramels.  

Caviar is eternal in its original incarnation. But new ways of looking at caviar are bound to be big, such as tiny fish eggs infused with bacon flavor, the Bacon Trout Roe from California Caviar Company. In the more traditional realm, the company has also recently brought the Russian tradition of payusnaya, or pressed caviar, to the West. The pressed caviar is made from a combination of the roe of three American sturgeon. It can be used to garnish passed hors d'oeuvres, spread on toast, or finish sauces with the essence of caviar. But prepare for the word "caviar" to take many other forms in the future, ones that don't involve fish roe. For example, you might find yourself enjoying a gazpacho finished with El Marques Olive Oil Caviar, or another show favorite, Citriburst Finger Lime Caviar.

Cocktail Convenience
Cocktail mixers have always existed, but with artisan cocktails at the forefront of drinking trends, you can expect nothing less than to see artisan mixers emerge for epicurean cocktails at home. The trend is admittedly precious, but ultimately a fantastic idea. Who wouldn't love to come home from a hard day's work to have a craft cocktail just waiting in a bottle? One of the leaders in this trend, Owl's Brew, makes tea blends crafted for cocktails in flavors like Coco-Lada from a black tea base with chai spices, pineapple, and coconut. Other standout players at the show included Good Measure Beverage Co.'s Ginger Bee's Knees and Pacific Pickle Works Bloody Mary Elixir. 

While not necessarily part of a major trend, several weird and wonderful one-off products that made their debut at this year's show are worth mentioning. Look for Dip & Scoop's Argan Almond Butter, which is Morocco's traditional Amlou paste conveniently (and deliciously) packaged for the consumer. Amoretti's pecan, hazelnut, and pistachio flours are sure to make those who shun carbs rejoice. Ground super-fine, the flours can be used in baking or to dust desserts with an elegant note of nuttiness. And those with a coffee addiction and a yearning to drop a few pounds might want to check out Leaner Creamer. It's a creamer that promotes weight loss and appetite suppression. I have no idea how it works, but it tastes great, and as far as the Fancy Food Show goes, it all starts with taste.