Top 25 Food Trends of 2012

The Daily Meal examines 2012's reigning 25 trends

Cupcakes have been king for years, but macarons are gaining. Just one of the 2012 trends noted in this year's list.

End-of-the-year food trend roundups are about clever observations, overarching themes, and the identification of that handful of concepts, people, places, and things that defined the culinary scene over the past 365 days. But trend pieces are also about understanding what everyone thinks they noticed, and what they hope will catch on in the upcoming year. As always, a number of 2012's hottest trends were continuations of (or at least variations on) those of the year before — food trucks, Italian cuisine, and mobile apps, for instance, are still wildly popular, though they've certainly evolved. But the vast majority of the trends that made this list are new additions. 

Read More: Top 25 Food Trends of 2012 Slideshow

How did we go about putting together this list? Throughout the year, we closely monitor changes in consumer spending, food-industry news and innovations, restaurant openings and closings, and the media’s coverage of the food world, to decide at year’s end which trends were most noteworthy, and which new movements took shape to become mainstream in the year to come. Ultimately, we narrow the list down through discussion and careful analysis, then rank the 25 phenomena we think most defined the culinary landscape in the past 12 months.

What did we come up with? Unless there's a real sea change in this country, pizza and burgers are going to continue to be a major trend next year — and probably every year after that. The question is: What's the new spin? When it came to pizza, the Jekyll-Hyde Neapolitan and $1-slice movements continued to snowball (meatball?), but you also saw fried pizza, burger buns made with pizza dough, and, at least in New York City, the introduction of Wisconsin-style pizza. Speaking of burgers, America's great iconic burger migration continued. In-N-Out and Umami Burger moved east, chains like Five Guys and Smashburger kept spreading, and the rapidly growing number of Shake Shacks is beginning to make you wonder if there couldn't be 100 of them in a few years. Danny Meyer could very well be on his way to becoming America's next burger baron.

But we're beginning to stray into the realm of prediction, and that's another story (Top Food Trend Predictions for 2013). Let's stick to the trends of 2012 for now. What other things happened?

French macarons and cult-following donuts gained on the cupcake crumb trail, celebrity chefs continued to go Hollywood, and the fast-food reinvention zeitgeist climbed to new greasy heights. Wendy's and Burger King both remade themselves, but Taco Bell really went for it, going upscale but also heading for the snack aisle

Nordic cuisine continued to gain traction, but our fascination with Mexican and Asian foods, both pure and fused, seems to reach new heights every year. No exception in 2012, when every chef from the Adrià brothers to April Bloomfield seemed to have either opened a taco shop or announced that they're going to, and with The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells focusing about a third of his reviews on places serving Asian food. Some trends you may have expected at the beginning of 2012. Our fascination with food trucks continues — if not as breathlessly as before in New York and Los Angeles, where they are comparatively old news, then in other cities where the craze has kicked off in the past two years and where legal restrictions have only recently started to loosen. Others might not have been quite as obvious at the outset of the year.

Take a look through the rest of the list for a complete look at the hottest food trends of 2012 — or treat yourself to a more in-depth look in the slideshow. 

#25 Artisanal Condiments
#24 Celebrity Chefs Do Cruises
#23 Reinvented Food and Drink Vending Machines/ATMs
#22 Brown Booze for Everyone
#21 Celebrity Chefs Go Hollywood
#20 More Neapolitan and Funky Pizza
#19 Big Beer Tries to Craftify
#18 Restaurants Harvesting Their Own Food
#17 Reservations with Many Reservations
#16 Nordic Cuisine
#15 More Food Websites
#14 X Is the New Cupcake
#13 The Great Burger Migration
#12 High-End Chefs Open Lowbrow Comfort Joints
#11 West Coast Asian Phenom Migration
#10 Gluten-Free World
#9 Restaurant Critics: Fortune and Failure 
#8 Craft Beerification of America
#7 Mexican Fascination
#6 Food Trucks
#5 Asian Fascination
#4 The Death of the Stand and Stir
#3 Vodka Flavors Jump the Shark

#2 Fast-Food Reinventions
#1 Continued Marriage of Science and Food


Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.