Our Top Food Trends for 2016

When it comes to food, trends tend to start with chefs and on restaurant menus. Some trends might properly be considered short term fads while others have longevity and become ingrained in the way we cook and eat. Here are four you should consider including in your meals this year:

  1. Vegetables Take Centre Stage
  2. Pulses as Alternative Protein
  3. More Choice in Ancient Grains
  4. Healthy (Unsaturated) Fats
zucchini 'pasta'

1. Vegetables Take Centre Stage
Move over meat! The emphasis on vegetables is a continuation of what I’ve been seeing for some time: smaller portions of animal protein accompanied by more vegetables.

According to a recent survey of 1,500 American chefs by the National Restaurant Association, chefs are moving towards main courses composed mostly or entirely of vegetables with animal proteins served as sides.  Think "steaks" of roasted cauliflower or butternut squash, lasagna layered with eggplant instead of pasta and zucchini ‘ribbons’ replacing spaghetti and linguini. Sales of vegetable spiralizers (a tool that turns fresh veggies like zucchini into curly noodle look-a-likes) are booming, and keep your eye out for packages of spiral-cut vegetables at grocery stores.

Expand your repertoire with these eight vegetables predicted to be popular in 2016:

  • Kohlrabi, part of the cabbage family, it’s a squat bulb with antennae-like shoots
  • Kalettes, a new vegetable that combines the flavors from Brussels sprouts and kale
  • Parsnips, a taproot closely related to carrots but with a sweeter taste when cooked
  • Purslane, considered by many a weed, young leaves and tender stem tips taste similar to watercress or spinach
  • Colorful Squashes, in addition to the familiar green Acorn and yellow-tan Butternut squash there’s large blue Hubbard, whitish-yellow Sweet Dumpling, Green or Red Kabocha and red Kuri squash
  • Broccoflower, yes it really is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower with one variety lime green colour
  • Rainbow Carrots, see our In Season story for the full scoop
  • Seaweed, this ocean vegetable has been called the ‘new kale’, and is packed with antioxidants, fibre, iodine and good fat


2. Pulses as Alternative Protein
Pulses are dried seeds and are part of the legume family with dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas the most common varieties. Pulses are a low-fat source of protein and fibre, B-vitamins and minerals. This trend couldn’t be more-timely: the United Nations’ has declared 2016 “The International Year of Pulses” to celebrate their contribution to health, nutrition, environmental sustainability and global food security. Canada is a major pulse grower and exports 75% of the pulses consumed in developing countries. 

On a more local level, Canadian chef and TV personality Michael Smith has taken the pledge to eat more pulses in 2016. The Pulse Pledge is a 10-week commitment to eat pulses each and every week. Trending recipes include roasted chickpeas as a snack and chickpea curries, pulses are also nutritious additions to salads and baked goods where they can add moistness, fibre and protein. Download our easy and delicious Red Lentil Soup Recipe >>  and visit Pulse Pledge >> for more ideas and recipes.

3. More Choice in Ancient Grains
Get ready to enjoy a wider variety of “ancient grains” including amaranth, Khorasan wheat (Kamut®), millet, teff, freekeh and spelt. Use instead of pasta or rice in dishes, add to salads and prepare like oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts.

Most ancient grains are grasses that are grown for the edible portions of their starchy seeds and are largely unchanged for hundreds if not thousands of years. Ancient grains also include some “pseudo-cereals”, which are not grasses, with the main ones being amaranth and quinoa, which are both gluten-free.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular ancient grains.

  • Amaranth: the tiny gluten-free kernels have a lively peppery taste and resemble brown caviar when cooked. It can be roasted, popped, boiled, mixed with other grains or added to soups as a thickener.
  • Farro: also known as Emmer, an ancient strain of wheat, is staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty. Semolina flour made from emmer is used for special soups and pastas in parts of Italy.
  • Freekeh: a hard wheat (often durum) harvested when green then roasted to give an earthy, smoky flavor. Quick cooking (20-25 minutes) freekeh shines in pilafs and savory salads.
  • Kamut®: an ancient Egyptian word for wheat is a trademarked name for Khorasan grain. It’s twice the size of common wheat with a rich nutty flavor. Chewy Kamut berries require long cooking but you can also find Kamut flakes. Use as a base or addition to salads, pilafs, casseroles and granola.
  • Millet: a gluten-free group of whole grains, high in protein and antioxidants. Enhance the delicate flavour and give a nutty note by toasting before cooking. Millet is easy to prepare and can be used in everything from flatbreads to porridges, side dishes and desserts.
  • Spelt: can be used in place of common wheat in most recipes and delivers more protein. In Italy, spelt is known as farro grande, or "big farro."
  • Teff: native of Ethiopia, this versatile tiny grain is about 1/150 the size of a wheat kernel. Teff has twice the iron and three times the calcium of other grains, with a sweet, molasses-like flavor. It can be cooked as porridge and  added to baked goods.
olives and olive oil

4. Choosing Healthy Fats
Fat can be either foe or friend depending on the type (and amount) consumed. Fat plays a role in good overall heath but you want to choose “healthy fats” -- unsaturated fats -- when possible.  

Monounsaturated fat is the type found in olive and canola oil, non-hydrogenated margarine, avocado and nuts such as almonds, pistachios, pecans and cashews. Some predictions are that 2016 will see the rise of the avocado appearing in everything from breakfast dishes (smashed avocado on toast topped with a fried or poached egg) to side dishes (baked avocado fries), and desserts (avocado brownies and ice cream).
Polyunsaturated fat are healthy fats that include omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring and sardines.  They are also added to eggs, milk products and some juices. You will find Omega-6 fats in safflower, sunflower and corn oils, nuts such as almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.

A small amount (2 to 3 tablespoons) of unsaturated fat consumed each day can help keep your heat healthy. Remember that this amount includes oil you use for cooking, in salad dressings and mayonnaise.

To put it all into perspective for home cooks, in 2015 the three most popular recipes on epicurious.com were Tarragon & Lemon Roast Chicken, Pumpkin Pecan Pie with Snickerdoodle Crust and Barbecue Short Ribs.  I would call these tried and true comfort dishes – not one of the top predictions, but most likely to remain strong this year. So regardless of what you decide to cook, may your year be full of great meals and good company!