The National Restaurant Association reports that vegetables remain trendy, particularly for their capacity to replace other food items.
To create the What’s Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast, the association surveyed 700 American Culinary Federation members in October and November and asked them to rate 161 items as a hot trend, as yesterday’s news or as a perennial favorite for menus next year.
In the final report released Dec. 5, vegetable carb substitutes ranked seventh on the list of top 20 trends.
Produce companies have developed numerous options to meet that demand in recent years, from riced cauliflower to other riced vegetables to vegetable noodles. At retail, packaging and websites often describe how to use the products as alternatives to rice or pasta.
Investing in that trend has made sense for many organizations because it taps into a movement of focusing on overall health and wellness, which includes being more responsible about eating while not wanting to be limited to certain dishes.
Vegetable carb substitutes represent a middle ground.
“If you can offer good options, interesting options, that help them achieve their own health goals, you’re going to win,” said Russell Scott, an American Culinary Federation member and certified master chef.
The top 10 concept trends from the National Restaurant Association included vegetable-forward cuisine — often described as vegetables taking the place of meat as the “star” of a dish — and locally sourced produce.
Numerous other concepts on the list had applications for produce: natural ingredients/clean menus, food waste reduction, environmental sustainability, and farm/estate-branded items.
Produce companies already have been working to emphasize their sustainable elements, to highlight their own histories through branding, and to communicate their “clean” appeal, including by using a non-GMO label even for products that do not have genetically modified alternatives in the marketplace.
The association listed avocado toast as the No. 2 trend in the breakfast/brunch category. Vegetable-forward cuisine was mentioned third among culinary concepts, and vegetable carb substitutes got the second slot in the dishes category.
Top trends in the produce category included hybrid fruits or vegetables and exotic fruits.
These items appeal to restaurants because they distinguish the menu and draw foodies looking for something new, Scott said. Certain consumers want to encounter unique items they can tell their friends and neighbors about the next day.
Vegetable-forward cuisine, vegetable carb substitutes and uncommon herbs were listed as rising trends, while heirloom fruit and vegetables were deemed to be falling.
Also described as losing steam were trends related to bitter melon and spiralized vegetables, according to the report.