Sweet 16 – 2009 Food Fads or Trends?

I keep a running list of ingredients and dishes I see throughout the year. Some observations come from my travels, some from reading various food publications and some from from talking with other food writers.

I’ve whittled down a very long list to just 16.

Are these sweet 16 trends or fads? Or just temporary blips on the vast food radar screen?

Only time will tell. A fad is a fleeting thing. Trends last longer, and some eventually land in the mainstream (hello chipotle, I’m looking at you).

Without further ado, here are the things that made my Sweet 16:

1. Coconut water — It’s the new “in” drink. It has more potassium than a banana, and all the cool people are sipping it, including food writer Amanda Hesser, who once tweeted that she was sipping coconut water and eating chocolate. And coconut water is showing up as a beverage choice on menus from Portland to Austin.

2. Padron peppers — from pizzas in wine country, to canning jars in Seattle, this Spanish pepper is enticing new fans with its sweet — sometimes hot, sometimes not — flavor.

3. Crispy poached egg — It started in Europe and landed in San Francisco a few years ago. It made it to Phoenix as a signature dish at one of the best restaurants in town, noca.

4. Salted caramel — from candies to cakes to grown-up milkshakes spiked with Bourbon, we love our caramel and if it has a sprinkling of sea salt, all the better.

5. Butter lettuce — Move over Iceberg wedge, butter lettuce is the new darling. Not only are restaurants creating butter lettuce-only salads, but farmers are giving us new varieties, including red leaf butter lettuce.

6. Hibiscus — this flower has moved beyond the herbal tea category and is flavoring other drinks (like agua frescas in noted Mexican restaurants) and desserts (like panna cotta and gelatos and sorbets in non-Mexican venues).

7. Chamomile tea syrup — another flower breaking out of the tea category and moving into dessert sauces and sorbets.

8. Foie gras desserts — I’m hoping this is a fad, not a trend. This year, I saw a foie gras float (foie gras ice cream paired with root beer) and foie gras creme brulee. Ick.

9. Amarena cherries — these expensive Italian dark cherries are popping up in desserts in fancy restaurants as well as modest pizza parlors and cafes.

10. Donuts — gourmet and otherwise, the fried balls of dough are making a comeback, leaving police officers across the country scratching their heads as to why.

11. Marshmallows — who knew they were so easy to make? Not only are restaurants making their own flavors of marshmallows, but home cooks are making them, too, and food bloggers are writing about them.

12. Shiso — the Japanese herb was once relegated to just a garnish for sushi, but now it’s showing up as a garnish for salads, like the heirloom tomato salad at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.

13. Cardamom — Long used in Indian, Scandinavian and Middle Eastern cooking, cardamom jumped the shark into chewing gum this year in Eclipse Breeze “Extotic Mint.”

14. Home canning — So many new blogs and websites dedicated to the art of home canning popped up this year, along with a few new books.

15. Staub serving ware — restaurants from high-end steak houses to cozy French Bistros moved the cast iron cooking ware from the kitchen to the table. Speaking of French Bistros…

16. French Bistros — if you don’t count the new restaurants opening under the “local, seasonal, farm-fresh” category, French Bistros would have been the number one new restaurant theme.


Now, you may be wondering why bacon isn’t on the list.

Well, that horse left the barn in 2008, and in 2009, bacon-mania hit mainstream in a big way (remember baconnaise?)

I’m sure I left out some things (this is only 16 out of a possible gazillion).

Does anything on the list surprise you? What else would you add?

27 replies
  1. Kate @ Savour Fare
    Kate @ Savour Fare says:

    Great list!
    I think French Bistros have been trendy since at least 1991 (and probably earlier!) Whenever the world sucks, people retreat to comfort food, and French bistros do that well.

    Here’s what I like about coconut water: it’s full of electrolytes (like Gatorade) but doesn’t taste like ___ (unlike Gatorade). I give it to my kid when she has an upset tummy.

    • Chef Gwen
      Chef Gwen says:

      Kate, I think you’re right about French Bistros. In the past year, I’ve seen at least 10 new ones open their doors, from coast to coast. And a few more are in the works. Thanks for commenting!

    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Holly — what a great observation!

      Celebrity food bloggers have definitely come-of-age in 2009 — and the successful ones have been at it since 2005. So much for “overnight” success.

      Thanks for the addition!

  2. Kristina
    Kristina says:

    I’m so OVER bacon-everything I’m glad it wasn’t on your list. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but do we really need it in our desserts?
    I first had hibiscus tea in bali about 10 years ago when I had a bad case of “bali-belly.” Worked great. I like to see stuff like that hit the mainstream. Trader Joe’s has a particularly good Pomegranite/Hibiscus tea drink.
    Speaking of which, I think Pomegranite was a big trend in 09 as well, thanks mostly to the POM company.

  3. Sharon Miro
    Sharon Miro says:

    OK, I admit I bought some coconut water—they have had it at my fave gourmet store for a while-

    Home canning and donuts are a way of life…and if sweet foie gras becomes a trend, I may have to rethink my fondness for organ meat…

    I like your list…Pomagranate has superceded the cranberry in 2009 as the health fruit of choice but try to find some pomagranate molasses, yummy and unusual ingredient for spicy cooking.
    And for a VERY beautiful vinegar float a dried hibiscus flower in some white wine vinegar–

  4. anna
    anna says:

    I hope hibiscus and chamomile are here to stay! I really like hibiscus (recently used hibiscus tea as a medicinal substitute for cranberry juice…UTI-prone ladies take note!) and I always feel like I should use chamomile more in my desserts. I also love coconut water when it’s crazy hot. Salty desserts really float my boat, too – I’ve jumped on the fancy/flavored salt bandwagon. I’ve been all about making flavored marshmallows for a while now, too. I have failed to catch Donut Fever, however. They’re GOOD, but only when they’re crazy fresh, right out of the fryer. Otherwise, I’ll pass.

    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Anna. I agree that the best donuts are right out of the fryer. Lived in North Carolina for a while, and was always a treat to go to Krispy Kreme and watch my donut go from dough to fryer to glazer.

  5. Jess
    Jess says:

    I gotta disagree on French bistros. I think “wine cafes,” a la Postino, are going to be the No. 1 new restaurant theme for 2010, especially in the Phoenix metro area.

  6. Will Beakley
    Will Beakley says:

    I think the return of wine to the mainstream would be an item of note. Where in my parent’s day the box of wine was perfectly acceptable for general consumption, we’re now presented with a bevy of sub-$20 wines that are incredibly good. Mix in that the public is willing to try different things to find out what they like/don’t like and once again wine is an important part of the modern table.

    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      1 Wino…you are indeed a poet-didn’t-know-it, or you’ve lost your way from Whoville and somehow landed in the land of pen and fork.

      Either way, I embrace your contributions — and your wit.

  7. Marilyn
    Marilyn says:

    Gwen, wonderful post as always, and a very smart list.

    Unlike most trend/fad lists, I like a lot of these things – especially hibiscus, chamomile, and Staub. Worth noting that many – like Staub, as well as Amarena cherries and coconut water – have been around a long time but are just catching on here.

    Also, I too would add pomegranate – a real comer, thanks to ancient appeal and aggressive PR!

    Happy New Year Gwen, and here’s to another wonderful year holding both Pen & Fork.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] 2009 and 2010, we easily identified Sweet 16 Trends (or Fads). This year it wasn’t so easy — […]

  2. […] whittle the lengthy list down to 16.  Last year’s Sweet 16 explored salted caramel, foie gras desserts and Staub serving […]

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