This overarching trend of vegetable consumption is an exciting one because it means that we are making food choices that are better for us and tastier, too. As our interest and passion for vegetables grows with each passing year, so too evolves the way in which we consume vegetables. No longer are vegetables an afterthought on our plate. They are instead becoming the primary focus of our recipes, fortifying us with their nutritional benefits, their vibrant color and their extraordinary flavor.
Vegetable-focused dishes are no longer reserved for the vegetarians and vegans amongst us. They are a top pick for the most ardent meat eater because there is so much flavor and diversity to be found in a dish comprised of vegetables executed in a creative way. A vegetable-focused diet is so appealing because we feel better both physically and mentally when we consume them and because of the dizzying array of vegetables available to us. The chef and diner alike are seeking out healthier food choices to ease the pressure on our planet, strengthen their bodies, minds and spirits, enhance their recipes and elevate the flavor profile of their dishes.
It’s never been a more thrilling time to be a farmer and a chef and never have we been more encouraged by the growing food industry trends we see on the horizon for 2017 and beyond. Chefs continue to become more savvy and sophisticated with the way they use vegetables to the degree that it’s almost as if their palates have become as nuanced as a sommelier’s when it comes to identifying subtle flavor notes in a vegetable and/or perfectly pairing them with other ingredients that will complement.
This razor sharp ability to layer vegetable flavors into a single dish to create a masterpiece that tantalizes the tongue is the next evolution for chefs. One of the places we’re seeing this happen in startling and incredible ways is within the categories of edible blooms and microgreens.
For so long, ingredients such as red ribbon sorrel, cucumbers with blooms, nasturtium flowers and leaves, and micro herbs like basil and cilantro were used as a garnish on the plate because chefs and diners alike appreciated their beauty. But, today, chefs are also noting their singular flavors and are combining their visually seductive beauty with flavors that are all at once profound and extraordinary. It’s a deeper level of taste comprehension and illustrates a true understanding of nuanced flavors that enable a chef to build layer upon layer into a dish comprised solely or primarily of vegetables. Enabling vegetables to assume prominence in a dish that not only satisfies but dazzles a guest is a result of this deeper understanding from chefs of how ingredients that were once tossed onto a plate as a pretty afterthought can be transformed into flavor powerhouses that delight, seduce and tantalize.
Sour and bitter flavors are on the rise. Guests are looking for something to enliven their palates and sour notes like those found in sorrels and nasturtiums are where they are turning. This trend is also emerging in beer and wine as our taste buds evolve and become more sophisticated and open to fun. Purple vegetables – many of them old varieties, and some that are new hybrids – are receiving a tremendous amount of attention as chefs and diners seek out nutritional powerhouses that deliver both dynamic flavor and a pop of color that demands undivided attention. Vibrantly-hued purple cauliflower, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and asparagus guarantee that even the most vegetable averse will sit down and eat their vegetables.
Vegetables are finding their way into ingredients once reserved for more traditional grains, flours and starches. Vegetable noodles are gaining mainstream acceptance in the food world. Chefs appreciate the flavor that swapping out wheat flour for something like a beet or carrot can deliver. And diners are won over by the nutritional benefits and the vibrant color that results. These roots, made into vegetable ribbons, are an increasing trend once reserved for pasta. They’re fantastic in salads, as garnishes or as a substitute for noodles in a traditional pasta dish. Vegetables, blooms and micros are finding a dominant place in baked goods like breads, cookies, muffins and scones that were once the dominion of common suspects like raisins and nuts. There’s nothing like a nasturtium bloom muffin to excite and surprise.
Vegetable sauces are having a moment that’s sure to last. Vegetables have always been included in sauces but instead of traditional red tomato sauces or heavier butter-based sauces, vegetables are being pureed to a creamy consistency and completely replacing the sauce they only once served to complement.
Plant butchery is an exciting emerging food trend in 2017 and beyond. There’s no reason that butchery skills should be reserved for hefty cuts of meat like beef, lamb and pork. When prepared correctly, many vegetables can provide the same dense, meaty appeal that the finest roasted lamb leg can deliver. Chefs are roasting vegetables like cauliflower with the same attention they would pay to the finest cut of meat. They’re dehydrating vegetables with the same care they would give prosciutto and they’re concocting vegetable stocks that deliver the same depth of flavor that the richest beef, veal or chicken stock can deliver.
Whole vegetable cooking is on the rise. No longer does one part of the vegetable grace the plate and the rest is relegated to the rubbish bin. Chefs are appreciating more than ever the value, diversity and flavor variations that each component of a vegetable has to offer. From seed to leaf, it’s an exciting time to be a vegetable, no matter what part of it is used. Seeds are fermented, leaves are transformed into pesto, pulp is used for miso, stems are juiced, peels are dehydrated for tortilla chips, and rinds are transformed into puckery pickles as chefs and consumers grow to appreciate a whole vegetable’s virtue. Byproducts are on the rise in our hyper-vigilant focus on food waste solutions. No longer is whey discarded. It’s used to marinade vegetables and meat proteins alike or transformed into tangy beverages or dressings. Olive oil water and chickpea and other canned bean juice is added to sauce as a thickener and flavor enhancer. Everyone is focusing on every part of a food product and, in doing so, revelations are happening in rapid succession.
And it’s no longer solely the pristine and perfect vegetable that’s being celebrated. So-called ugly vegetables have been on the horizon for a while now but they are being appreciated like never before. They’re being used in everything from beer and vinegars to miso and tortilla chips. Chefs and consumers alike realize that because a vegetable isn’t beautiful by the accepted norm does not mean that its flavor or nutritional content is diminished.
Vegetables are also finding their way into cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages like never before. No longer are they merely viewed as garnishes in the beverage industry. Instead, they are playing a primary role in a cocktail or homemade soda, making each sip not only indulgent and flavorful but nutritious, too, proving that you can have your libation and be healthy, as well. Wellness tonics are emerging from this beverage cocktail trend as producers are concocting elixirs loaded with vegetables and superfoods once relegated to the vitamin bottle. In this endless quest to feel healthier, stronger and more alert, the concept of food as medicine is moving from places like India where there has always been a focus on incorporating vegetables, flowers, spices and other botanicals into the diet to heal yourself, to mainstream America where citizens are becoming well versed in what spice to turn to for healing as opposed to what pill they can find in the medicine cabinet.
Vegetable-centric desserts are having a moment that we are confident will only become more intense and nuanced. Desserts are no longer the sole realm of sugary flourishes and sweet sauces. Savory ice creams are a game changer and their versatility affords a chef with endless variations. Parsnip, basil, beet blush or coriander bloom ice cream, anyone? Vegetable based sorbets and gelatos are also ideal ways to conclude a meal that won’t leave a diner feeling heavy and lethargic. They make perfect palate cleansers between courses.
Our food community is more global than ever before and this is one of the reasons that our focus is turning to nations that are not as familiar in our culinary lexicon as Japan and Spain. Bolivia, The Philippines, Vietnam, Cuba – and African and Eastern European nations – are all peaking our interest like never before. As we explore their rich and varied cuisine, how many new varieties of vegetables, herbs, greens and flowers will we discover? There are familiar flavors, textures and ingredients in these culinary repertoires because most of these traditions have emerged in America through the diaspora that sees one nation’s cooking and farming customs emerge in other nations through the effects of exploration and colonization.
One thing is certain. That, no matter what nation a trend emerges from or what preparation a chef becomes interested in next, the recipes will always be comprised of vegetables – and we are happy to report that the food trend of vegetable consumption is more dynamic and interesting than it has ever been before. We predict that it’s here to stay.