Rice’s long history bucks ‘what’s hot’ in food trends

Vicky BoydThe Top 10 food trends for a given year are always amusing to read. What’s going to be hot and what’s going to be “not”?

Even more interesting is going back to a previous year’s forecasts to see what, if any, food items actually were hot and how many of the projected trendy ones fizzled.

Every year, the National Restaurant Association releases the results of its “what’s hot” survey compiled by asking members of the American Culinary Federation to review a long list of items and rank them “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news” or “perennial favorite.”

Rice fits nicely into many of this year’s top 20 trends, including healthful kids’ meals, authentic ethnic cuisine and ethnic-inspired kids’ dishes like sushi and teriyaki. The restaurant association also has a list titled “Top 10 Concept Trends” that undoubtedly deals with what the chefs see as the up-and-coming ideas for their restaurants. Again, rice can fit well with natural ingredients/clean menus, environmentally sustainable, farm/estate branded, locally sourced and simplicity/back to basics.

Unfortunately, both lists also predict that “vegetable carb substitutes, such as cauliflower rice, zucchini spaghetti,” will be movers and shakers this year and going forward. Are these trends really here to stay or are they one-hit wonders, flashes in the pan or here today, gone tomorrow?

One has only to look at the restaurant association’s “What’s Hot in 2015” report to see how far off target the predictions can be. Two years ago, the group forecasted alternate protein in the form of insects, shrub cocktails, bacon-flavored chocolate, molecular gastronomy and foam garnishes would be hot. The following year, its 2016 report pointed out those trends were losing steam as was gluten-free cuisine and quinoa.

Low and behold, what trends are hot for 2018? Ancient grains, including quinoa, and non-wheat noodles are high on the list.

Offal — entrails and internal organs of animals — is yesterday’s news. When did they ever hit the headlines?

Flavored popcorn and pumpkin spice anything also are old news. Don’t tell Starbucks — I think they now have pumpkin spice drinks for half the year and not just around Halloween and Thanksgiving. And algae? Don’t you use copper or drain your rice fields to get rid of algae? Who knew it was a hot food trend only a few years ago.

These types of lists are fun to read when taken with a grain of salt. Rice may not be the trend setter that nose-to-tail cooking or shrub cocktails were, but maybe that’s good. The Chinese have been consuming rice since before 4,000 BC, making it a perennial favorite at least on some lists.