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5 most popular restaurant trends on 2017 lists—and 5 outliers

The predictions that built the most consensus among restaurant industry forecasters.
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It’s tough to reach a consensus on which trends will impact the industry in the months ahead, but after combing through the dozens of forecasts that landed in our inboxes at year’s end, we did notice some commonalities. To save time and eyestrain, we pinpointed five predictions that many of the forecasters agreed were going to be most impactful in 2017. Just for fun, we also threw in a few outliers that we think are worth a second look.

1. Zero-waste kitchens

Sustainability has been top of mind for restaurants for some years, but 2017 is going to see a universal move toward the more specific goal of food waste reduction. Almost every trend forecast includes zero food waste as the next iteration of sustainability.

Many operators are already practicing stem-to-skin vegetable and fruit prep and cross-utilizing meat trim in soups and stews. But now chefs and cooks are rethinking what they throw into the compost bin, repurposing waste like cauliflower ends into a rice substitute, whey from housemade yogurt into marinades and juice pulp into burgers. Chefs are furthering the zero-waste effort by preserving whole vegetables and fruits, as well as pickling and fermenting chard stems, carrot tops and beet greens.

2. Plants make the plate

Vegetables have been pushing their way to the center of the plate for a couple of years, but now they seem to be overtaking the plate at more restaurants. The vegetable section of many menus has moved front and center, too, as chefs increasingly build meals around seasonal produce and treat vegetables with traditional meat-cooking techniques. And a new crop of vegetable butchers is formulating “meats” from vegan sources to look like the real thing. Ladybird in New York City offers a vegetable charcuterie plate with the likes of beet chorizo and smoked carrots, while a juicy “bleeding veggie burger” is on the menu at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi and other chef-driven spots.

3. Ethnic fare hits the breakfast menu

The all-day breakfast and global cuisine trends are converging into a single platform: ethnic breakfasts. While breakfast tacos, chilaquiles and huevos rancheros are not new, breakfast menus are poised to go beyond Mexican. North African- and Middle Eastern-inspired shakshuka—an egg dish cooked in a spicy pepper-onion-tomato sauce—increased 6.3% in menu mentions over the past year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. And portable street food-inspired breakfasts, including Georgian khachapuri (cheese-filled breads), Chinese congee (rice porridge) and banh xeo (stuffed Vietnamese crepes) are making morning waves.

4. The next hot cuisine is…?

Everyone agrees that restaurants must constantly explore new global flavors and ingredients to engage today’s adventurous customers, but there isn’t total concurrence on which cuisines to tap next. Filipino came on strong in the 2017 trend forecasts, gaining ground since it was mentioned by several futurists in 2016. African was also cited in several of the reports. The elements in both of these cuisines follow several enduring trends: bold spicing, surprising flavor combinations, zero-waste cooking and a focus on street foods. To introduce these cuisines to customers, start with sauces and spice blends such as harissa, ras el hanout and dukkah for African flavors, and achiote and tamarind for Filipino flavors.

5. Meals on demand

The blurring of dayparts, the prevalence of delivery, the availability of street foods, even the rise of restaurants without walls—all are fueling the growth of anywhere, anytime eating. Forecasters believe this trend has no place to go but up in 2017, as more concepts emerge to satisfy demand and tech advancements make it ever more possible.

6. Five outlier ingredients to watch

These mini trends also got some play in industry forecasts and social media:

Jackfruit. Vegans pushed jackfruit to the top of the heap on Pinterest in 2016, increasing 420% in year-over-year interest among users as a plant-based stand-in for meat. Foodservice suppliers now have packaged, preshredded and canned jackfruit available, making it convenient for operators to use as a substitute for pulled pork and other meats.
Seaweed. A number of industry folks cited seaweed or kelp as the next kale. The healthful green is nutrient-rich and can be grown in abundance through aquaculture.
Sorghum. Several prognosticators looking for the next quinoa pointed to sorghum. The ancient grain has a lot going for it: it’s gluten-free, can be ground into flour or cooked whole and has multiple applications—from breads to grain bowls to a crunchy popped snack.
Cucumber. One trendologist called cucumber “the flavor of the year” for 2017. Its fit with the health and natural movements, as well as fermentation and pickling, puts the savory flavor in the sweet spot. 
Aquafaba. Egg whites are not vegan and not entirely safe to use raw. So bartenders are turning to aquafaba (translated as “water-bean”)—the liquid drained from canned chickpeas or other beans—to shake up with cocktail ingredients to create a creamy, foamy crown on the drink. Look for uses of this ingredient in meringues, sauces and other foods in the months to come.

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