Trend predictions are coming in fast and furious as 2018 quickly approaches. The editors of Restaurant Business and analysts at Technomic got a head start on the forecast frenzy with our list published last month. Now, we’re taking a look at what other leading trendologists are predicting will impact menus in the year ahead. While there is some consensus among the reports, there also are some one-off trends that may have legs. Here’s a roundup of 2018 trends to watch, starting with the more universal and veering off to the more unique.
1. Plants rule the plate
It’s no surprise that several trend reports put plants in the menu spotlight. For a while now, we have been tracking vegetables’ move to the center of the plate—a trend that has trickled down from indies to chains. But 2018 seems to be the year when vegetables will go mainstream, as both Baum + Whiteman and AF&Co. state in their reports, the former calling it the “2018 Trend of the Year.” Restaurants are no longer relegating plant-based dishes to a separate vegetarian or vegan menu category or using processed vegetable-protein substitutes to stand in for meat. Mentions for items like cauliflower steak and barbecue jackfruit sandwiches are on the increase, and even carnivores are opting for these items on occasion. Noncommercial operators are also giving plants the mainstream treatment, menuing more global preps and creative veg-centric items.
2. It’s all about the photo op
Rainbow colors, vertical desserts, smoking cocktails—Instagram-worthy food will accelerate in 2018, as operators capitalize on the platform’s knack to build buzz and traffic. Sterling-Rice Group’s 2018 Trendjectory names the “Objectification of Food” as a leading trend, as chefs compose dishes for “visual consumption for the camera lens rather than the palate.” AF&Co. agrees, stating “the more photo-friendly your food, the better." Colors that surprise are particularly appealing, such as purple cauliflower, black ice cream and millennial pink chocolate, as are special visual effects, like glow-in-the-dark doughnuts.
3. Next-wave Asian
Most of the trend forecasts point to niche Asian cuisines taking off in 2018. While all agree that consumers are ready to move beyond Chinese, Thai and Korean, there's not exactly a consensus on the specific cuisine that’s ready for prime time. Sterling-Rice points to Burmese food, a blend of Chinese, Laotian, Indian and Thai flavors, while others are singling out Filipino and regional and homestyle Japanese dishes. Technomic’s 2018 forecast names Asian island cuisine as one to watch. This trend takes a deeper dive into the Philippines and includes Singapore and Malaysia—cultures that are big on street foods.
4. The new supergreen
Consumers and chefs are both suffering from kale overload. And while seaweed and matcha still rank high among trending superfoods, moringa is being touted as the new green antioxidant powerhouse. Like matcha, moringa is made from the dried leaves of a plant; in this case, it’s the moringa tree, also known as the drumstick or horseradish tree. Moringa has anti-inflammatory properties that are supposedly more effective than turmeric, the current “food as medicine” panacea. It probably won’t be long before moringa shows up in lattes or smoothies.
5. Food-infused beers
Beer and food pairings are nothing new, but lately, brewers are infusing beer with food flavors. Dill pickle beer is one that’s getting some attention after it made a splash this past summer at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s in step with the continued rise of pickling on the food front. And one company created a fried chicken IPA that’s made by mixing Chick-fil-A’s chicken tenders into the mash. Time will tell whether these brews are the next iteration of beer and food pairings or simply marketing gimmicks.
6. Next-gen ramen
Mazemen—a kind of deconstructed ramen—is more about the noodles than the broth. Translated as “mixed noodles,” the dish is composed of ramen noodles napped in a small amount of sauce instead of swimming in a bowl of broth. The noodles are traditionally topped with Japanese ingredients, like the mazemen at The Ramen Joint in LA, which is accompanied by spicy ground pork, scallions, cucumber, seaweed and egg. But some places are customizing mazemen with crazy combinations like smoked salmon and cream cheese or peanut and sweet curry sauce, as served at Ken’s Ramen in Providence, R.I.