Each year, there are certain signs that winter is coming: the weather gets colder, the words “pumpkin spice” appear everywhere and pundits start prognosticating about trends for the year to come.
You might not realize it, but food industry experts are already predicting what culinary trends will be "hot" for 2017. While some of these fads apply mainly to high-end restaurants, others will show up at everyday lunch spots and supermarkets.
Here are 11 upcoming food trends with the potential to affect your meals in 2017, even if you're dining on a budget.
1. Ugly Produce
You've probably seen stories about "ugly" produce pop up on your social media feeds in recent months. In fact, the imperfect produce trend has traveled from France to Canada, with U.S. retailer Giant Eagle joining the fad this year. Even famed American retailers like Walmart and Whole Foods dipped a toe in the ugly produce pool this year, selling weather-damaged fruits and vegetables on a limited basis.
You're probably wondering why anyone would choose an ugly apple over a glossy, attractive one. Not only do imperfect fruits taste just as good, but they're often sold at a discount. Additionally, buying ugly is an environmentally sound choice. By purchasing foods that would otherwise be left to rot, you're reducing waste and the environmental costs of producing (and then disposing of) all that food.
Restaurants are jumping on the ugly bandwagon, as well. In fact, Sterling-Rice Group's 2017 Culinary Trends report points to chefs who turn once-discarded stems and rinds into pickles, condiments and sauces.
Related: 10 Ways to Save Money at Whole Foods
2. Artisan Jerky
If you've ever been on a diet, then you know that snack foods tend to be high in fats, carbs and sugars. Fortunately, the health-conscious crowd might have a new option to satisfy the munchies in 2017.
Jerky is rising in popularity, according to Toronto-based consulting firm THP Agency, which develops recipes and marketing strategies for companies across North America and the UK. Made from lean meats, jerky is already low in fat and high in protein. And because jerky is chewy, it takes time to eat — so, you're not likely to inhale the stuff like popcorn.
The jerky resurgence has been underway for a few years and involves a shift away from mass-market convenience store products and toward small, artisanal producers. Look for local options boasting short ingredient lists and innovative, non-traditional flavoring choices in 2017.
3. The Sardine Renaissance
Canned fish is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about fine dining, but oddly enough it's a trend that the restaurant industry is watching closely. Premium (mostly European-originating) canned seafood is a perfect fit for restaurateurs, who want to serve high-quality fish but are put off by its perishability.
The Sterling-Rice Group identified sardines as a hot food trend for 2017, noting the food's versatility, rich flavor and high levels of protein and Omega-3. If your budget doesn't allow for high-priced Spanish or Portuguese imports, fear not; traditional supermarket varieties share many of the same virtues, at a more modest price point.
When you're looking for a healthy snack or light lunch, drain some sardines and try them on toast (or a favorite flatbread or cracker) with shaved onion, lemon and parsley. You can also opt for a garlic aioli and slice of ripe tomato as toppings.
4. Vegetables as Main Dishes
If you're a regular social media user, you might have noticed friends posting photos of vegetarian dishes with the hashtags "Meatless Monday" at the start of the week. According to the experts, vegetables will continue to be a hot food trend in 2017.
According to Baum+Whiteman, chefs at all levels will tighten their focus on veg-centric dishes this year. “Root to leaf” chefs, inspired by the “nose to tail” ethos of recent meat cookery, will focus on using all parts of the vegetable, including those that might not normally be used, like carrot tops. Moreover, you'll have less trouble finding healthy meals featuring little or no meat at all price ranges, and going out with your vegan friends will become a lot easier.
5. Superior Meat Substitutes
On a related note, meat-like vegetable preparations are likely to hit the mainstream in 2017. Forget about the familiar processed-soy substitutes for hot dogs and chicken nuggets — the new meat substitutes will take vegan to a whole different level.
Startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have already made headlines for creating startlingly realistic hamburgers (forget those dry grain-and-legume patties) from all-plant sources. They're in limited production so far, but other trendy foods should land closer to home.
For example, some restaurants now utilize “vegetable butchery,” which involves smoking and preserving plant-based foods for a more "meaty" flavor. Another low-tech meat substitute coming to a supermarket near you is the spiky jackfruit, which tastes surprisingly meat-like when cooked.
6. Breakfast Sandwiches
If you love breakfast but have limited time in the morning, you'll be happy to know that Baum+Whiteman and other pundits have identified breakfast sandwiches as a culinary trend that's poised for growth.
Upscale eateries will battle it out to create the most compelling combinations of custom-baked buns and premium ingredients (think house-smoked pork belly, wagyu beef and scratch-made condiments). But budget-conscious diners can expect their local eateries to hop on the bandwagon and provide lower-cost, more-portable options.
Expect competition from supermarkets and the major fast-food chains in 2017, as well. The morning meal offers a bright spot in these otherwise-mature industries, and breakfast sandwiches are among the fastest-growing menu items.
7. Food From the Philippines
A sprawling Pacific archipelago, the Philippines has been a trading hub for centuries. And the local cuisine shows this history in every bite, mixing Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Spanish and American influences for a cheerful mish-mash of flavor.
The THP Agency and other trendsetters feel that this food is poised to take America's mainstream by storm, elbowing its way between more-established Asian cuisines, such as Thai and Chinese. Its oddball mix of ingredients — turmeric and coconut milk, Spam and banana ketchup — plays with diners' expectations, putting familiar flavors together in unfamiliar ways.
Be prepared for a bit of linguistic confusion, as well. In the Phillipines, tamales are made of rice in a banana-leaf wrapper, and adobo isn't a chile sauce but a marinade.
In 2017, look for new eateries to open in strip malls and storefronts, and for established pan-Asian or fusion restaurants to start offering specialties from the Phillipines. One of the nation's fast-food giants, Jollibee, already plans to expand on its 34 current U.S. locations.
8. Grain Bowls
Your favorite new takeout lunch in 2017 might just come in a bowl instead of the usual paper wrapper. Singled out by both Andrew Freeman & Co. and Baum+Whiteman, this Asian-inspired culinary trend is versatile enough to show up in even the smallest of cities (or your own kitchen).
The concept is simple enough: instead of filling carb-heavy buns or wraps with fatty fried foods, start with a bed of whole grains and then layer fresh ingredients and flavorful sauces on top. You'll still see steamed white rice as an option, but expect plenty of interesting alternatives, such as quinoa, farro, barley, millet and brown or red rice.
Toppings will vary by restaurant, but you can expect to see a range of grilled meats, raw or steamed fish, fresh vegetables in every shape and color and — especially in artisanal or upscale eateries — house-cured pickles or kimchi among the available toppings.
For 2017, Baum+Whiteman foresees the rise of some interesting new takes on everyone's favorite frozen treat.
Some producers will raise the bar with healthful ingredients for artisan ice creams, often skewing toward savory rather than sweet flavors. Avocado is a slam-dunk, with high levels of healthy fats (good for the confection's texture) and a low-key flavor that won't overpower other ingredients. Vegetables that are naturally sweet, like sweet peppers and corn, are also prime candidates for a frozen makeover.
A Thai-inspired treat, rolled-up ice cream is another trend that seeks to change ice cream's presentation rather than its contents. Your scoop is flattened on a super-cold metal surface and then scraped into a jelly roll-like cylinder using a glorified putty knife. The treat is served with various toppings.
Named as a possible breakout item by Baum+Whiteman, the "freakshake" offers a less-restrained take on the ice cream fad. Essentially a regular shake, this dessert features a scoop of ice cream wedged on top of the cup. The ice cream acts as a base for a plethora of toppings, including whipped cream, sauces, fruits, baked goods and candy.
10. Charcoal Is the New Black
Those black hamburger buns haven't necessarily gone bad. Charcoal boasts a long and distinguished culinary history (just ask any barbecue enthusiast), but one of the oddest food trends has it showing up in the actual food.
To ease your mind, chefs aren't grinding up briquets to go into your meal. Instead, they're using food-grade activated charcoal to darken foods much like they once used squid ink. Moreover, health-conscious trendinistas are claiming that the charcoal boasts detoxifying qualities. Although UCLA food scientists have gently debunked those claims, it likely won't stop the powder from showing up at your local juice bar in the near future.
One thing charcoal can do is absorb your medications and reduce their effectiveness, so indulge in this trend with caution.
11. High-Fat Comeback
Nutrititionists have been attacking high-fat foods for decades, but according to Baum+Whiteman and other sources, that might be changing soon. In 2017, health-conscious diners are shifting their animosity to carbs, sugars and the syllable-rich range of additives used in processed foods.
The news is especially good for dairy lovers. In fact, the THP Agency points to a rise in the use of butter and full-fat dairy, possibly driven by recent research suggesting that saturated fats in full-fat dairy items seem to promote health.
Bartenders and chefs at the Kimpton hotel chain, which publishes its own annual trend report, point to “fat-washing” as one of 2017's hottest trends in cocktails, as well. The technique calls for cocktail ingredients to be infused with bacon and other fatty foods to bring an extra layer of flavor — and a richer feel to the finished drink.