Fresh, local, sustainable still buzzwords in food biz
Published Tuesday, December 27, 2011 10:43AM EST
TORONTO - Fresh, local and sustainable continue to be buzzwords in the food biz, with more Canadians expressing a desire to know where the food on their plate has come from.
As well, manufacturers are putting gluten-free labels on a huge array of products in which the wheat has been replaced by alternative ingredients that can be digested by people with celiac disease, and a slew of cookbooks also tout recipes that are free of gluten, a key protein in wheat.
Consumers can also expect to see more products that are low-sodium, organic or with an Asian influence, with statistics indicating growing preferences for rice, seafood and pork, and more prepared ethnic foods on grocery shelves.
"I think that getting to know your food, where it came from, the farmers, agriculture tours" is increasingly important to consumers, says food consultant Korey Kealey.
"Definitely on restaurant menus there's a lot of description around the meats, how they were raised, the cuts. Basically each experience is an artisan experience when you look at the menu," she said in an interview from Ottawa.
"I think people are turning the clock back and going back to simple good food that's not complicated," says Jeremy Charles, chef of Raymonds Restaurant in St. John's, N.L.
"That's my motto of food and again even more so now -- just keep it simple and obviously the whole local thing. We use a lot of fairly wild ingredients, too, here in Newfoundland and source as much as we can."
In the fall, Charles, 34, was featuring moose pasta and rabbit ravioli along with seafood and other wild game on the menu at Raymonds, which was recently named the top new restaurant in Canada by Air Canada's enRoute magazine.
"People are more health-conscious. I notice that with my regulars; they want smaller portions," says Marco Ormonde, 36, chef and owner of The North Restaurant in Barrie, Ont.
He uses fresh herbs for flavour and as a way to cut down on salt. Many of his menu items are gluten-free because he finds that people don't want to consume a lot of carbohydrates when they're dining out.
Grocery stores are catering to cooks who want to have the homemade experience with chef-prepared products, such as soups, sauces, pestos and entrees.
"It looks like you made it yourself and it's really desirable to buy. A lot of the private-label lines are starting to go with that look of the mason jars for their sauces and things that make them look very authentic and homemade," says Kealey, 42, founder of the recipe and product developer foodthought.com.
Some companies have revamped their products to make them healthier, notes Kealey. McCain Foods has removed artificial colours, flavours, preservatives and trans fat-containing oils from such products as its pizza, while Schneiders has a line of products that includes hot dogs made with natural ingredients.
"Low-fat, I think, is out as well," says Kealey. "That's done. People are realizing that just because it's low-fat it was filled with starches and carbs and sugars and gum and things to make it up. It may have been low-fat, but it had all these other unappealing things in it."
Instead, there seems to be a shift back to "what Grandma made," like tourtiere, stews, pies and puddings, partly for economic reasons and partly for comfort and simplicity, but with smaller portions.
With the "ebb and flow of the economy, people are a little more aware of their budget, so using their slow cooker, finding ways to use leftovers. ... We're getting back into a little bit of home economics, so the way our grandparents probably cooked -- not to waste, use what you have," says Kealey.
When it comes to sweets, small decadent indulgences are big. Coffee chains like Starbucks have been promoting cake pops -- small treats on a stick -- and smaller sizes of many of their pastries. Restaurants are also creating desserts that are two or three bites for those who want to indulge but don't want too many extra calories at the end of a meal.
"I think people are looking for really, really decadent, delicious, but not too large. Large, big, huge portion sizes with poor quality are out. I think really high-quality, decadent small bites are in," says Kealey.
Baking guru Anna Olson, who has tantalized taste buds with cooking shows "Fresh with Anna Olson" and "Sugar" on Food Network Canada, thinks classics like macaroons, tortes, petits-fours, tea-time treats and grand desserts "are coming back big time." But portion sizes are reduced. In her new cookbook, "Back to Baking: 200 Timeless Recipes to Bake, Share and Enjoy" (Whitecap), recipes for squares that once might have instructed bakers to cut them into 16 pieces now call for cutting into 25.
In keeping with more requests over the last few years for desserts to satisfy special dietary needs, Olson has included a selection of items that don't contain gluten, dairy or eggs in her new cookbook.
Ryan Jennings, author of "Entertaining With Booze" and "Cooking With Booze" (Whitecap) with David Steele, says Canadians are being influenced by cuisines from other countries.
"You look to your neighbours. We live in this global world now where the borders are very permeable, so you end up discovering different things," the Toronto-based Jennings, 35, said in an interview from Vietnam, where he was travelling.
"I think that looking at the ingredients that we grow at home in a different way is maybe a trend that's coming, like cooked cucumbers, for instance. It's really delicious and very unusual and it's something that makes you go 'what?' But what I've experienced here in southeast Asia is that it's delicious in a stir-fry because it's still refreshing and cool, but it becomes ... this juicy fruit-like vegetable."
He also points to Southern U.S. cooking as gaining ground in Canada. "Shrimp and grits are popping up on several menus in Toronto and Vancouver. ... That relates to the comfort food movement that we've seen in the last few years because in the South that's comfort food -- grits and biscuits and dumplings. It's like the mini burgers and fries trend that's been going on for the last number of years."
Social media will continue to be huge into 2012, with thousands of people blogging about their food experiences.
People are using websites such as Epicurious as a resource, while "video cooking is very big, with people being able to get the how-to right away," says Kealey. "You can almost be a self-taught chef now with all the excellent instruction videos online. Twitter is a really fun way to share information, searching out anything you need across the world."
Some trends spotted by people who watch what's happening in the food world:
1. Bacon bits
Bacon is everywhere. Loblaw came up with bacon marmalade for its new line of "black-label" gourmet products and Seattle chef Josh Henderson has just released Skillet Bacon Spread in specialty stores in Canada, a product he first started serving on burgers sold from his food truck.
2. The road to Morocco
You may not have noticed the influence of Morocco on your daily dinner table yet because it's a "quiet trend," says Marcos Chocron, a developer for Loblaw branded products who works on the "Memories of ..." PC sauces.
3. Desserts Grandma made
Simple baked desserts like lemon pudding are all the rage. In candy, homemade-style treats like brittles, popcorn and caramels with a salty edge are hot, while boxed truffles are so last year.
4. They're eating red velvet
Red velvet cake is a Southern U.S. creation, made by dumping an entire bottle of red food colouring into a chocolate cake recipe. It started spreading with the continent-wide cupcake phenomenon, and now is showing up in ice cream, cheesecakes and baking mixes.
5. Colour my world
Utensils and appliances such as stand mixers and even food processors come in every colour of the rainbow, says Korey Kealey, a food consultant in Ottawa, and are a great way to brighten up the kitchen and make cooking fun.