WHY KALE IS EVERYWHERE
Cool cabbage ( kale type of vegetable with curly dark green leaves)
Whether served as a starter, main dish or even dessert, raw or cooked, in the United States or Great Britain, kale has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity over the past few years. How does an ingredient or a new recipe become so universally admired? From the producer to the end user, find out about the surprising journey to popularity of some cooking trends.
CHICAGO — Kale has had quite a run. Less than a decade ago, the leafy green vegetable was used primarily for decoration on salad bars. Now kale, known for its health benefits, is so ubiquitous that even McDonald’s uses it in salads. There are kale chips and kale crackers. And its appearance on Midwestern restaurant menus has soared nearly 1,300 percent over the last four years, according to Datassential, a Chicago-based food data firm.
2. Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, may not be as familiar to many Americans, but it plays a starring role in one of the salads Starbucks recently rolled out in Chicago as part of its new lunch menu. As Americans increasingly demand exotic flavors, spices like za’atar are expected to become more common on menus. Identifying up-and-coming food trends is equal parts art and science, and it’s a process that some in the food industry pay a lot of attention to. “The cronut went from nothing to Time magazine in no time; others peak and fall off,” said Stacie Sopinka, vice president of innovation and product development at US Foods, a Rosemont, Ill.-based food distributor.
3. Food trends are influenced by a wide range of factors, from fashion and pop culture to health fads. They’re sometimes created by chefs, often in the world of fine dining, and then mimicked and re-purposed by other restaurateurs. Sometimes, it’s a consultant or distributor working with a big brand to develop a product that fills menu holes for a food company, whether it be a new beverage or a salad topping. The trends are monitored by companies that measure, track and report on them, making it easier for other companies to jump on the bandwagon.
4. Datassential, one of several companies that track trends, calls that pattern the “menu adoption cycle.” Trends in the inception phase often start in fine-dining establishments and independent ethnic restaurants or markets, where the food item is considered unique in the way it’s prepared, presented and tastes. Piri piri sauce, a spicy and tangy topping from Portugal, and togarashi, a Japanese spice blend, are in that phase now. Both meet consumers’ growing demand for exotic spices, according to Datassential.
5. The adoption phase is when mainstream restaurants catch on to the trend. Early adopters tend to be gastropubs, fast-casual and independent sit-down restaurants, and specialty or gourmet food stores.
6. In the proliferation phase, trends hit the mainstream and often are adjusted to have broad appeal. This means the up-and-coming ingredient is incorporated into burgers, pasta dishes and other menu items mainstream America is likely to consume. Sriracha aioli, a spread that lowers the spice intensity of the Thai pepper sauce, is in the proliferation phase now. It’s often served on sandwiches and with french fries.
7. In the final phase, a food trend can be seen across the industry. Brands like Denny’s and Wal-Mart catch on, but so do convenience stores, schools and office cafeterias. As of late last year, flavors like maple and pesto were in this phase. Some will fade away, while others could hang on for years.
8. Not all trends follow this common cycle. In fact, only about 30 to 40 percent of foods or
ingredients in the inception phase ever continue on, according to Datassential. US Foods, which supplies restaurants with everything from produce to prepared meat, helps restaurants get on board with the latest food trends, with a special emphasis on the desires of millennials, the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
CHAINS AND RESTAURANTS TRENDS
9. Because chains have huge footprints and need to appeal to a wide range of people, they aren’t often early adopters of trends. To help chains get in on the game, companies often take a trend, like smoke flavoring, and mix it with something familiar, like mocha or vanilla, for instance.
10. When trying to hook younger diners, many brands believe visual appeal tops all. Food, more than ever, has to be camera — or smartphone — ready. Enter rainbow grilled cheese. But as large corporations translate trends for massive chains, chefs at prominent Chicago restaurants have simpler and more old-fashioned methods to develop them: cookbooks and journals.
11. Perry Hendrix, chef de cuisine at the West Loop Mediterranean eatery Avec, said he likes to change the menu frequently, but doesn’t put a dish on the menu until he’s “thought about it for a while and run it as a special on the menu.” “People’s attitudes about how and what they eat have changed and will continue to change. … So I do focus on what is current, but ultimately it has to be something I want to eat,” he said. “That has always been the litmus test for me — do I want to eat it? And from there, I hope that other people do too.”
Bunches of kale at a grocery store.
Tabbouleh. A plate of Kale Brisket barley soup with crispy kale.
Roasted vegetable risotto with nutty green kale, siz zled with garlic roasted parsnips pecorino Romano. and sage leaves and deep and finished with