TORONTO - It turns out that parents may have been ahead of the curve when they encouraged youngsters to eat their vegetables.
Trend watchers say vegetables are emerging as "centre of the plate," with celebrated chefs set to focus on them in restaurants and cookbooks in 2015.
Other items on foodies' radar for the year ahead include fermented foods like kimchee, mangoes and locally sourced grains. And gluten-free food is definitely here to stay, they say.
"Vegetables have grown so much as being the focus on dining out or the dinner plate," says Christine Couvelier, whose Culinary Concierge company (www.culinaryconcierge.ca) helps clients around North America build their brands and keep ahead of market trends.
"We have seen it coming the last few years, but it's really going to explode this year."
New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is reportedly opening a restaurant devoted to vegetarian and vegan fare, and the U.K.-based, Jerusalem-born Yotam Ottolenghi has followed up his popular book "Plenty" with "Plenty More," which puts an even greater focus on the expanding world of vegetables, grains and legumes.
Food writer Julie Van Rosendaal agrees veggies "are going to be the new whole grains."
"A few years ago whole grains were the big thing and now people are realizing that vegetables are really high-fibre, as well as being loaded with nutrients and low in calories and everything that everybody needs to eat more of," says Van Rosendaal, whose seventh cookbook is "Gatherings: Bringing People Together with Food" (Whitecap Books).
Registered dietitian Christy Brissette sees Canadians opting for more locally sourced grains, such as Red Fife, a heritage wheat that originated in the Peterborough, Ont., area. It's slightly lower in gluten than other types of whole wheat and a little higher in fibre.
"But people are even taking it a step further and milling their own grains — so getting a little grain mill, going to the farmers market and getting these locally sourced grains in their whole form and milling it so that they know you're actually getting the entire grain versus has the bran been separated, has any of the nutrition been extracted from it."
Canadian farmers are also growing nutty-tasting gluten-free Cavena Nuda — or "Rice of the Prairies," developed by Agriculture Canada — barley, lentils and quinoa, all packed with fibre and nutrition.
"I think there's been more of a shift now to Canadian superfoods so that we're not so much focusing on acai berries from the Amazon, or searching far and wide for these exotic ingredients that are really expensive, but just looking at things like the Arctic char, which we have available here, saskatoon berries which are very high in antioxidants," says Brissette, who works in the Ellicsr kitchen at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
Fermented foods, such as the Korean side dish kimchee made with vegetables and seasonings, kombucha, a fermented drink made with tea, and the fermented milk drink kefir are taking off. Brissette has noticed the rise of do-it-yourself kits for sauerkraut and sourdough starter.
Couvelier also sees mangoes in her culinary crystal ball for 2015.
"They can be used in sweet and savoury dishes — mango salsa, smoothie, or a mango chicken curry, can be in tacos for something fun, can be used with grains such as quinoa and tabbouleh salads," the Victoria-based trend spotter said from Key West, Fla.
Couvelier says the flavour combination of sweet and heat are also on her radar.
"Think of things like chili and honey. Think of the punch of flavour, not the explosion of heat. Think of things like sriracha, which is so big, but sriracha with maple syrup as a combination."
Sriracha, made from a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt, exploded in popularity last year.
With busy lifestyles but a desire to start the day off well, Couvelier expects on-the-go healthy breakfasts will be top of mind among retailers and at home. Something as simple as overnight oats in jars can be tailored to individual tastes with fruits and seeds and easily transported.
Van Rosendaal suggests slow cookers will "start to go by the wayside a little bit," to be replaced by the pressure cooker, which can cook stew, ribs or other dishes in a third of the time.
"That's what everybody wants — faster and more convenient and yet that same sort of depth of flavour that you get from the oven which you don't quite get from the slow cooker."
Gluten-free products will continue to populate grocery store shelves and appear on more menus.
"I really believe that gluten-free is not a trend and not a fad," says Couvelier.
"It's just part of our way of eating and part of our way of life and the food world has accepted that. When developing products manufacturers are getting better than ever at developing gluten-free products that taste great because I think that those two things have to go together."
But Brissette points to the fact that gluten-free products are not always healthy.
"A cookie is still a cookie and oftentimes they're using refined flour," which has little nutrition.
Other potential food trends in 2015:
— "Pie is starting to be the new cupcake," says Van Rosendaal
— Using grated tonka beans — the dark, dried, wrinkly legumes that smell like almond and vanilla — in baking
— Waffles served with fried or butter chicken, or used in place of a bun
— Popcorn dusted with creative flavours like toasted coriander and citrus zest, or chilies and honey
— Craft cocktails will continue to boom in restaurants, bars and at home
— Further down the road Couvelier predicts tea will become trendy as an ingredient. Tea can be used as a marinade or a cooking liquid to poach vegetables, fish or chicken or it can be used in desserts
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