In with the New — and the Old

2018 dessert trends include exotic flavor combinations and nostalgic throwbacks.


Consumers are open to more interesting flavor and ingredient combinations than ever before, but they also take comfort in the familiarity of childhood favorites. Meanwhile, they continue to embrace responsible ingredient sourcing, good nutrition and the environment when making their food selections.


These trends and others are reflected in the following expert predictions for snack and dessert trends in the year ahead.


Spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough

A touch of spice

Dale Miller, president of Master Chef Consulting Group, Clifton Park, N.Y., says he expects that chefs will embrace the “exciting and unique twists” conferred by the use of hot spices and other savory flavors.


“The addition of just a hint of chipotle, hot sauce, habanero, chili pepper, ginger and even wasabi can add complexity to the dessert without being overwhelming,” Miller says.


He also has been making use of Kampot peppercorn in dessert recipes. Available in black, white or red varieties, the peppercorns “add a unique, sweet, peppery floral fragrance to desserts,” he says.


As an alternative to spicy heat, another dessert flavor trend Miller sees emerging in 2018 is the increased use of floral flavors such as elderflower, rose water and orange blossom.


Plant-based dining

Consumer interest in plant-based proteins and other ingredients has gained traction in the past year and is expected to emerge as a significant food trend in 2018, according to several industry observers. In fact, consulting firm Baum + Whiteman has highlighted plant-based dining as its trend of the year for 2018.


“Plant-based is the new organic,” the New York-based company says in a recent report.


While plant-based meat replacements have been garnering much of the attention, desserts are certainly not immune to the trend. Non-dairy and vegan ice creams and other frozen desserts have proliferated in shops such as Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs.


Ancient and regional grains also are appearing increasingly in desserts, notes Suzy Badaracco, president of consulting firm Culinary Tides.


“The grains are roaring back,” she says. “It's not any single grain, but a whole playground full. Look at farro, kamut, teff, spelt, freekeh, sorghum, buckwheat and even chia, which is a seed — all of those can fully be rock stars in 2018.”


New snack ingredients

Consumers will continue to cut back on eating traditional meals and opt instead for filling, nutritious snacks made from clean ingredients, says Miller of Master Chef Consulting Group.


“High-protein snacks with meat, uniquely flavored meat jerkies and high-fiber fruit, nut, ancient grain and veggie bars are dominating the field,” he says. “Insects, such as cricket powder, are even making their way into these snacks.”


In addition, snack foods will increasingly adopt spicy flavors such as Sriracha, sambal and gochujang, he says, as well and savory flavors such as basil, rosemary and garlic. In addition, Miller suggests keeping an eye out for mashups of global flavors, such as curry-pineapple, wasabi-basil-lime or katsuobushi-scallion-bacon.


Throwback desserts

Consumers continue to embrace new flavors and ingredients, but they also take comfort in the familiarity of the treats they enjoyed in years gone by. Fresh-baked chocolate brownies, for example, will never fall out of favor.


“Millennials are growing up and are bringing their favorite childhood desserts with them,” says Andrew Freeman, president of foodservice consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co., in San Francisco. “With nostalgic cuisine hitting the scene, expect to see more throwback desserts including Carvel ice cream cakes, edible cookie dough and your favorite childhood cereals. Soft-serve ice cream sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles, anyone?”


Along those lines, Southern desserts could also be poised to gain momentum in 2018, says Badaracco. These could include items such as stack pie, Key lime pie and pecan pie.


“We’re still rolling around in the Deep South, which I love,” she says. “I would look for desserts out of Appalachia that are historically popular in that region, or the Low Country or the Ozarks.”


Sustainability on the menu

Food waste has become a hot topic in the restaurant industry, and some operators have found ways to address the issue with snack and dessert recipes that call for leftover ingredients. Look for more operators to make use of castoff ingredients such as “ugly fruit” and leftover popcorn to reduce food waste in 2018.


“Products promoting their near-trash experiences are lining the shelves,” says Freeman, citing juices made from fruits that were destined for the trash as one example.


The ice cream shop Salt & Straw called attention to food waste this past June through partnerships with local organizations including Food Runners, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit that delivers surplus food directly to people in need, he says. Among the ice cream flavors featured was The Roxie Road, which was made using surplus popcorn from the historic Roxie Theatre and was “absolutely delicious,” Freeman says.



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