A Decade in Food Trends

Organic becomes a household name, chefs become celebrities and exotic ingredients become ordinary

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We're jumping on the end-of-the-year-list bandwagon at Food & Think. Today we have an offering of some of the biggest food trends of the decade. This was the decade in which organic became a household name, chefs became celebrities and exotic ingredients became ordinary.

Organic: Perhaps the decade's biggest culinary buzzword was organic. The concept is nothing new: before the introduction of chemicals into agriculture, all farming could have been considered organic. Nevertheless, organic became big business with stores like Whole Foods leading the way. In 2002, The USDA released its national standards for organic products, officially bringing the movement into the mainstream. In the first half of the decade, organic food sales grew by 17 to 20 percent a year, while conventional food sales grew by about 2 to 3 percent a year. By 2003, organic foods were available in about 20,000 natural food stores and 73 percent of conventional grocery stores in the United States.

Locavore: Another success was the locavore trend. The word itself was created by Jessica Prentice in 2005 and seen in print in the San Francisco Chronicle. Prentice came up with the word to describe those who eat food from within a 100-mile radius of where they live. The concept has taken on a more broad meaning now, but eating more food that traveled fewer miles is still a key point. The trend has traveled to the restaurant scene as well, with some menus going so far as to lists where the specific ingredient came from. In 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary named "locavore" the word of the year.

Molecular Gastronomy: A trend that stayed mostly in restaurants, save for the occasional adventurous home chef, molecular gastronomy is an oft-used but poorly understood term. Technically the term refers to studying the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking and discovering the best way to prepare a certain food. (Think: 6 minute egg.) But the term is also applied to cooking using those techniques. (Think: Infused foam.) Ferran Adriá, famed Catalan chef at El Bulli in Barcelona, is one of the best-known chefs said to be working within this movement. The menu at his restaurant features such concoctions as tapioca of Iberian ham, spherical egg of white asparagus with false truffle and frozen gnocchi. Heston Blumenthal, a British chef at The Fat Duck in Bray in Berkshire, U.K., is another chef famous for his scientific approach to food. His menu includes snail porridge, sardine on toast sorbet and salmon poached with liquorice.

Obscure Cocktails: Remember when ordering a martini was simple and didn't involve a menu of dozens of fruity creations? Another trend that took off this decade was the inventive cocktails. While the decade started with simple fruit flavors, cocktails with more exotic ingredients such as bacon and wasabi were featured as well.

Small Plates: While the dishes in fine dining restaurants have always been on the skimpy side, small plates made for sharing became popular in the past 10 years. The concept has been around in other cultures for centuries—tapas in Spain, dim sum in China, mezze in Greece and sakana in Japan. But the small plate idea idea has extended past the traditional Spanish and Chinese joints. This trend has been popular with diners as well as restaurateurs, who can earn a hefty profit from serving multiple smaller courses.

Offal: We saw a movement away from the New York Strip steak and pork tenderloin this decade. The less-often-used parts of the animals made a comeback. Tongue, livers, sweatbreads and headcheese made their return to the plate. While these traditional foods have been eaten for centuries, Americans diners tended to stay away from the more exotic bits of meat. This one might be with us into the new decade; it made an appearance in the food trend predictions for 2010. (I challenged my palate by eating the "Pig Plate" at New York City's The Spotted Pig.)

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