“What’s Hot” Report Gets an Unexpected Culinary Infusion This Year

The two top-ranking items on the National Restaurant Association’s trend-tracking survey involved cannabis and CBD, two substances that aren’t fully legal in the U.S. Also popular among chefs were global flavors and zero-waste cooking.

The next year of major culinary trends might get a little extra boost from a few trendy additives—particularly some whose legal status remains in a gray area.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2019 Culinary Forecast, one of the biggest food trends involves infusing either cannabis or cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive byproduct of cannabis and industrial hemp, into edible treats.

The 650 professional chefs surveyed—who are also members of the American Culinary Federation–named infused drinks (77 percent) and infused foods (76 percent) as the top two trends in this year’s edition.

“Chefs who participated in the survey said infusing foods with the ingredients could create unique cuisine opportunities and potential new markets for experiential dining occasions,” the report stated [PDF].

The survey highlights an interest in using such infusions even as their legal status remains questionable. Both substances are illegal to distribute under federal law, with changes to the legal status of cannabis mostly being tackled at the state level. CBD, however, is a bit closer to being legalized nationwide, as the ingredient can be derived from industrial hemp, the production of which was legalized late last year, though the Drug Enforcement Administration has yet to change its classification.

The association urged caution in using such ingredients, emphasizing in a news release that its members should “follow all laws, including applicable federal, state, and local laws that apply when selling or using those items at their restaurants.”

Of course, there’s a lot more to the study beyond the top-line items, much of which can be borrowed for your next association meeting:

Less waste, more taste. Another trend that is gaining steam is the idea of building food items from food scraps that would otherwise be thrown away, a concept called zero-waste cooking. “Chefs are taking a second look at items they trashed in the past—using coffee grinds to flavor homemade ice cream and showcasing cabbage butts in crowd-pleasing stir-fries,” the report said.

Veggies stay strong, while meats lose a step. The report suggested that chefs were interested in getting more experimental with veggies, including by using uncommon herbs, sourcing locally, and using veggies in place of carbs in dishes such as pasta. But meats, while falling back a bit from prior survey years, aren’t necessarily going away—new cuts of meat, such as Vegas Strip Steak (believe it or not, a trademarked term), outpaced plant-based burgers and sausages among chefs.

Global inspiration grows. Whether during breakfast or as an additional flavor in a larger meal, foods from around the world also showed strength in this year’s survey, with North African and West African cuisines particularly doing well. “Chefs identified North African cuisine (think tajine and fuul) as today’s ‘hottest’ global flavor,” the report stated. Other areas where global tastes showed themselves included Thai rolled ice cream and gazoz, a variant of Israeli soda.

(RyanJLane/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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