WebMD explores the latest trends in food and drink at the National Restaurant Show
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
The aroma of mouth-watering food wafted in the air along with the sounds of thousands of people, clanging equipment, demonstrations, ice carvings, and even demos of dancing waiters and waitresses profiling the latest in designer uniforms on the exhibit floor of the National Restaurant Association show.
The show was held May 20-23 at McCormick Place in Chicago, and boasted 73,000 attendees and more than 2,100 exhibitors, education seminars, and special events. President Bush was a highlight -- addressing the attendees on Monday morning. Veteran newscaster Ted Koppel provided the opening address Sunday afternoon.
Equipped with my pedometer, comfortable shoes, and an empty stomach ripe for tasting, I set out in the enormous exhibition space in search of the latest food trends. The challenge was finding the innovations in food amidst the sea of exhibitors featuring everything imaginable for food service operators.
It looks like a cross between a cherry tomato and a red pepper with a crisp, hot, spicy, and sweet taste. The intriguing little Peppadew made its debut last year at the show and has been wildly successful in the past year -- showcased in products such as salsa, cheese, Bloody Mary mix, bread, hot sauce, olives, veggie burgers, chips, or simply as Peppadews in a jar. Native to South Africa and protected by international growing rights, this versatile fruit is nutritious and delicious. If you can find it, use it in salads, pastas, soups, egg dishes, pizza toppings, or filled with low-fat cheese as appetizers.
Relaxing, healthy, holistic, and serene are the adjectives best describing the increasingly popular tea beverage. Naturally abundant in antioxidants, tea is fast becoming the hottest health drink.
It can be black, white, green, organic, herbal, or decaffeinated. The newest addition -- red tea -- is not your grandmother's hot beverage anymore. The newest varieties include innovative new flavors such as pomegranate green tea (The Republic of Tea) and Rainforest Mate in biodegradable tea pouches (Mighty Leaf Tea) and the red hot, red tea from the South African Rooisbos herb.
Artisan teas can be enjoyed hot, cold, or carbonated. Healthy tea extracts are added to carbonated energy drinks and combined with dark chocolate for a super antioxidant product in the African Rooisbos with Guava tea cookies and trans-fat-free tea oil. Leaders in tea innovation include Numi Tea, Tempest Tea, The Republic of Tea, Mighty Leaf Tea, and Yogi Tea.
Fresh, Natural, and Organic
Make no mistake about it, fresh, natural, and organic products are hot properties. Consumers want foods free of pesticides, additives, and preservatives and they are going to see more "pure" foods at the grocery store and on restaurant menus. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting the amazing array of delicious and innovative foods in this category. Some of the new additions on display: fresh greens, herbs, and edible flowers (Scarborough Farms); simple gourmet vegetables (Flav R Pac and Bonduelle); all natural cookies and organic kids cookies (Immaculate Baking Co.); premium organic eggs, dairy, juice, and meat products (Organic Valley); natural deli meats (Hormel); delectable, all-natural pastry kisses (The Perfect Bite Co.); and all-natural gourmet nut blends (Sahale Snacks).
Whole Grains, Multigrains, and Wraps
Grains have gained momentum -- but they are no longer the white, refined grains. Instead rolls, rice, pasta, pita, pizza dough, cereal, snack bars, and wraps are available in healthier, whole grains and multigrains. Consumers are heeding government advice and increasingly ask for whole-grain products that contain health-promoting nutrients and phytochemicals. Many of the whole-grain products bear the stamp of the Whole Grains Council indicating whether a food is a good, better, or excellent source of whole grain. Some exhibitors offering whole-grain or multigrain products include Desoto, Roman Meal, Custom Foods Inc., Nuovo Pasta, and Natures Path.
The heat is on and at times, it is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Hot peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, and a variety of different hot sauces are topping the list of "hot" foods. Consumers are using the spicy condiments on bagels, burgers, subs, burgers, and all kinds of Mexican foods to bring out the flavor of foods.
Indian seasonings, barbeque rubs, and low-country sauces were some of the hot new condiments at the show. Indian food is the next up-and-coming ethnic cuisine and to make it easier, spices, sauces, and chutneys are packaged for easy food preparation.
Captain Foods Inc., Bueno Foods, Lillies of Charleston, Tiger Tiger, Jewel of India, and Chef Bombay/Aliyas are a few of the retailers in the spicy condiment business.
It was a great experience wandering the halls of McCormick Place searching for what lies ahead in food trends. Look for new and innovative products to show up in your favorite grocery store. Be adventurous, you will probably find some new foods to add to your repertoire of favorites.
Published May 23, 2006.
SOURCES: National Restaurant Association Show, May 20-23, 2006, Chicago.