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Food Trends

I love trying to be a futurist. That is - I like to try and forecast the future, predicting fads and watching trends. So, I love it when I spot something exciting going on... seeing a revolution or even a common consensus form. It was so cool in the nineties to see grunge become widely popular coming from small northwest indie labels. There is a moment when you first hear about something, whether it's Teletubbies or Hannah Montana, and all of a sudden it's everywhere - tv, bumperstickers, and in jokes by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. And I think that's magical, and a lot of fun trying to second-guess the vox populi.

So, I've been thinking about food lately. I blogged a while back about Fleur de Sel candy. Basically, caramels with sea salt embedded in them. I thought they were going to be *hugely* popular. Guess I was wrong. I was also mistaken when I thought that Gogol Bordello would be a hit rock group. So, please take all my advice with a grain of salt. Or sea salt, if you prefer.

Hot food trends

1. Simplicity

A lot has been written about the economy and how it is affecting foodies. The idea is that in a bad economy, people turn to comfort food. Fast-food restaurants with dollar menus are actually increasing market share lately. There has also been a movement for the last decade about "slow food": Alice Waters and the eating local movement. Combining these two trends makes me think that the country is turning back to cheap down-home eating.

Personally, I find that a little boring. It's a solace for yuppies who think their city is somehow unique - that things can be grown in Portland, Oregon that appear nowhere on earth. If anything, there have been wonderful advances in shipping and just-in-time delivery that allows exotic fruits and vegetable to be sold anywhere in America. Heck, when I was a boy in Minnesota, we couldn't buy oranges in the wintertime because most grocery stores couldn't carry them. To me, "regional cuisine" is a backlash against progress. Sure, I have qualms on whether the energy expense needed to ship pineapples to Hawaii is worth it, but I find the ability to get starfruit in Detroit a lot more interesting than eating fiddlehead salads in a small town in Vermont and pretending I am unique. See only thing it says about me is that I have enough money to travel a lot.

Having said that, I find it interesting to see products in my grocery store that are simple, combining only two- or three-ingredients and forgoing the use of binding agents, preservatives, and artificial flavorings in most processed food. Häagen-Dazs® has a new "5" line of ice creams that only contain five ingredients. Unfortunately, they aren't very good. Without the gums and fat, the ice cream has a pretty bland monotonous flavor on my tongue. I'm not sure I can finish the pint of "ginger" version I bought at the store last week.

When I was at the Coachella music festival last month, the biggest selling food at the carnival-style booths was fresh fruit. Now, I know Coachella attracts vegans and hippies, but I love the idea that good produce, prepared attractively can command a higher price and demand that fried shit on a stick.

2. Pinkberry

Now, don't brag that your home town has had Pinkberry for months, and that you're "over it". Part of the thing I like about trying to be a futurist is to pick the point at when something crosses over from quirk to acceptability. Just because a tiny bodega in Queens is selling something that made it into the New Yorker doesn't make it a trend. When I can buy it in Topeka, then I'll say it's made it to the major leagues.

Pinkberry is just frozen yogurt. So why am I blogging about it? Didn't that go out of style with TCBY? Well, there are lines around the block to get this stuff, like when Krispy Kremes made it to Colorado. Pinkberry is in New York and LA, and now San Jose just got their first one. The yogurt itself is extremely sour. The only thing that makes it palatable is that it comes with two or three kinds of fresh fruit on top.

And that's the secret. The stores are beautiful, with modern furniture and lighting. But the fruit is cut well, and the result is a low calorie dessert that hipsters will think is good for them. Will this chain surive? Well, Ellen Degeneres and the Jonas Brothers have raved about it, so many it's about to jump the shark. To me, they have to maintain high standards of quality and food preparation that may not be possible outside of boutique urban zones. But I'd buy stock... I'm guessing Pinkberry will expand across the US before flaming out and dying in 2011.

3. Single Origin

In a similar trend, I'm seeing products that brag their ingredients come from only one place. It started with coffee, and now at this very moment I'm eating chocolate made exclusively from cocoa grown in Madagascar. Can I tell the difference? To be honest... no. At it's worst, this trend devolves into a "princess and pea" mentality. The idea that my pallete can differentiate between sea salt collected from the east side of the Orkney islands vs. that cultivated on the vulgar west side means that I am a hypersenstive little freak. I'm just pretending that I'm so sophisticated that only cigars from Cuba will do, thank you very much. Nothing domestic shall pass *these* virgin lips.

I admire the trend if it means we're going to save the rain forest and create a demand for food grown in economically depressed areas. But I think we're doing the food a disservice. Some of the most interesting things happening in wine today are with bizarre varietals: serve your guests a glass of Sémillon, Viognier, or Gamay in order to be trendy lately. True, single origins are taking the art of cooking away from the producer and giving it back to the consumer. But there is a lot to be said for mixing crap together in order to produce a better, and more consistent blend.

4. Brazilian food

Recent magazines have told me that Peruvian food is the Next Big Thing. And I *do* love the hip Limón restuarant in Denver, or the shabby-but-delcious Los Cabos Restaurant II downtown. But in my opinion, I don't hear people raving about Peruvian food, nor could I name you a single outstanding dish I've eating there. It's like Mexican food, but not quite, and that's faint praise indeed.

Instead, in the last month, I've had at least a dozen family members and coworkers talk about going to a Brazilian restuarant. I know, I know... this is nothing new. The shtick is that you get an unlimited salad bar, and then waiter walk by with all-you-can-eat skewers of meat. It's perfect for US diners: slighty healthy and incredibly fattening at the same time. The price point is high ($20 to $30 for a dinner), but it reminds me of hearing about Japanese steakhouses in the seventies. All of a sudden, Benihanas were everywhere and the whole idea of food prepared as a "show" at your table became mainstream.

I'm waiting for a chain like Fogo de Chão to make it big. I'm not a fan of eating way too much food, so I avoid Las Vegas buffets when I can. But I love hearing the tone in my mom's voice when she described her first Brazilian, "They had a little flag... and you put it down when you are full, and then you can raise it up again!" It's the sound of delight colliding with novelty, and I think the combination is a winner.

5. Molecular gastronomy

No, no, wait! Don't walk away. I know, you've watched too many episodes of "Top Chef" where hip young people make dishes that 1) you wouldn't eat on a dare and 2) you couldn't cook in your own home if you tried. But stick with me for a second. I am constantly amazed at the disparate ways Americans eat. In our own homes, we cook with basic ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, milk, meat, cheese, butter, garlic, spices. It's basically the same stuff our ancestors ate one hundred years ago. But when we go to the grocery store, we buy stuff made solely of stuff not found in kitchens.

You couldn't make a real Oreo or Twinkie even if you wanted to. You don't have the ingredients - giant vats of chemical engineering - nor do you have the ovens and specialized robotic cooking machines. But I am telling you that soon you will. Or at least, you will if you are incredibly rich.

Americans love gadgets. And we have evidently more money than we need, or kitchen space to spare, but we keep buying crap that only cooks one or two dishes at the *most*. The bread machine used for a season before moving to the garage. The bagel slicer we can never find when we actually have bagels in the house. But with advances in technology, I see cooking toys becoming affordable (well, they will cost as much as an iPod, how about that?)

Griddles that are cold instead of hot, super-cooling your food in seconds. Pressurized ovens. Robotic arms and conveyor systems that do creative cooking maneuvers automatically, allowing the user to bake some amazing stuff they couldn't ordinarily create. Trust me, they will be like little CAD/CAM machines, and you will download new recipes off the interent to teach your little cooking robot new tricks. or at least you will until the novelty wears off and you sell the thing on ebay and buy a newer model.

6. Soju

I searched all around Japan for this stuff, and my Japanese friends thought I was insane. It was cheap swill for lowbrow Koreans... didn't I want some nice sake instead? Or maybe a cold beer?

Nope, I know a trend when I see it. And sure enough, a year later I'm seeing Soju (or "shochu" or "shoju" depending on the lanaguage) coctails at every trendy bar in California, home of The Trend. Does the stuff taste good? No, not really. It's like a bad vodka. And I expect the fad will pass away. But hipsters have tried absinthe and ginger drinks, and liked those for a while. I predict that soju will hit big in 2090 all over the US, and then fade away. And then not even afficiandos will drink the stuff.

7. Stevia/ agave nectar

I'm not a fan, but there will always be new sweeteners on the market. Do you like Stevia? I have not tried cooking with it, just in Coke and other products. I think we'll see more Truvia and PureVia in the future. As for agave, I think it will have more of a niche market share. Some new products will be introduced, but no existing foods will switch over. But I think you will see more "now with Agave!" stickers at the grocery store, at least for the next year.

8. Noodle bars (Pho)

These are huge out here in California. My favorite ones have slightly dirty names: "Pho King" and "Pho Queen". I personally am underwhelmed. It's a watery beef noodle soup. I have no idea why these places are so popular. Though it's kind of fun to hang out with friends in their sushi-bar atmosphere, I hope this fad doesn't catch on.

Tired food trends

1. Açaí

So, what the hell is this, and why do they keep sending spam to my in-box? If you don't know already, Açaí (pronounced ah-sah-ee) is a berry produced from a South American palm tree. Does it taste very good? Um, like a blander blueberry, maybe. Health nuts rave about its antioxidants, but all beneficial effects of the fruit are entirely made up. Since the berry itself is mediocre at best, I'm judging this to be the latest "blue-green algea" of the new millenium - a foul-tasting fad that will pass away when the novelty runs out. I'm guessing six more months, after Coca-Cola or Fanta makes an Açaí flavored beverage.

2. Deconstruction

Now you're just playing with your food. I think cooking is boring to you if you have to start asking basic questions: "Why *does* a hamburger need a bun?" This food is interesting as an intellectual exercise, but it's nothing that you'd like to eat. It's more like a prank you can pull on your friends: they order eggs benedict, and what comes out from the kitchen is uncooked eggwhites and an yolk cooked into the shape of a cube. Har-dee-har-har! I wouldn't eat this stuff if you paid me.

3. Pomegranite juice

Yawn. Though the story behind POM Wonderful is interesting. The couple behind the company created something out of nothing. Through a cool bottle design and good store placement, they single-handedly created a brand new popular beverage. They paid off a bunch of scientists to cook up non-existent health benefits of pomegranite juice. Too bad about the animal testing they performed on their product, too. I hope I never see another "pom cosmo" in a bar ever again.

4. Green tea

I hate when things I love get blown out of proportion: cool bands, placees I love to visit, and the tv shows of my youth have all been raped by remakes and over-promotion. I am a being fan of genmaicha, green tea mixes with toasted rice to give it a wonderful burnt Rice Krispies flavor. But I can't find it in stores lately, because nine thousand new types of green tea have flooded the shelves. Worse, they are mixing green tea with things like lemon and mint, as if it didn't have enough flavor as it is. I guess I'll have to hit the asian markets near my house until the green tea fad cools off.

5. Power foods (drinks, gels, bars)

This fad won't go away... there will always be health foods for atheletes and weekend warriors. I'm sure they will come up with something every few months that will shock me. Never underestimate the buying power of people who want to spend their way to looking thin. I used to have a web page devoted to energy drinks. At its height, I was high-enough ranked on Google that I was getting free samples from distributors in exchange for a review. But I lost interest when can after can had similar versions of sickly-sweet slop. I'll still have a Red Bull and Jagermeister from time to time at the bar, but my love is gone.

6. Fusion cuisine

Again, fusion will always be with us. But I think the idea is rather dull. In my mind, I imagine a Random Restaurant Generator somewhere churning out ideas for future chefs. Tahitian Polish cuisine! We can call the restaurant "Polynesian Polonaise!" Or how about Chinese Mexican? Australian pizza? Russian tacqueria? These places are fun once or twice, but nothing that I'd go back for. I don't care if your mom was Irish and your dad was from Venezuala. Pick a region, and stick with it.

7. Foams

I've never had a foam I liked. I'd rather suck on a can of Barbasol than be exposed to tomato slush again. There is a school for "architectural food", where the idea is to pile things and high as possible, in Dr. Seuss-like structures of sticks and platforms. If you are a fan, maybe you should buy and erector set, and leave my dinner alone, please.

8. Beard Papa's

I still haven't been to this place. But talking to my friends, none of you have either. Or you went in there, bought a cream puff, and thought it was way too expensive and way too much. It's a shame, 'cause I love the store name and the logo. But I never get hungry at night and say to myself, what I really want is a pricey eclair.

I'm with you on the tired trends.
I've tried both acai and pomegranate, and I'm not impressed with either. I've never seen the big deal with pomegranate. The "flesh" to seed-and-pith ratio is too low. The seeds are bitter if chewed, and I find the juice bitter as well, assuming that it includes the seeds. Perhaps if it were just made from the flesh it would be better, but it would also be infinitely more expensive.

Green tea? Blech. I will occasionally have a pot of green tea at a chinese restaurant. That is the only place for green tea. Black tea has just as many antioxidants, and it has a much more robust flavor.

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I'll stick with my rave of Brazilian food. I think they'll always be around as "destination" restaurants or special occasions. The formerly Atkins people will go back just for the excellent salad bars.

I'll probably go to Beard Papa someday soon. There's one in San Francisco near SFMOMA, and I love going to the art museum (LJ call-out... anybody want to take me out for art and cream puffs?) But I don't see the fad catching on. It's just too specialized. But I could be wrong!

Acai. Talk about popular. And Marketing? I even fell for the Mona Vie stuff. That stuff is not cheap. Did it work? Not sure. But the sales reps (pyramid scheme??) sure do a good sell.

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Exactly! I read about that on the wikipedia page. So, to extrapolate, maybe microbrewers will start to make similar drinks that also go under the radar. Little single-batch versions of distilled spirits. I should set up my own still and get in before the bandwagon gets here.

Edited at 2009-05-05 07:32 pm (UTC)

Pinkberry... you know, I was shocked when I walked by the one at Santana Row the other day and there easily 40 people in line... the line went way down the block. For frozen yogurt. I think you are very right on this call.

Brazillian Churascurrias... I've loved these since I went to one in Paris 15 years ago. But for some reason it's taken forever to make it's way out here to California. Finally one opened in SF a while back and they just opened a second location in Mtn View or Palo Alto or something. Bad timing for new restaurants tho, will be interesting to see if it survives.

I love walking down Santana Row. Wanna go window shopping sometime? I'll buy the yogurt. We can stand there and talk while we wait in the long line!

Caramels with chunks of salt in them is a hideous, revolting idea.

I suppose the "single origin" thing is trying to extend the concept of "single malt" vs. "blended" whiskey. Primarily for snob appeal, as you say.

Stevia is disgusting. Now, I have to say here that I'm extremely sensitive to bitter, so my experience may be atypical - but I've never tasted stevia I could stand. I know there's a lot of food faddism and such out there, but non-caloric sweeteners seem to bring out the Dingbats From Hell. The conspiracy theorists who think aspartame is an evil plot, the Epsilon Minuses who don't know enough chemistry to understand why the chlorination of the sucrose molecule to create sucralose is different from, say, PCBs and so on. Frankly, I think most of the people who claim aspartame and/or sucralose make them feel ill are having psychosomatic problems - I'd love to see their claims tested with double-blind experimentation. The only people who have anything to worry about with aspartame are phenylketonurics who can't tolerate the phenylalanine.

This is what gets me about the Epsilon screeching over aspartame - it's essentially PROTEIN! (A dipeptide, to be precise.) It quickly hydrolyzes in the gut to phenylalanine and aspartic acid (and a trace of methanol, just like a lot of other compounds) - and those amino acids are indistinguishable from those coming from any other protein.

What sweetener SHOULD be getting a lot of buzz, in my opinion? Erythritol.

Caramels with chunks of salt in them is a hideous, revolting idea.

Ugh, that’s a trend that needs to go away, the “two great tastes that taste revolting together.” Like the chocolate-covered potato chips, the chocolate-covered bacon, the chocolate with chili peppers inside, etc. Some things were not meant to be combined, people!

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Single source foods are unique and there is something wonderful about eating what is grown locally. You can thrill to the idea of eating strawberries in December - you can have them, they taste nothing like "real" strawberries that arrive in June and are gone by mid July here.

Chocolate from Madagascar is very different from Chocolate from Costa Rica. Just as coffee from Hawaii is different from South America. Soils very greatly from place to place, with different mineral content. Different varieties grown in different places, etc.

I would argue that if you can't appreciate the difference, you are not really tasting the food. While this can get carried away, at its root is simply an appreciation of fine food.

The fruit and veg you find in the market today are not grown for their amazing flavor- quite the contrary, they are grown simply because they are shelf stable, ship well, and look pretty.

Produce that is sold within 50 or 100 miles of the farm where it was raised can be much riper, have a shorter shelf life - meaning that more flavorful varieties can be planted.

Just for fun do some research on the number of varieties there used to be for things like Tomatoes, Apples, potatoes, etc 100 years ago

As a chef and self proclaimed foodie, God Bless single source, locally produced, simple, slow foods.

I love pomegranates, their juice and their flesh, and simply how they look. A pain in the ass to eat fresh, but that bittersweet taste pairs well with lots of stuff. Who would have thought 30 years ago that the nasty little bitter berry we only ate at Thanksgiving and Christmas would be as ubiquitous as apple pie today.

Pom Cosmos not withstanding, give this one another chance.

Foams are fun to make, but serve no real purpose other than to make cooking fun... unless you want to think about whipped cream, chocolate mousse, or a souffle, all of which are "foams" too.

As for ice cream made with just 5 ingredients - you come here and I will make you some of the best ice cream you have had with just 5 or 6 ingredients... sometimes it is not the idea but the execution.

Never saw a pinkberry or a beardpapa here in New England or NYC but then again I wasn't looking. Tell me more about beardpapa...

I'm still formulating my thought about this. I guess I'm just reacting against the "preciousness" of most foodies. The ones who believe that their oh-so-precious tongues can taste the subtelties in a fifty dollar bottle of balsamic vinegar. They're the same people who dislike CDs because their 50-year-old ears can evidently hear things above the 20 kHz range that the rest of use mere mortal cannot. To the delicate eaters, I just want to say "get over yourself Blanche and eat a hamburger."

There's a weird dicotomy in cooking, isn't there? I mean, one of the main GOALS of being a chef is to put ingredients together. So, when I pay $10 for a plate of heirloom tomatoes artfully arranged, I feel a bit cheated. They are tasty, granted, but I'm not sure what the goal is. Would I rather have a chocolate bar made entirely from beans shitted out by a civit cat that lives in Moldavia, or do I want the cook to do his fucking job and actually mix things together to get a balance of ingredients. And I doing a taste test to see if I can differentiate dirt from various neighborhood in central america, or am I just trying to eat my damn dinner?

I don't want to sit and cry about the fact that apples have thicker skins now. That everything tasted so much better in the halcyon days of my youth. I hate being told that after all of these years of mastication, I'm evidently not doing it right.

maybe we have different perceptions of "making it big," but salted caramel was/is HUGE in the SF food scene (witness Bi-Rite creamery's undyingly popular salted caramel ice cream). Personally, I like it, but I'm tired of seeing it everywhere. I'm more fond of salted chocolate myself.

I think sous vide might gradually become more commonplace in home kitchens, but it will involve lots of acclimation - people will need to get vacuum sealers, for one, and then there's the whole issue with expense/waste on the bags. however, the results are stellar, the technique is dead simple, and it's very much a set-it-and-forget-it approach to cooking. throw a steak in the bath before going to work, it'll be ready and perfect when you get home.

I love Brazilian food, but I think the churrascaria side is a bit overplayed. I'd love to see people explore more of the delicious stewed dishes, like feijoada or moqueca de peixe. Brazilian food has such rich and complex flavors...and good lord, the FRUIT!

agave is EVERYWHERE. pastry chefs love the stuff because it's in liquid form (no crystals to dissolve) and it acts as an invert sugar (a category of sugars that keeps cakes moist and ice cream scoopably soft). diabetics love it cos it has a low glycemic index. vegans love it because it's OOH NATURAL and isn't processed with bone ash. i find it can have a bit of a "woody" flavor (like stevia) when used in excess, but when used judiciously, it brightens the flavor of fruits.

foams have gotten a bad rap because of their poorly planned/executed overuse. but really, there's nothing wrong with it, and most people love foams by other names - the froth on your cappuccino, the crema on your espresso, the whipped cream on your slice of pie, the billowy top of a lemon meringue pie...hell, even a loaf of bread is technically a cooked starch foam and ice cream is a frozen custard foam.
you will likely be happy to hear that architectural food is all but dead. the low-to-the-plate painterly approach was popular for a while, but the trend now (thanks in no small part to Ferran Adria's brother/pastry chef Albert) has been towards natural/scattered plates that look like landscapes.

To me, salted caramels haven't made it big, because even though you can find them in high-end chocolate shops, you can't walk into a gas station and buy one. When Cadbury makes a salted caramel bar, I'll say it's "done".

I may be wrong on agave, reading what you wrote above. My reservation is the high level of fructose. I don't think the market for vegans will cross over into wide use. Consumers will say, "Why aren't you using sugar?"

And yeah, my rant today is from a nasty tomato foam I got at an Italian restaurant last week - a martini glass filled with a bland red goo that was supposed to go with some dry crostini. I'm not counting whipped cream and other tradional stuff made by stirring cream or eggs excessively. I'm talking about using huge amounts of pressurized air to do nasty things to vegetables. Leave that to Mythbusters and the Survival Research Laboratories.

... and I heard they're not called plates any more. Instead, you are "served" your "food" on *surfaces*. Sometimes I really hate foodies {grin}

Edited at 2009-05-05 08:55 pm (UTC)

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I forgot about goji! There's another food fad that I'm predicting - there are a *huge* amount of regional berries in North America that haven't been explored yet. Huckleberries, "bumbleberries", buffalo currants, cloudberries, haw flakes, jostaberries. They all taste slightly different, but are pretty much all the same.


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I'm going there right after Bi-Rite.

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Hot dogs and burgers never go out of stule.

Hot dogs and burgers rule, and not fancy schmancy burgers with crazy on top - simple ground beef, cheese, and a few other things, onions, let. tom, mustard, ketchup... salt and pepper cooked to medium rare and put on a fresh bun...

That's simple food that tastes great. You can use heirloom tomatoes and fleur de sel if you want, but it can't be any better than the ones my Dad made us for years on the old Weber charchoal grill in the back yard.

My my my my -- bears love talkin about food! At least I got in before the comments go over 50 and become harder to read.

Some food trends start on one coast and expand elsewhere, so what may have already peaked out there has yet to invade the rest of the country.

a few loose-leaf observations from my coast:

pho <<< growing
bao <<< growing
100 dark chocolate bars in your grocery aisles and drug stores > pretty much peaked
bacon < almost overexposed
acai, pomegranite, other dubious superduperantioxidants > peaked
coffee, especially expensive mochafrappacinos >>> over
green tea & white tea <<< growing
hamburgers > peaking, except for:
slider everything: mini burgers, tacos, pulled BBQ on a bun, etc. ++ about to pop
fancy and twee yogurt shops << still growing, although pinkberry is over
fancy/greek supermarket yogurts << growing
cupcakes << still booming
BBQ < still growing
more vegetarian options at restaurants ++ about to pop
restaurant dinners w/ 3 oz. portions of meat (without being stir-fry or any sense of deprivation) ++ about to pop

Re: Fusion cuisine: I was surprised at the number of "Chinese-Canadian" restaurants in and around the area where we first lived when we came to Canada last year (the south shore of Lake Simcoe around Keswick and Sutton, for those familiar with the area).

Their menus were pretty much 99 44/100% Chinese, with the only "Canadian" dish pretty much always being some form and/or variation of poutine.

I *love* the restaurant "Aux Anciens Canadiens" in Quebec. They serve pig’s knuckles ragout and meat pies!


We have a chain of Brazilian places in Mass called Café Belô. I think I'm over them at this point. It was a great place to eat with my no carb friends, but I can only take so much of the greasiness. We've had Brazillian Churascurrias here since like the 80's, but the concept of the low end chain is fairly new, probably since the late 90's

Stevia's nasty. I've not cooked with it, but it's nasty in coffee. Not tried agave, but I'm leery of it, I've read bad stuff about it, like high fructose corn syrup bad.

I gotta say I dug Beard Papa. Totally loved it. I was at a party in NY and someone brought some, and I was knocked out. There was one in Boston, but it's gone now. It's a little pricey, but the product's sublime-vanilla bean taste and amazing mouthfeel. I was stunned the first time I tried one.

Speaking of food trends, have you ever read "Fashionable Foods"? It's a great overview of food trends from the 1920's to the very early 90's.