Food trends for vegetable, other specialty crops (The Vegetable Grower)
(Editor’s note: Gordon Johnson is a vegetable and fruit specialist with the University of Delaware.)
Vegetable growers that direct market or that target marketing programs to entice buyers should be on the leading edge of food trends.
Food trends are driven by many factors such as health benefits, dietary shifts, public values, celebrity recognition, and customer diversity.
The great thing about food trends is that you, as a grower and marketer, can help to start trends, invent new ways to market your produce, develop tastes in your customer base, and help define new eating habits.
One of my goals as a vegetable specialist located in Delaware is to reinvent one of our most important regional crops, the lima bean, by promoting different specialty types.
We all know how much in demand our large-seeded pole types are in the region. They are worth their weight in gold. We also have opportunities to develop many different baby types.
We have been testing a large range of potential specialty lima beans from our breeding program and other diverse sources that have different sizes, shapes and colors for cooking, eating, and taste attributes.
This can help feed the trend for more non-meat protein sources and the increased consumption of beans. I see black, red, red, purple, and multicolored limas as future food trends from our region.
I want to further develop lima beans into other products. Imagine butter bean pasta, green lima pasta, lima hummus (Lummus), lima gnocchi, or fermented lima curd (maybe a bit too far?)
In recent years other vegetable trends have waxed and waned. The word on the street is that kale’s best days are now behind it.
However, Brussels sprouts are still going strong, cauliflower is being put into everything, arugula is still hanging in there, and beets are on the upswing (2018 was the year of the beet).
Beets are an interesting study in trendiness. Five years ago, you would see small sections of beets in the fresh, canned, pickled, and frozen sections of the supermarket. Maybe 10 selections at most. Now there are beet products in the juice, snack, and health product sections. Why? Because beets are being promoted by the “heath” industry as a superfood.
A current question that is being asked by trend analysts is what will replace kale in the “greens” arena.
One group that is gaining traction is chard and beet greens. Chard is now being sought by chefs as the new greens item to add menu selections.
Other trend followers suggest that “wild” tasting plants will be part of the new trend driven by chefs.
This includes sorrel, dandelion, an amaranth. Yes, all the weeds in my yard now have become trendy.
Take dandelion as an example. There are dozens of types of dandelions from the common weed to cultivated types.
All parts of the weedy dandelion can be used as food and a medicinal.
Dandelion greens are very nutritious and can be added to salad and soups or cooked as a greens side dish. I expect to see some growers start to provide this as an actual crop. It is also perennial.
Edible amaranth is a close relative to pigweed and makes a rich flavored cooked green. It is very easily grown and loves the summer heat. In addition to this new trend, it is a favorite of many immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa.
Sorrel is lemony flavored and there are selections that have been made for specific leaf attributes.
It is this flavor that has brought it back to the table. Expect to see it more on plates in the future.
Other interesting trends include:
• Vegetable “steaks:” These are vegetables that can be sliced and grilled like steaks. Think eggplant;
• Small sizes: Small versions of popular vegetables. Snack peppers, snack cucumbers, mini eggplants, mini squashes and much more are becoming more and more popular. This follows the past baby vegetable trend but with new crops;
• Color and color blends: Colorful vegetables are big time trendy, especially in blends or mixtures. Everything from chard to cauliflower, carrots to peppers;
• Fermentable foods: Grow foods for your customers to ferment. Start a fermenting circle. Cabbage, Napa, Pak choy, daikon, cucumbers, peppers, and much more; and
• Ugly produce: Off shapes and types are now sought. Have an eggplant that looks like Elvis? Fused squash? The ugliest tomato?
Or just start your own trend.
I used to put a box of tomato rejects at farmers markets labeled “throwing tomatoes.” While it did not add to my sales, it did make customers laugh.
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