What's Hot and What's Not: The Best and Worst Food Trends of 2013

Food trends – love them or hate them? We live in a world where “gluten-free” is the new black, fashion week finds a competitor in restaurant week, and people will wait in line for hours, before sunrise, for deep-fried dough. We see food trends as a blessing and a curse: Many food trends add value to the foodie world, from promoting environmentalism or local vendors, to shortening cook-time and allowing home chefs to spend more time relaxing with those they love to serve. Some food trends, on the other hand, add a lot of hype to a product that perhaps doesn’t deserve the love it receives. Today, we’ve collected and analyzed ten of our favorite and least-favorite food fads, so you can see when you should jump on the Trendy Train and when you should let it chug on. But, remember: Any food fad that doesn’t represent who you are as a chef and person is not that cool, after all.

HOT: Rainbow Chard

Why: Chard is one of the healthiest greens on the planet, with a beautiful color contrast between the green leaf and colorful purple, red or yellow vein. With a slightly bitter flavor similar to kale but a little more nutty, Chard is fantastic in dishes with bacon or chorizo or simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil. It looks beautiful, tastes fantastic and is just awesome for your health.

HOT - Rainbow Chard Salad
NOT - Kale

NOT: Kale

Why: Ah, kale salads. The only health foodie fad bigger than kale salads in 2013 was quinoa- which is listed below. Kale-mania swept the nation this year like never before, and suddenly this earthy green is the cronut of the health world (do not get me started on cronuts). So often, kale salads are served without rubbing the leaves in an acid or dressing, which makes the resulting greens tough to chew and not that fun to eat. So skip kale as your mandatory side! We won’t miss it much.

HOT: Farro

Why: Farro is a supergrain. It is rich in fiber, vitamin B and E, magnesium and complex carbs that help support your immune system. It’s not too difficult to find locally-sourced farro, unlike quinoa. Farro is difficult to overcook and works well as an easy, healthy replacement for rice in risotto. Not to mention, the flavor of farro is just fantastic: a mix between a nutty wheat berry and mild rice. Try it in a grain salad like this one, with juicy steak and fresh from the garden beets.

HOT - Farro
NOT - Quinoa

NOT: Quinoa

Why: American quinoa consumption, while incredibly healthy, is absolutely devastating to its growers and harvesters in South America. Bolivians have subsisted on quinoa for centuries, but the American demand for the ancient “grain” has spiked the price to the point where growers can no longer afford to eat the gluten-free seed they have consumed for centuries. Also, the American demand has forced Bolivian growers to abandon their sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods of harvesting in favor of efficient yet eco-disastrous techniques. Quinoa is fine in moderation, but try cutting down on your consumption – Bolivia and its allies thank you.

HOT: Playful Iced Treats

Why: On hot days like these, chilly, no-bake desserts are a small miracle in heat wave armageddon. We’re all about freezer-cool granitas and Italian semifreddos – heck, we even collected a bunch of no-bake desserts so we wouldn’t have to use the same one twice. Homemade ice cream is wonderful, but high-quality ice cream makers are pricy and churning ice cream the old fashioned way is insanely time consuming. Iced desserts are all the fun of ice cream without the equipment – and who doesn’t like popsicles?

HOT - Playful Treats
NOT - Whoopie Pies

NOT: Whoopie Pies

Why: For those who don’t know, a whoopie pie is what happens when a cupcake and an Oreo beget a devil spawn. For a hot minute, whoopie pies were all the rage for food truck vendors and foodie fad fans, but what people failed to acknowledge is when you force a beautiful, airy cake batter to befriend ten tons of flour to hold the shape of a cookie, you lose flavor in the process. Not to mention, the icing in the center inescapably becomes that lovely type of stale where the outside gets crusty and the inside gets pasty. Don’t get me wrong, some of those awesome homestyle Southern chefs can make whoopie pies that blow minds, but too often the whoopie pie is just the Frankenstein of the bakery.

HOT: DIY Liqueurs

Why: There are so many reasons to infuse your own liqueur, but let’s start with price: You can make five different types of schnapps with one fifth of Everclear, which is generally about 15 bucks, opposed to seven dollars each for individual schnapps, a whopping 35 smackeroos. You can get creative and make infused vodka and gin with produce from your garden, or go the herbaceous route with rosemary, basil or thyme. Not to mention, it’s an excuse to use mason jars, which are both practical and that perfect style of rustic for dinner parties. They taste great, are inexpensive to create and make you feel like an 1890s cocktail pioneer. See how to do it here!

HOT - DIY Liqueurs
NOT - Complicated Cocktails

NOT: Overly Complicated Cocktails

Why: You can really choose your own adventure when it comes to your cocktail pretense. You can be snobby with wine tasting (“‘Try this California white?’ What do I look like, a plebe?”) or play “slap the bag” with two-buck chuck. But when it comes those overly complicated, “it needs more fernet branca,” ‘Around the Liqueur Store in 80 Bottles’ sort of drinks, it’s hard to seem humble. If your cocktail has kumquats, kombucha and prosecco, you need to rethink your choices. A quick and easy rule: if one serving of your cocktail costs more to make than it is to buy a classic cocktail in a bar (think around 8 dollars), then skip it.

HOT: Naturally Vegan/Vegetarian Entrees

Why: A surprising fact for you: most of the world cannot afford to eat meat regularly. Vegetarianism, while often a religious, cultural, or ethical choice, is more often a financial necessity in the developing world and elsewhere. Therefore, cultures in these impoverished areas develop creative, tasty recipes that naturally omit meat or dairy and include alternative cheaper forms of protein. So before you grab a big plate of Tofurky, consider serving up a bowl of this vegan Italian tomato soup or travel to China with a classic Szechuan dish. It’s all the ethical and environmental benefit of going vegan without that dog food aftertaste.

HOT - Natural Vegan Meals
NOT - Veganstein Meals

NOT: “Veganstein” Meals

Why: I don’t know what Rice Cheeze is, but I don’t want to find out. As a native of the hippie capital of the United States (We’re number one!), I’ve seen my fair share of Tofurky thanksgivings and “Chick’n Nuggets.” Many brilliant, meticulous scientists work tirelessly to create vegan and vegetarian alternatives to our favorite meat dishes, so we can trust that we will never, never, begin to even approach the flavor of the real thing, even with the best minds in the business on the job. Instead of eating a Frankendish that pales in comparison to that true meaty goodness, find new favorite, natural meals for the new meat-free era in your life. The planet thanks you, and soon, so will your taste buds.

THE ALWAYS HOT: Eating Seasonally and Locally

Why: Eating seasonally and locally is always a good idea- you’re helping your community, helping your body, and helping your environment. What more can we say?

HOT - Eating Seasonally and Locally
NOT - Flown-in Produce

THE ALWAYS NOT: Flown-in Produce

Why: Every once in a while, yeah! It’s cool to use flown-in, exotic ingredients in dishes when you’re looking for something different for dinner. But bananas from Australia or South America shouldn’t be a staple in your house. They don’t taste as good as local produce, they lose nutrients when they travel, and they waste fuel and energy traveling.

Have an argument for -or against- one of our trends? Want to defend the honor of a favorite ingredient? Think something delicious or disgusting should have made the list? Let us know in the comments!