Cook's Exchange: 'Real' food is a top trend for consumers

February 5, 2014 

Readers want real products in 2014 without preservatives and with truth in labeling, and these readers join a nationwide restaurant trend of consumers who want to know what they are eating is real.

Technomic, a leading foodservice research and consulting firm, does a trend report at the beginning of each year surveying consultants, food writers and food service industry workers. No. 1 on the 2014 list of trends is "Convince me it's real." According to Technomic, today's menus have to be much more detailed, even down to where the ingredients came from and how the dishes were prepared.

Local sourcing is a must, not only for restaurants but also supermarkets. Grocery store ads often include from where and from whom the products, especially produce and seafood, are purchased. For instance, folks who want fresh shrimp want to know they actually are eating fresh Gulf shrimp. The same goes for produce. The rise in Real Foods Farmers' Markets is another sign of the consumers' increased interest in locally grown products.

In addition to local sourcing, Technomic says if a restaurant claims to be authentically Italian, it must use ingredients from Italy or prepare dishes using authentic Italian methods.

A reader, who took the

time to handwrite a letter but did not give a name, concurs with that.

"One of my pet peeves is when supermarkets advertise 'smoked bacon.' It is not smoked; they have used a smoking additive to taste like smoke," the reader said. "Oh, yes, those beautiful tomatoes are not vine-ripened, they were gassed. Just tell the truth."

Reader Rachel Johnson also wants real foods without the additives. She hopes this is a lasting trend for 2014 and beyond.

"I read somewhere there's an effort by some food companies to cut down on the additives in processed food," said Johnson. "This would be very helpful to those of us who are allergic to many of these chemicals and substances, particularly those who are extremely allergic to MSG, monosodium glutamate. It took months for me to figure out what was causing my nightly leg cramps. I am a very healthy person, no diabetes or other serious maladies, and thank Heaven, because I am very sensitive to all those drugs advertised nightly on TV.

"Anyway, by a coincidence, a friend called me a few years ago and told me I might be allergic to MSG and try to eliminate it. My doctor didn't believe me when I told him that I had finally found a cause. Every time I would eat at certain restaurants my legs would jump all night long," Johnson said. "My family diligently read every package content on grocery shelves for MSG or monosodium glutamate, and we'd cross them off our grocery lists. Can you believe that so many well-known products contain MSG? Why? It's very scary out there."

Johnson discovered that several friends also could not tolerate MSG, citing headaches and stomach distress. She wrote to one national company and asked why MSG and other additives. She was told there was no reason to stop using MSG and it added great flavors to its products.

"I'll bet Grandma didn't use MSG in her gumbo," Johnson said. "I think this chemical is used to make so-so food taste better. Lately, I have noticed one company has stopped adding it to some of their products. Please tell people to read labels."

No. 10 on Technomic's list falls in line with Johnson's dislike of additives. Restaurant owners discovered in 2013 that everything is political.

The trend report says: "Consumers are increasingly aware that the personal is political -- that their choices and those of the restaurants they patronize regarding food, treatment of employees and suppliers, sustainability and the environment have real consequences. Consciously or unconsciously, they will gravitate to concepts that share their worldview, and some restaurants will promote this cultural identification."

Pork as the latest protein star comes in at No. 2 on Technomic's 2014 trends. Chicken will continue to be strong, but also on menus will be lamb and game meats, from duck to bison, and even egg dishes and vegetarian alternatives. The No. 3 trend is the return of carbs, from ramen and buckwheat noodles to pastas with unusual ingredients, rice bowls, flatbreads, wraps, artisan breads and waffles as a base or side dish.

No. 4 brings a backlash to the demand for healthier eating with an increase in cheeses, creamy sauces and fried appetizers.

The remaining trends are a growth in pickled, fermented and sour foods, such as Korean kimchi and Scandinavian dishes; turning day into night with breakfast foods for dinner and dinner foods for breakfast; less interest in snack menus with some eating establishments doing grab-and-go style foods; drinks on tap from cold-brewed coffee to soda-water taps that allow chefs to create their own fruit soft drinks to wine and, of course, beers; and fast-casual restaurants finding new ways to get food out faster and better communication, with the use of iPad-type ordering and customer feedback.

Readers, what are your thoughts? Do you like or dislike some of these trends? Personally, I want the trend of locally grown and raised products to continue to increase. I am a big believer in "know your farm, know your farmer," and in using Gulf Coast seafood.

On a personal note, I hope the pop-up restaurants stick around in 2014. They are fun, a bit quirky and make for an evening's enjoyment. Chef Patrick Heim's fried chicken and Belgian waffle sandwich is mighty good.

Pork lovers, this recipe from the National Pork Board promotes the best of pork and is healthy, too. That's a good combination in my book.

HONEY-GINGER PORK WITH CARROTS AND APPLES

2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup apple juice

3 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated

3 carrots, cut into1/4-inch slices

1 large or 2 small apples, cored and cut into1/4-inch slices

Season pork with salt and pepper. Warm oil in large skillet with lid over medium-high heat; add tenderloins and cook until browned on all sides, 8-10 minutes. Remove pork to a plate and set aside.

Return skillet to medium heat and add apple juice, honey and ginger, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Stir in carrots. Return pork to skillet, nestling it into carrots. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook 5 minutes.

Add the apples, cover, and continue to cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches between 145 degrees (medium rare) and 160 degrees (medium) and the carrots and apple are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the pork from the skillet and let rest 5 minutes. Meanwhile, season carrot-apple mixture with salt to taste. Slice pork and serve with carrots, apples and pan sauce. Serves 6.

-- From the National Pork Board

Mighty mirlitons

Brenda Roberts of Biloxi, Miss., has her choice of mirliton recipes. My mailbox still is full with different mirliton recipes.

COLD MIRLITON SALAD

4 small mirlitons

Your favorite French dressing

Cut mirlitons in half; pare and remove seeds. Boil until tender in salted water. Cool and marinate several hours in French dressing in refrigerator. Place 2 halves on lettuce leaves and place cream cheese in the cavities with a sprinkle of paprika.

BAKED MIRLITONS

3 mirlitons, peeled

1 pound ground pork

3 medium onions chopped

4 cloves garlic, pressed

2 tablespoons cooking oil

4 slices dry toast or stale bread

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut vegetable pears or mirlitons in half lengthwise; remove seed. Boil until tender. Scoop out pulp; reserve shells for stuffing.

Fry onions, garlic and meat to light brown. Add 1 cup water; cook slowly. Add pulp that has been drained and mashed. Add toast or stale bread that has been soaked in water and squeeze out. Season to taste and fill shells or put in casserole dish. Cover with crumbs. Dot with butter and bake in 350-degree oven until crumbs are brown, about 30 minutes.

Andrea Yeager, who can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net, takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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