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by Kate McMahon

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Now that farm-to-table has transcended trend status and even fast-food joints offer gluten-free choices, we turn our attention to the next new thing.

Or in the case of freekeh, the next new old thing.

The ancient grain is being touted as an up-and-coming superfood, according to our annual distillation of online 2014 food trend predictions from chefs, consultants, editors, marketers, bloggers and just-plain foodies.

While unscientific, these prognostications are always intriguing and often prescient. As noted, local food sourcing has become a movement, while kimchi has lost its culinary cachet.

So here is a sampling of 2014 trends:

Mashup Goes Mainstream: The Cronut craze was just a taste of what is to come. Look for more mashup/eclectic combos in grocery aisles and on menus. While I appreciate the now omnipresent chocolate-sea salt combos and pretzel as the new bun or Dairy Queen Blizzard flavor, I still can’t wrap my tastebuds around Pringles’ Pecan Pie chips. The experts predict that hybrid cuisines debuting this year include Jewish-Japanese and Indian-Mexican.

Cauliflower Is the New Kale: This cruciferous contender is moving beyond the vegetable dish. Expect to find it as a main course (a cauliflower steak entrée commanded $34 at one gourmet restaurant) and replacing the chicken in Buffalo wings or the mac in macaroni and cheese. (My daughter the chef introduced us to Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower Bites – very tasty.) Cauliflower is currently available in white, orange, purple and green.

Going with the Grain: Now that we all know how to pronounce and prepare quinoa, make room on the shelves for freekeh, a young, green wheat that is toasted. Dating back to the 13th century Middle East, freekeh is high in fiber, packed with nutrients and low on the glycemic index. The hottest gluten-free grain is teff, which is considered a “resistant starch” and very filling.

Going Beyond the Morning Teacup: Tea-infused cocktails and tea leaves in rubs, marinades and desserts are garnering attention. (My other daughter the baker points out that a chamomile cookie made the Food Network’s new 12 Days of Cookies list.) The proliferation of Starbucks-owned Teavana outlets as well as independent tea bars and tea emporiums will continue. And the Food Channel predicts that low tea, a quick afternoon pickup meal around 4 p.m., will be come popular.

Snacks Get Respect: The “healthy snack” category can only continue to grow, as Americans shift from dieting to eating healthier foods. Researchers say nearly 60 percent of all snack foods are now positioned as being healthy, and will replace traditional calorie-laden snacks in the cash register racks. Case in point: While waiting in a Target checkout line this week, the product with premium placement was the Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie, which billed itself as Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free, Non-GMO and Kosher. Whew. Talk about politically correct.

More on the Free Movement: As more consumers seek to eliminate wheat, dairy and nuts from their diets for general health reasons, not just food allergies, there’s a huge market for replacements. Expect to find more almond and cashew milks, and pastas and breads made from alternate flours such as buckwheat, quinoa and rice. Retailers that do not embrace/showcase these new products are missing out.

The Quest for the Next Cupcake, Continued: Macarons, pies and caneles have been hailed as the next must-have dessert, but fell as flat as an undercooked chocolate soufflé. Ice-cream sandwiches and éclairs are this year’s nominees.

So that’s the short-term view. When asked which current food trend will be the hottest 10 years from now, a survey of the nation’s chefs put environmental sustainability at the top of the list, followed by local sourcing, health/nutrition, children’s nutrition and gluten-free cuisine.

This is a dialogue I look forward to continuing. In the meantime, my trend research during this week’s “polar vortex” led me to several recipes for tea-infused warm drinks. If you are feeling a similar arctic chill and would like me to share the warmth, please shoot me an email at .
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