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If there is one thing we can count on, it's the ever-shifting, sometimes-whimsical gastronomic landscape of the food world. It has its high and lows. I'm still not ready to jump on the foie-gras corn dog phenomenon but I'm all about the farm-to-table movement, heirloom crops and using Superfoods like chia seeds to pump up the health of my food.
My head can barely grasp the explosion we've seen when it comes to the availability of gluten-free products. When did this happen? Have you seen the churches advertising they are now offering gluten-free communion wafers? It's mind-boggling! Is it a fad or is it here to stay?
I have spent the past few months examining some other identified culinary food trends with my work for Sargento as a Flavor Journey Correspondent. While ten trends were named for 2013, I was assigned two, fermentation and smokey tacos (which I will discuss at a later time).
Fermentation trend: The pickling cooking technique delivering sour flavors that demonstrate an evolution of the American taste. Do-it-yourself sauerkraut and Kimchi that make delicious toppings for tacos and even burgers.
The hope of this exploration was not only to create recipes but to explore these trends in my area. Whether it be restaurants, grocery stores or farmer's markets, did they exist? And if so, what's out there? And of course how any of these trends relate with cheese.
Quite honestly I never thought about "fermented food" being a trend. With my Eastern European heritage I grew up on freshly fermented sauerkraut. I always assumed every household indulged in this tangy cabbage. But as I explore the culinary wonders of fermented food, I'm finding not everyone is on board. As in...never tried it. However, publicity of the health benefits of foods having gone through the fermentation process have really caught the attention of many. This information and new studies spotlight why we should incorporate these items into our diets.
When I put together my Sauerkraut and Kielbasa Nachos I was inspired by flavors of my youth. Kielbasa and sauerkraut were always a staple at my house and a craving I still fulfill at least once or twice a month. Until I began this journey, I'd never considered putting it together with cheese. I constructed my nachos with layers of crunchy corn chips, caramelized onions and shredded cheese. I wasn't sold until I took one bite. These addicting flavor-components were off the charts when enjoyed together. The tangy sauerkraut and creamy cheese balanced each other favorably. A double-batch of these nachos has been requested for next time. They disappeared so quickly.
Kimchi was an absolute mystery ingredient to me. It has been around forever and is a staple the Korean palate could not live without. In my rural area it has never been a prevalent grocery item. However, it is catching on widely as Asian influences are infiltrating American comfort food. Who would have thought Kimchi, ranch dressing and cheese could ever play together nicely? But when I served Cheesy Kimchi Ranch Bread to my family, they fell crazy in love with these unlikely characters all in one dish. The sky is the limit on how these flavors can be utilized together.
Homemade (and store-bought) Kimchi and sauerkraut are making appearances at Farmer's Markets in my area. I am also seeing pictures scroll by in social media outlets of friends and family putting up homemade versions of fermented veggies in their cellars. It is a trend I never expected to have so much steam. But there seems to be a common thread connecting these food cultures and flavors around the world. The craving for fresh, spice-forward and tangy tastes are at the tip of everyone's tongues. Home cooks are wanting and creating unique recipes using these types of ingredients.
I do believe food trucks are helping getting the word out, a place where Kimchi Fries have become very popular. These mobile restaurants all have a special "secret sauce", making their fries stand out. I think Kimchi is still something lots of folks are trying to understand and have yet to come across. However, once they take the plunge I have no doubt they will be very surprised how much flavor it adds to a dish.
With the stunning growth of the organic industry and support of small farmers by chefs and shoppers a fermented foods revolution is possible. CSA boxes are filled with all kinds of possibilities and items to ferment and enjoy later. It's almost a necessity when so much produce is received at once.
Will the fermented food trend remain and become a fabric of American locavorism? It's hard to say, consumers are fickle. But the trend itself has been building and I don't see it going anywhere soon.
In fact, there are many foods you eat daily that undergo fermentation. It is a process where food is exposed to bacteria and yeasts naturally through the air or via inoculation. The results are complex flavors and smells. Fermented foods that have not been cooked are the best for you. Cooking kills off the beneficial bacteria. The words "aged" and "cured" are a clue that what you are about to eat has undergone fermentation.
Foods like chocolate, coffee, sour cream, fish sauce, wine, beer, salumi, country ham, vanilla, bread, pickles, cheese and buttermilk are a few examples of fermented foods. I hope you get to enjoy some of them soon.
What fermented foods have you experienced? Are they homemade or store-bought? Is there anything you've been wanting to try?
Disclosure: While this content has been made possible by Sargento, as always all opinions are my own.