Caramelized olives stuffed with roasted almonds or brandied raisins? A tasty fig and olive spread laced with fragrant honey? Sun-dried cherry tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil? How does roasted cauliflower tapenade with a little drenching of tahini and spices sound?
These are some of the items I tasted at the recent PLMA show. What do these disparate pairings have in common? Something I call “Ingredient Synergy.”
In this age of professional and armchair foodies, the pursuit of capturing the palette and engulfing the taste buds with bursts of surprising and captivating flavor pairings is creating a new energy among product developers and food manufacturers. Within the restaurant world, established rock star chefs and a wave of upcoming bright stars have paved the way with the execution of exciting dishes that cover the plate and challenge diners to stretch their culinary horizons.
And everyone is doing it. In New York, you can dine on a cauliflower steak at a vegan restaurant, or order Beef Stroganoff served over cauliflower noodles in a neighborhood spot in Brooklyn. At Milk Bar on the Lower East Side, pick up a luscious soft serve dessert made with Chef Christina Tosi’s trademark, breakfast cereal-infused milk.
The point is that culinary innovation is the spice of life. Often, chefs do a little research and resurrect classics with a little added flair. Vegetables can now take the center plate stage in the mainstream food world. And in the case of the above olive, spread and tapenade, stand-alone ingredients we all love are paired to create flavors that manage to evoke sweet/savory/salty/acid all in one umami taste.
Some of these ingredient pairings are well known in other world cuisines, but fairly new to the U.S. market. Manufacturers are tweaking the old “new” hot deli item – hummus – to create “hummus-style” spreads with other legumes such as edamame and white bean, and then crowning everything with savory/sweet/salty toppings. And speaking of hummus toppings, be on the lookout for fabulous new line extensions.
Innovation in the food trade benefits retailers and ultimately the customers they want to entice and keep. We visit Trader Joe’s time and again not only to buy our favorite value-added items that save time in the kitchen, but to see what new food products that illustrate advantageous ingredient synergy show up on the shelves.
It’s a great time to be creative in the food business. We have a couple of aces in the hole — good ingredients, and our imaginations.
[Photo credit: Snowdrop Meringues & Berries ]