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From Pink Sauce to weed-infused dinners and butter boards, here are the year’s most important and bizarre food trends.
The word trends can get a bad rap. They’re often associated with fleeting ideas of what’s popular amongst a small group of people, and gimmicky behavior that doesn’t have much meaning. While some food trends are less admirable than others, more often than not, they can give us information about where we are as a society, and what to expect in the future. That’s why every December we love to back at the year and think about what mattered to eaters, what sparked our interest, and how food is evolving. This year had a lot of unexpected surprises. From caviar bumps, to ghost kitchens and cannabis-infused food of all types, 2022 saw a lot of exciting, at times cringe-worthy but ultimately fascinating food trends.
Love them or hate them, boards covered with butter, peanut butter, icing, and even sour cream were a big trend in 2022. First emerging during late summer, TikTok accounts took the humble charcuterie board and transformed it into a showcase for butter. Described as one of the “perfect things in life” by some and “totally disgusting” by others, longtime chefs, home cooks, and catering businesses found themselves immersed in the butter board world, offering new and dizzying examples of how to prepare a solid butter board.
“The haters always mention that it’s ‘gross’ because people are dipping into the same butter. But that’s the same thing we do with chips and salsa, or pita and hummus,” says EZPZ Gatherings owner and entertaining expert Sarah Tuthill. “I think the reason it took off is that it’s fairly simple to create at home. There’s not a whole lot of technique involved, but there’s fun in creating inventive toppings and combinations from sweet to savory.”
A quick search for “butter boards” on Instagram or TikTok renders seemingly endless options for butter infused with the likes of chives, flowers, and sweeteners, artistically spread across wooden boards, and the trend has touched other food groups, too. While some, like the soup board, are just poking fun, there’s an appetite for boards blanketed in peanut butter, banana, and bacon, cream cheese, and even pumpkin.
As the world faces serious environmental challenges, many are reconsidering how they eat as a means to fight back against climate change. Vegan, plant-based diets are increasingly common, and fast food vegan options are rapidly expanding across the U.S. to cater to a new, curious group of eaters. In exchange for meat and dairy, some are turning to a new crop of meat- and dairy-free “cheese” and “butcher” shops to curate their own vegan charcuterie boards. Sustainable seafood continues to be of interest to home cooks, and ingredients like lentils, beans, and peas are often used as healthier, more climate-conscious alternatives.
After going viral this summer, Veronica Shaw (@chef.pii) made a series of questionable choices to market her dragon fruit-flavored pink dipping sauce, known as Pink Sauce. After making the false claim that she didn’t need FDA approval and responding to thousands of understandably concerned consumers, the sauce maker got a bit of help. Dave’s Gourmet Speciality Foods turned pink sauce—which is now the color orange—into one of their products. Shaw’s TikTok presence is still going strong, signaling that her Pink Sauce may be a trend that’s here to stay.
Licked off the fist against the backdrop of a luxurious restaurant and a chic clientele, caviar bumps have become all the rage for those with expendable income. Like most things, there are certainly a few who enjoyed caviar bumps well before 2022, but their emergence on menus at places across the country like 1751 Sea and Bar, the Lonely Oyster, Tokyo Record Bar, and Temple Bar is in response to a customer base that’s increasingly interested in the roughly $20 experience.
Temple Bar partner Sam Ross says, “It seems like the classic, nostalgic eating and drinking of our parents’ [and] grandparents’ generations are roaring back into popularity. Simpler drinks and dishes such as Martinis, Oysters Rockefeller, and Beef Wellington are the types of dishes that customers are craving now. They expect them to be simple, refined, and of the highest quality.”
Edible in more ways than one, weed-infused snacks had already taken off as new laws decriminalized and normalizes marijuana in various states. Now, leading chefs around the country are adding weed to their menus.
In New York, Korean chef Jae Lee of Nowan has partnered with Drip Lab to serve fried chicken drizzled with THC oil and weed-infused donuts. In California, weed cafes and lounges are popping up across the state, and in New York, Black business owners and restaurateurs like Miguel Trinidad of 99th Floor—many of whom speak to the legacy of racism in America’s weed laws—are destigmatizing cannabis through pop-up dinners and local events. His dishes include cannabis-infused chili lamb wontons, plantain gnocchi and meaty robust duck ragu, raviolo with homemade pastas sheets infused with weed, and grilled octopus served with roasted fingerling potatoes.
“Our communities have been impacted highly by the negative aspect of cannabis,” says Trinidad. “It is important for us to have a piece of this. We’ve been punished for so long for smoking weed, for using it. So to really take it back and be a part of the decision making and part of the whole process is extremely important.”
Another dining trend that took off during the pandemic, ghost kitchens, or delivery-only businesses that don’t have a storefront, were initially a bit hard for some people to understand. The idea of a seemingly faceless team that had no trackable location was off putting to some.
Now, however, the model has taken off, with ghost kitchens showing up in cities like NYC, Lafayette, LA, and Sacramento, among many others. With offerings like breakfast, pizza, and tacos, their expansion across the country this year has been largely welcomed, and will likely impact dining and delivery structures for years to come.
There’s an art to crafting a good menu, but with a devastating pandemic, rising food costs, and an ever-changing dining community, chefs have had a lot of other issues to focus on the past two years. While the CDC instructed Americans to avoid crowded, enclosed spaces and touching, well, anything, QR codes became essential for most restaurants.
Instead of using paper or plastic menus, we’ve grown accustomed to pulling out our phones and scanning a code to access menus, and, in some cases, even to order and pay for a meal. In Washington, D.C., Immigrant Food co-founder Téa Ivanovic has also used QR codes to extend the restaurant’s advocacy arm. Through their “engagement menu,” guests could learn how to engage with the community by doing things like donating to a cause, signing a petition, going to march, or even reading a book. “It’s something people engage with separately from the food itself,” says Ivanovic.
There’s no doubt a desire to return to the romantic days of highly curated menus with special fonts and cardstock paper, but for many restaurants that have a myriad of other pressing concerns, QR codes have become a trend that’s likely here to stay.