The world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and life hasn’t exactly returned to normal, but this summer is still vastly better than the one we experienced last year. There is a palpable sense of gratitude as more people are able to cautiously enjoy vacations, outings and outdoor gatherings with family and friends.
Pandemic life has also influenced what everyone is eating this summer. From fresh, in-season herbs and produce to sizzling meats on the grill, the season’s culinary delights are getting bolstered with bold and versatile, nutrient-rich ingredients. To find out what flavors, foods and formats are trending as people come together this summer, we talked to John Stephanian, vice president of global culinary and innovation at ADM. Here’s what we learned...
5 Ingredients to Put on Your Radar This Summer
Many consumers became hyper-focused on health and wellbeing during the pandemic, which drove interest in fresh, nutrient-packed ingredients and thoughtful food pairings — and Stephanian expects this consumer trend is here to stay. Lengthy lockdowns and extended sheltering in place also prompted many people to try cooking with unique global ingredients, start shopping at local farmers markets and take up home gardening. As a result, a lot of consumers are excited to get creative in the kitchen and use the bounty of fresh ingredients they have on hand. For home cooks eager to explore new flavors and embrace new culinary adventures, Stephanian called out five dynamic, powerhouse ingredients making waves this summer:
1. Serrano Peppers — These versatile chiles are not too spicy and not too mild and have become popular for their ability to wear a lot of hats. Their balanced heat makes them delicious in a wide range of dishes and drinks, from chimichurri sauce to tequila cocktails. If you’re looking for a fresh and light summer meal, Stephanian recommends adding thinly sliced serrano peppers to a salad of a dinosaur kale marinated in lemon and olive oil and mixed with Parmigiana Reggiano and toasted pine nuts.
2. Labneh — This soft cheese is made from strained yogurt, and it has a texture similar to whipped cream cheese. It’s rich, decadent and useful in a plethora of sweet or savory recipes. Stephanian says cooks are loving labneh right now because it’s perfect for cutting hot and spicy foods in the summertime and is particularly tasty as a flatbread spread or dip for grilled, skewered meats.
3. Cape Gooseberries — Stephanian has seen an increase in consumers seeking out exotic flavors and unique varietals of familiar foods, which is driving interest in these plump berries, that eat like a cherry tomato but have a sweet and sour flavor that’s akin to a tropical fruit. Cape gooseberries are a fantastic swap for cherry tomatoes in sauces and salads and they’re also great in desserts like a scrumptious gooseberry curd cheesecake.
4. Fermented Garlic Honey — Fermenting garlic in honey is an age-old technique that came back into vogue during the pandemic as consumers sought to bolster their diet with nutrient-rich ingredients. Fermented garlic honey has a bold, sweet flavor that makes a great addition to a diverse array of recipes. You can drizzle it on pizza and vegetables, use it as a glaze for delectable crispy fried chicken or spread it on avocado toast for added sweetness and zing.
5. Mastiha — This tree resin is said to be the world’s first chewing gum and can only be found in one place of the world — Chios, Greece. It is rich in antioxidants and has long been used as a natural breath freshener and digestive aid. Consumer interest in Mediterranean cuisine is booming, due to its focus on fresh, simple ingredients. Mastiha’s sweet and earthy licorice-like flavor is surprisingly versatile. It’s ideal in citrusy summer cocktails, sweet pastries and aromatic meat rubs and marinades.
Elevated Grilling and Love for Regional Fare
Grilling is always a big part of summer, but the ante has been upped this year as people flock to see family and friends and make up for lost time. And because many people saved money during the pandemic and there’s greater access to high-end meat cuts from suppliers who formerly only sold products to restaurants, Stephanian says premium meats like Wagyu beef and Berkshire pork will likely be sizzling on grills all summer long. For his part, he’s been grilling Wagyu hanger steak and topping it with homemade chimichurri made with fresh parsley, oregano, serrano peppers and garlic from his garden.
There are also plenty of grilling options for pescatarians, as well as the growing number of consumers looking to eat less red meat. Stephanian recommends grilling whole fish like halibut, salmon or rainbow trout with North African, Mediterranean or Vietnamese seasonings. You can also just use any mix of the fresh ingredients from your garden — garlic, sage, rosemary, scallions, basil and chile peppers all make great additions to the smokey flavor and crispy texture of grilled whole fish.
And because the shipping and supply chain challenges of the pandemic led many consumers and grocers to start shopping locally for their food, Stephanian expects a lot of this summer’s great grilling to be accompanied by hyper-local fare. Growing interest in regional American cuisine has people across the country seeking out state-specific barbecue and pizza styles, locally made sweets and dairy products and homegrown foods.
Mindful Summer Snacking
Food and flavor trends aren’t just for home cooking and backyard BBQs. With people getting active and traveling again this summer, portable high-protein snacks customized to target specific needs and wellness goals are all the rage. The tradition of eating three square meals a day had been losing steam even before the pandemic but snacking really kicked into high gear when people started working from home and stopped going out to eat or taking lunch breaks. As the pandemic wore on and the focus on personal health intensified, people strived to make their snacks more beneficial to their holistic wellbeing.
Stephanian says consumers are turning to calming CBD treats, fermented drinks designed to support gut health and products like dried salmon jerky, which can be naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Snacks and nutrition bars made from protein- and fiber-packed beans and pulses are also gaining traction as more and more people lean into plant-based foods, and there’s been an influx of nutrient packets and other snack offerings that consumers can customize to make wholesome nutrition accessible and convenient.
“Customizing snacking options to support wellness goals is probably going to become a lot more common,” Stephanian said. “Before, it was a multivitamin and a granola bar, and now snacks are targeted to support individual nutrient needs.”
The pandemic also drove interest in shelf-stable items, and Stephanian says he’s seeing a bigger variety of options in the space, from canned octopus and squid to crispy, thinly sliced upcycled fruit. He’s also a fan of shelf-stable, cooked combinations of pre-mixed barley and lentils, which can be snacked on alone or thrown into salads, and are an easy, tasty way to stay full throughout the day.
The pandemic transformed so many aspects of day-to-day life — from the way we work to the way we shop. As people continue to eat more mindfully and seek out ingredients and flavors that meet their newfound interests and lifestyles, the world can look forward to a growing menu of creative, global tastes in backyards and beyond.