Comfort Foods & International Flavors on Tap for Snack and Dessert Trends in 2018

December 1 , 2017

The 2018 forecast includes Israeli cuisine, natural sweeteners, and photogenic treats.

Global comfort foods, flavors from the Middle East and region-specific ingredient sourcing are among the trends experts predict will gain traction in snack and dessert foods in 2018.

Consumer concerns about health and nutrition will also continue to influence snack and dessert ingredients in 2018, although such concerns will be balanced against their desire for indulgent flavors.

Following are some snack and dessert trends that are expected to accelerate in 2018:

Classics make a comeback

Putting a modern twist on classical dishes will be one key snack and dessert trend to watch for in 2018, says Andrew Freeman, president of foodservice consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co., San Francisco.

“Think bite-sized Beef Wellington at catered parties, and classic vegetable crudités paired with a not-so-classic dip, such as the iced vegetables with sunflower seed hummus and hemp oil at Acacia House in Napa, Calif.,” he says.

As consumers seek out the comfort of the nostalgic food of the past — “We’ll take all the comfort we can get,” says Freeman — operators will also incorporate more traditional entertaining touches, such as deviled eggs and seafood towers, he says.

International desserts

Chefs also will continue to tap into consumers’ interest in international flavors and ingredients in 2018, says Suzy Badaracco, president of consulting firm Culinary Tides. One way they will do this, she says, is with desserts that may be well-known in their particular countries of origin, but have yet to achieve a mainstream following in the U.S.

“I would look for the national desserts — or the really popular regional desserts coming in from Nordic countries in particular, and also from regions of Italy and Spain,” she says, citing Central and South America as another potential source for dessert items.

She suggests that sweet comfort foods such as Japan’s daifuku — a rice cake filled with a sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans — could be the kind of product that gains traction in the year ahead. For more global snack and dessert trends on the horizon, see the video: 5 Global Influences on Trend for 2018 Desserts and Snacks.

Natural sweeteners and oils

Operators will be using fruit more as a natural sweetener in desserts, and will incorporate the use of natural fats, such as avocado oil, says Louis Maskin, strategist at San Francisco-based consulting firm The Culinary Edge.

“We’re moving away from these highly processed, super-sugary desserts,” he says. “We’ll see more vegetable ingredients as well, such as beet purees or sweet carrots. There are just a ton of ways to get the sugar that people crave for dessert in a format that allows you to indulge without going overboard.”

Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients

As Israeli cuisine gains traction in the U.S., Freeman says he expects to see “an explosion” of desserts inspired by Israeli flavors.

“Tahini, halva and sumac are showing up in unexpectedly sweet places, from salted tahini chocolate chip cookies to chocolate halva rugelach,” he says, citing sumac in particular as a flavor to watch. “The lemony, tart spice lends itself well to a bounty of desserts, including sumac donuts, sumac ganache and sumac sugar cookies.”

Badaracco agrees that sumac could be poised to gain in popularity, as could another Jewish dessert tradition: babka, a yeast cake that often contains cinnamon and/or chocolate.

As further evidence of Israeli cuisine’s growing influence on desserts, Maskin cites the recent release of a dessert cookbook, called “Sweet,” from Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi, the author of the popular “Plenty” and “Jerusalem: A Cookbook.”

“I think the fact that he is putting a stake in the ground and creating this cookbook … shows you where the space is heading,” says Maskin.

Sesame and tahini are also examples of flavors that are popular in Middle Eastern sweets that could gain traction in 2018, he says.

“We are seeing many varieties of sesame ice cream showing up on menus, and tahini and chocolate pair very nicely together,” says Maskin.

Hyper-specific ingredient sourcing

Operators will increasingly identify not only which country’s cuisine inspired the dishes they create and the ingredients they use, but also the specific locations within those countries, says Badaracco. It might not be enough to simply state that a new dessert item is popular in Mexico, for example. Instead, consumers are looking for region-specific sourcing information, such as identifying that the dessert is popular in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Likewise, she predicts that honey, which will remain popular as an ingredient, will often be described as originating not only from specific regions, but from specific flowers.

“Key lime honey, orange blossom honey, avocado honey,” she says --- “that would be sexy.”

The trend toward region-specific ingredients also applies to the use of alcohol in recipes, says Badaracco. Menus will call out whether the whiskey being used in a dessert is Irish, Japanese or American, for example.

Photogenic desserts

Another snack and dessert trend that isn’t losing any steam as 2018 rolls around is consumers’ love of sharing photos of their food on social media.

“The more photo-friendly your dessert, the better,” says Freeman. “Everything is rainbow, thanks to Instagram.”

Some foods to watch for include over-the-top ice cream desserts, edible flowers and unexpected colors showing in food, such as jet-black charcoal lemonade and ruby chocolate, the new naturally pink chocolate variety developed in Switzerland that is awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“As long as it’s worth a photo, it’s worth the calories,” says Freeman.