Foodies Unite: Food Trends for 2012

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According to, a “foodie” is “a person keenly interested in food, especially in eating or cooking.” That definition probably describes 90% of the population. Who doesn’t like food?

If you describe yourself as a foodie, or even if you don’t, but you still are interested in food and nutrition, you might be curious about food trends for 2012. Fashion changes from year to year, and so does food. Of course, not all food trends are healthful ones (nor are all fashion trends ones that you’d be caught dead in), so this week I’ve highlighted some of the more interesting trends; of course, there are many more.

When it comes to food, variety is the spice of life. It’s good to try new things, especially when there’s a nutrition benefit to them. Let’s see what 2012 has in store for us.

Black Garlic
Do you love the taste of garlic, but not your breath after eating it? Is garlic sometimes a little too harsh-tasting for you? If so, give black garlic a try. Yep, it’s really black. Manufacturers start with regular garlic bulbs, using high temperatures to ferment them, turning the cloves black. The process can take up to a month. Black garlic is nothing new in countries such as Korea and Japan, but it only started gaining in popularity in the US in 2008.

Black garlic has a softer, more caramel-like flavor than regular garlic. And supposedly it’s at least twice as high in antioxidants as regular garlic, as well. What about it’s health benefits? If black garlic is really as high in antioxidants as some claim (it’s hard to find nutrition data at this time), then it could be helpful in helping to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer disease, some types of cancer, and other inflammatory conditions. Regular garlic may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of heart disease, so if black garlic isn’t readily available in your area right now, good old conventional garlic is still an option.

Sea Vegetables
I’ve seen my share of seaweed on Cape Cod’s beaches and it holds little appeal to me. But seaweed is big. Of course, just like vegetables, there are many different kinds of seaweed. Often called sea vegetables, some types of seaweed you may come across include:

Alaria: Found in the Atlantic ocean, alaria has a rubbery, chewy texture and is used in miso soup.

Dulse: Popular in Ireland, Iceland, and Canada, dulse is eaten as is, but is also used as a thickener by food manufacturers.

Kombu: Also called kelp, kombu is a broad-leaf vegetable that grows off the coast of northern Japan and is used as a flavor enhancer.

Wakame: Also found off Japan’s coast, wakame, like alaria, is used in miso soup and is similar in texture to cooked spinach.

Eating sea vegetables may be off-putting initially, but give them a try. They’re especially rich in antioxidants, iodine, and vitamin K, and they aren’t too shabby in folate, magnesium, and calcium, either. Including sea vegetables in your diet may help you lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and may play a role in reducing the risk of breast cancer. You can always enjoy sea vegetables in sushi, but try adding them to soup. Also, if beans give you digestive distress, add some kombu to the cooking water.

Not to be confused with kombu, kombucha is a fermented, fizzy drink made from tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. It contains probiotics and antioxidants. It is sometimes referred to as “mushroom tea,” but there are no mushrooms in it. The “mushroom” refers to the bacteria and yeast culture that’s added to the tea, resulting in an acidic beverage that contains alcohol.

Kombucha aficionados claim that this trendy drink can treat a host of ailments, including hair loss, insomnia, digestive problems, arthritis, and even AIDS and cancer. There are no studies that support any of these claims, however. Furthermore, because of the bacterial and yeast cultures that it contains, kombucha may become contaminated with molds and fungi, especially if it’s homemade, and several deaths and illnesses have been linked to this drink. It’s not a good idea for people with immune disorders to drink kombucha, and that may include people with Type 1 diabetes.

Agave Nectar
Derived from various species of the agave plant (the same plant from which tequila is made), agave nectar or syrup has hit supermarkets big time. One tablespoon of agave nectar contains roughly 60 calories and 16 grams of carbohydrate. For comparison, one tablespoon of sugar has 46 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrate. However, agave nectar is 1.4 to 1.6 times as sweet as regular table sugar and has a lower glycemic index (10 to 19 for agave nectar compared to about 58 to 84 for sugar), so you may use less and might notice that your blood glucose doesn’t spike as much after using it compared to other nutritive sweeteners. Agave comes in different colors, ranging from light (similar to maple syrup and honey) to amber and dark (similar to caramel).

It’s a little hard to imagine that kale would be an “on trend” food, but it is. While many people turn their noses up at this cousin of the lowly cabbage, it’s actually one of the most nutritious vegetables out there. Loaded with antioxidants, kale is touted as having the ability to protect against heart disease, cancer, and other inflammatory conditions. One cup of raw chopped kale has just 34 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate.

Not sure how to eat it? Try kale chips: Wash and dry the kale, then remove the ribs and tear the leaves into potato chip-sized pieces. Place them on a baking sheet and toss lightly with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Bake at 275ºF, turning them over halfway through, for about 20 minutes. Then, munch away!

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