TORONTO - An increase in gluten-free cuisine that has fabulous flavour is going to be a big trend in 2013. Quince and cauliflower should be on your radar, along with finger limes and such delicacies as octopus and grits.
The demand for more gluten-free foods has led to a wider availability of products that can be digested by those with celiac disease or an intolerance for the wheat protein. Christine Couvelier, who watches food trends through her Victoria-based company Culinary Concierge, predicts more gluten-free items with better flavour in stores and restaurants.
This, in turn, will inspire better-tasting lactose-free products, she adds.
In a move beyond quinoa and with more people on restricted diets and looking at alternative ingredients, grains like barley, millet, buckwheat, rye and amaranth are expected to be more widely available, says Alison Fryer, owner of The Cookbook Store in Toronto.
Vegetables are taking on a bigger role, no longer relegated to side dishes.
"Vegetables have become important to the centre of the plate," says Couvelier. "We've seen an increase in restaurants for meatless Mondays, we've seen an increase and excitement for farmers markets and it all leads us to love our vegetables."
Kale is everywhere, while cauliflower is on the rise.
"I quite often roast it or broil it in the oven or cut it into cauliflower steaks and put different rubs or marinades or herbs and spices on it and barbecue it or broil it," Couvelier said. "It's not just cauliflower as we've had in the past, the old-fashioned steam it and put cheese sauce on it."
Another contributing factor to Canadians' love affair with vegetables is the growing popularity of Middle Eastern and eastern Mediterranean fare, says Fryer.
A trend Couvelier continues to see in her culinary crystal ball is small bites and big taste. "You can have something that tastes fabulous and it's an indulgence in a smaller portion."
In a move beyond the yogurt-covered raisins and nuts of the 1970s and '80s, yogurt is being used as an actual flavour, not just a base, says Dana McCauley, a judge on Food Network Canada's reality competition show "Recipes to Riches."
Some recent examples she's seen include muffin batter flavoured with a combination of yogurt and such fruits as cranberry or apple for use by coffee shops, as well as several companies making yogurt versions of their salad dressings, and granola bars drizzled with yogurt.
"It really shows a maturation of our understanding of yogurt, the fact that obviously research is showing that people view yogurt as a motivating reason to purchase and that's probably new in the last couple of years," says McCauley, who is also responsible for new product innovation for the frozen foods company Janes Family Foods.
Quince, part of the apple and pear family, and finger limes, which are becoming more widely available, are two fruits picking up in popularity.
"Quince makes great jellies, great jams," says Couvelier. "You can also peel it and roast them in the oven." They're great cooked with or served around pork roast or roast chicken.
Finger limes are smaller than a regular lime, slightly oval and with little bumps on the rind. "On the inside there is almost translucent or pale pink caviar pearls and they burst in your mouth," explains Couvelier. "They're fabulous. They add such a punch. You can put them on any seafood, ceviche, salads."
Eating local has evolved into hyper local, with artisanal cheeses, breads, beers and doughnuts in vogue.
Check your area for food trucks. "Anywhere that food trucks are increases brand and chef and flavour awareness," says Couvelier. "It's such an opportunity for chefs and artisanal food producers to have a chance to try out new flavours and new ideas and new recipes — and to go."
Some restaurants are simplifying their concept.
"Gone is the everything kind of menu. You're seeing lots of restaurants opening that are doing one thing," says McCauley. So there are eateries that offer just yogurt, grilled cheese or sushi, for example.
The old diners are putting on lipstick and making themselves over.
"An interesting offshoot of the whole food truck and street food trend is that diners are really glamming up," says McCauley.
People are also expanding their culinary awareness with sightseeing for their tastebuds, Couvelier says. They're experiencing new flavours outside of their home base, then watching for them to show up on restaurant menus in their area.
Visitors to many cities can partake of epicurean walking tours or cooking classes, and her company is planning to offer behind-the-kitchen-doors tours of New York, San Francisco and the Napa Valley, as well as a European cruise.
Grits and octopus will feature more on Canadian menus as well as black garlic, which is sweeter than traditional pungent garlic.
"You just use a knife on your cutting board to mash it up, that's how soft it is," says Sophie Doria, a chef at President's Choice Test Kitchen in Brampton, Ont. She has used it to make black ravioli stuffed with parsnip puree.
Chefs are experimenting with herbs. There are dozens of varieties of basil while mint can come in many flavours, like lemon, chocolate and pineapple. "Nepitella is a very different mint flavour than your traditional spearmint," says Doria. "You'll find it in most restaurants actually these days on the dessert platters or even savoury dishes."
People are still watching their money so they're thinking about cuts of meat that are a little tougher but can taste great if time is taken to prepare them properly, says Tom Filippou, executive chef of President's Choice Cooking Schools.
"We're still in kind of a slow movement where it's kind of home-cooked meals, braising using tougher cuts of meat. They can be delicious if you braise them nice and slowly," he says.
Fryer says pressure cookers will continue to heat up. The appliances used by her mother's generation have been refined to rectify safety issues. "A lot of chefs use them and are not afraid to say that they use them, so that kind of gives unqualified endorsement," she says.
Master sommelier John Szabo, author of "Pairing Food & Wine for Dummies" (Wiley), sees more private wine stores opening across Canada. "There's been talk of that for the last 20 years, but there seems to be a bit of a groundswell now, which will, in my view, just expand the options available."
Next year, Fryer hopes we can move on from charcuterie, pork belly and quinoa salads.
And what about bacon, which became almost ubiquitous over the past year?
"It's not going away and that's a good thing," says Couvelier, noting that people are getting over their "surprise and shock" when they see a bacon cupcake or bacon candy.
"I don't know if it's here to stay in the way it is now, but I think we should watch it through 2013 and see some of the innovations that come out."
On the web: http://www.culinaryconcierge.ca