Summer Food & Drink Trends

Here’s the latest on nitro coffee, artisanal ice cream, and those crazy flexitarians

Every summer seems to bring new and more creative trends in the world of food and drink, and at Out & About, it’s our duty to keep you attuned to these trends. The summer of 2017 promises to bring all manner of innovation and tasty creations to our plates and palates. Here are a few of them:

Trend: “Flexitarians”

It would be impossible for me to give up pork; other meats, maybe, but not pork. So I could conceivably become “flexitarian” – a person who “has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. These “flexible vegetarians” make a conscientious effort to go vegetarian a couple of days a week by centering most meals around plant-based rather than animal protein. While it’s a practice that is sneered at by vegetarians and vegans because followers don’t completely eliminate meat from their diets, reducing the amount of meat in your diet, according to some studies, can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Brian Ashby, chef and owner of 8th and Union, has a menu that caters to flexitarians. More than a dozen dishes are labeled as “VG” or “VN,” meaning they can be made vegetarian or vegan. One dish, the buffalo cauliflower, jumped out from the menu as a past trend (cauliflower rice, anyone?) and a relaxed way to ease into the flexitarian lifestyle. I’ve made buffalo cauliflower before and it’s amazing how similar the texture is to the real thing. Anyway, it’s all about eating the buffalo sauce, right?

After my visit with Ashby, I asked him for his summer trend predictions. He’s guessing there will be an increase in Middle Eastern-inspired dishes using spices like sumac, za’atar and turmeric. Coincidentally, he plans to add a chicken tagine dish to his summer menu, using local produce from SIW Vegetables, in Chadds Ford.

Trend: Nitro Beer to Nitro Coffee

Delawareans love their craft beer. With 19 craft breweries, the First State ranks sixth in the number of gallons (11.1) produced per adult, according to Brewers Association’s 2016 Craft Beer Sales Statistics. We’re also in the top 20 percent in economic impact per capita.

This love of beer has led us to become early adopters of new brewing technologies. One example is nitrogen-injected beer, which was invented by Guinness and has been popular in many canned and draft options over the past decade. Instead of carbon dioxide, beer makers have added nitrogen to their brews, resulting in a thick head and creamy “mouthfeel.” The nitro craze has led many local craft breweries (Bellefonte Brewing Co., for example) to add the element to brews. Now, the process is making its way to a coffee shop near you.

It’s hard to say who put nitro coffee on the map first, but be thankful for this ingenious discovery. Nitro coffee has a very distinctive look and mouthfeel compared to traditional cold brewed coffee. Because nitrogen creates smaller bubbles, it gives the coffee a light, foamy head, and a much smoother and creamier taste. It’s a fun way to celebrate the warm weather, so grab yourself a nitro cold brew from Brew HaHa! in Greenville, or order my favorite, a can of La Colombe’s Draft Latte, online. Starbucks will roll out its version of the nitro cold brew by the end of summer in select markets.

Trend: Slow Rise From Raw to Fermented

There are two types of fermentation. One occurs in alcohol, when sugars are converted to ethyl alcohol, i.e., beer, wine and spirits; the other occurs in food, when bacteria, yeasts, or other organisms ferment, resulting in the preservation of foods like kombucha, yogurt, or kimchi. Research is still emerging about the importance of eating specific foods for gut health, but it’s safe to say that consuming fermented or probiotic foods has benefits. Local places like Goat Kitchen & Bar have started introducing dishes such as house-made pickles served three different ways—plain and dill, turmeric and juniper, and Korean red pepper flakes and ginger. Another local favorite, Opa Opa in Trolley Square, serves a thick and creamy Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts.

Trend: Non-beer/Wine Alcoholic Drinks

Have you noticed the rise in alternative alcoholic drinks (anything other than beer, wine, or liquor)? Both Delaware Total Wine & More stores (Naamans Road and McKennans Church Road) carry multiple varieties of hard soda, seltzer and tea. Brands like Henry’s Hard Soda, Truly Spiked & Sparkling and Twisted Tea are making fun, alternative alcoholic drinks—Hard Grape Soda, Spiked Lime Seltzer and Hard Iced Tea—in time for the warmer weather.

Also, local meadery and cidery Liquid Alchemy, established in Delaware in 2012, this summer will feature a special flavored cider in addition to its mead. Says Liquid Alchemy co-owner Terri Sorantino: “We had two (flavor) ideas for summer products—pineapple or raspberry and Meyer lemon. In talking with our cider maker, Ryan Rice, he went right for the pineapple. He felt it would marry with our light cider perfectly, and he was right.”

Liquid Alchemy’s ciders are made from a secret blend of 10 different apples, using only fresh ingredients. The cider will be available by glass, tasting flight or take-home growler in the tasting room. Bottles will soon be available for consumers, but for now, you can buy cider on tap at Skipjack Dining in Newark and mead (and hopefully the cider, once bottled) from Delaware Growler on Main Street, Newark.

Trend: Artisanal Ice Cream

In the summer, we all scream for ice cream. And now the humble scoop of ice cream has been elevated to premium or artisanal status thanks to Jeni Britton Bauer. If you haven’t heard about Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, please stop reading and take a minute to Google it. Jeni’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to drop out of art school at Ohio State University to open an ice cream shop. After a couple of years, she burned out, reassessed and refocused her business plan, then launched her hugely popular artisan ice cream brand that produces vibrant, punchy flavors—Cocoa Curry Coco, Brambleberry Crisp and Sweet Cream Biscuits & Peach Jam. It’s a business model focused on partnering with growers, makers, producers and suppliers at all levels of production. You can buy pints of Jeni’s Splendid online or at Whole Foods, in Glen Mills, Pa. If you’re dying for a scoop right away, head to the newly opened UDairy Creamery Market on Market Street, Wilmington, where your purchase directly supports the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.

The creamery serves single, double and triple scoops of your favorite flavors in addition to burgers, melts and salads. And you can make your own ice cream sandwiches.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.