Every December, the National Restaurant Association surveys top chefs to find out what the hottest trends are expected to be in the coming year. The new survey is out (click here to download), with input from more than 1500 chefs who rated 226 different trends as either a “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news,” or a “perennial favorite” – and whole grains fared well.

Five whole grain foods were included among the top twenty five percent of trends in the survey.

  • Black rice – sometimes called forbidden rice – and red rice (ranked  #27 and #43 respectively) make it clear that chefs have caught on to the fact that whole grain rice isn’t always brown rice. Is it the taste or the beautiful colors that have chefs excited about exotic rices? It’s hard to be sure, but close to two-thirds of chefs rated both black and red rice as a “hot trend.”

  • Quinoa (ranked #29) has been one of the most popular whole grains for the past several years, but it’s still going strong, with 63% of chefs calling quinoa a “hot trend” and another 12% calling it a perennial favorite.  Quinoa hit the charts in 2008 at 51% and it just keeps climbing.

  • Ancient Grains (kamut, spelt, amaranth, etc.) ranked #30, just behind quinoa. The chefs we’ve talked to tell us that using more unusual whole grains lets them re-engineer the center of the plate. It’s no longer all about a slab o’ meat in the middle, with a few non-descript side dishes. Now every part of the meal contributes to the colors, tastes and textures of the dining experience, and to the well-worded descriptions on the menu.

  • Flatbreads just made the top quarter, ranking #51 out of 226 trends, with 57% of chefs calling them a “hot trend” and another 23% pegging them as a “perennial favorite.” More and more often, the naan, pappadum, lavash, pita, and tortillas on the table are whole grain, adding new variety that keeps this category hot.

A bit further down the list were five more whole grain foods that made the list of top trends.

  • Whole Grain Bread has migrated from “hot trend” (46%) to “perennial favorite” (39%) in many chefs’ eyes. We’re happy with that: it’s just another way of saying that whole grains are the new norm. In the 2008 survey, 28% of chefs already called whole grain bread a perennial favorite, and that designation just keeps growing.  That’s whole grain for you: it’s not a flash-in-the-pan fad, but a regular part of a good meal.

  • Buckwheat items appear to have made the chart for the first time this year, showing up at #135. Buckwheat is our December Grain of the Month, so take a look and learn more about why 40% of chefs are waking up to the potential of this interesting pseudograin, and calling it a hot trend.

  • Brown / wild rice claimed #154 on the hot trends list. With 37% of chefs calling it a “hot trend” and 35% a “perennial favorite,” brown rice and wild rice clearly have a place in the hearts – and menus —of two-thirds of chefs.

  • Couscous (#163) and barley (#177) rounded out the whole grain plays in the hot trends survey. Couscous, really a type of pasta, was once found in restaurants solely in its refined form, but now can also be found in whole grain versions, and barley is a surprisingly versatile grain that’s showing up in more and more places – not just floating in soups any longer.

We’ve linked the various grains listed above to our WGC Grain of the Month features on each one, so you can get to know them, up close and personal – and see why chefs are so excited about whole grains. (Cindy)

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