These are the 2022 food trends to watch in Charlotte, NC

Among the top food trends for 2022 will be health-focused movements toward portion control and consuming less meat, Charlotte experts say.

Among the top food trends for 2022 will be health-focused movements toward portion control and consuming less meat, Charlotte experts say.

If nostalgia, at-home cooking and comfort were king in 2021, then flexibility, moderation and creativity are their 2022 food trend counterparts. After seeking solace in childhood favorites, learning to be the masters of our own kitchen and frequent trips to the liquor store, society is taking a step back to examine its choices and healthy living in many forms is emerging as the top priority.

From portion control and reducetarianism (we’ll get to that in a minute) to alcohol-free beverages and globally-inspired flavors, 2022 is shaping up to be a year where less is more. And, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is how to pivot. Continued supply chain and labor shortages are making sure that message gets through loud and clear as restaurants are forced to adapt their menus and patrons are pushed to adapt their expectations.

Portion sizes in America have grown exponentially over the course of the last 40 years. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, adults today consume an average of 300 more calories per day than they did in 1985. COVID-19 has re-ignited a global focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle — and in the coming year, portion sizes will reflect that focus.

“I am definitely shifting portion sizes. Consuming less is no longer just a New Year’s resolution. People are being more conscious of their diet with smaller portion sizes in order to lead healthier lives,” said Charlotte personal chef Kevin Winston.

Chef Kevin Winston has an elite client list that includes celebrities and athletes. Photo credit Ronnie “Bluz Vizuals”  such as Nipsey Hussle, Christian McCaffrey and Justin Bieber.  .jpg
Chef Kevin Winston, whose elite client list has included celebrities and athletes, is among chefs reducing portion sizes. Ronnie Harrington/Bluz Vizuals CharlotteFive

“During the pandemic, we got out of routines and daily lives and we couldn’t unsee what we were looking at. We couldn’t help but shift inward and realize that we want better,” said Sam Diminich, owner and chef at Your Farms Your Table. “Our portions for proteins are 5 ounces, and the vegetables and sides are 6-8 ounces. It’s really been a significant shift in the thought process, but 5 ounces is enough.”

The idea of scaling back will also be prevalent when it comes to beverage consumption in 2022. In 2019, alcohol use reached its highest levels in 30 years, only to skyrocket 204% in just one week as fear, boredom and isolation from COVID-19 drove consumers to liquor stores in droves in 2020. But the pendulum appears to be swinging the other way, as the trend toward being sober-curious has gained momentum.

“As we continue to emerge from the challenges of COVID, I believe folks will find new beverages to share. Look for a variety of herbal teas presented like mocktails with interesting garnishes as well as non-alcoholic spritzers,” said Frederick J. Tiess, master instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

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The ONYX at Alchemy is one of several mocktails in Charlotte that bring flavor without alcohol. Kenty Chung

Mocktails are popping up on the menus of restaurants around Charlotte. Diners will find local mocktails that offer creative concoctions like the Onyx from Alchemy at C3Lab, which includes Abstinence Cape Citrus, blackberry, lime juice, simple syrup, aquafaba and activated charcoal.

In addition to alcohol-free drinks, the functional fizz market is continuing to gain steam. The so-called next generation of soda outpaced all other beverages in sales from March 2019 to March 2021, growing 465%. And it is projected to expand by $46.11 billion from 2021-2025. Brands like Booch Pop, Culture Pop, Health-Ade Pop, Live Soda and Olipop feature healthy ingredients including probiotics, collagen and adaptogens to improve gut health, enhance cognitive function and reduce stress and fatigue.

Vegan and plant-based diets have grown in popularity over the years, but not everyone is ready to go all-in on abstaining from meat and animal products. Enter reducetarianism.

The concept is based on mindfully reducing the consumption of meat and animal products for a healthier lifestyle and a more sustainable planet. (Not to be confused with flexitarians — individuals who primarily eat plants with the occasional animal product indulgence.) Think swapping in oat milk for cow’s milk or mushroom sliders for beef sliders.

In addition to lowering the risk of heart disease and some cancers, cutting back on the consumption of meat, eggs, dairy and seafood decreases our carbon footprint and the strain on the resources of our planet.

If you are interested in delving into reducetarianism, head over to one of the spots on our vegan restaurants in Charlotte list. Creative chefs like Velvet and Treona Kelty-Jacobs at VelTree Vegan have created tasty plant-based dishes that include chic’n drumsticks, ribz, jerk chic’n and mac n’ cheeze.

Fried chic’n drumsticks from VelTree. Courtesy of VelTree CharlotteFive

Even if reducetarianism isn’t on the menu for you, expect a rise in plant-based ingredients like sunflower seeds, hibiscus, yuzu and turmeric in 2022.

“The plant renaissance during the pandemic can be a reason we’re seeing the popularity of ingredients like hibiscus and turmeric. In addition to the health benefits, these plants have great flavors,” Winston said. “I make a hibiscus tea that’s one of my most requested items.”

News of supply chain and labor shortages have dominated the news over the past year and half, and the trend is expected to continue into 2022. According to Forbes, the four main drivers behind this crisis are product availability, prices of supplies, people shortages and political decisions. So how does this translate to the food industry here in Charlotte? Expect menus to be smaller, more dynamic and increasingly creative.

“Repetitive tasks will most certainly be replaced by robotic technologies, but there is one thing that automation can’t replace — a well-trained palate. So, a current trend at least in the short run will be reduced operating hours of some free-standing establishments with smaller, more manageable, tasty menus,” Tiess said.

Courtesy of Sam Diminich Your Farms Your Table. (1).jpg
Reducetarianism is a concept in which people reduce the amount of animal products they’re eating for a healthier lifestyle and a more sustainable planet. Courtesy of Sam Diminich/Your Farms, Your Table

Over the past year, local restaurants like Mac’s Speed Shop and FS Food Group have had to adjust their menus to adapt to supply chain shortages. Expect these adaptations to continue in 2022, along with the need for reservations and more stringent cancellation policies.

Fortunately, for some businesses, adaptation has been built into their business model. “I go to the farmer’s market each week and see what is available. I listen to farmers and vendors, and then each week create a blueprint for our menu. When the seasons dictate the business, it takes the pressure off from a supply chain standpoint,” Diminich said.

A bright spot on the list of 2022 food trends is the infusion of globally-inspired cuisines and flavors. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram have hashtags like #asianfoodlover that have helped expose 30+ million people to cuisines from around the world.

“The discussion over the various types of Jollof rice on the hit series Ted Lasso has sparked an interest in the cuisines of Africa. It is one of our students’ favorite days (to learn) because of the depth of flavor. With the arrival of the Olympics in China, I believe varieties of hot pots will come back around, particularly Szechuan,” Tiess said.

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Moi moi by chef Esther Ikuru of The Cooking Pot in Charlotte, N.C. Jeff Siner [email protected]

CharlotteFive’s 2021 series The Skillet: How Black Cuisine Became America’s Supper followed local chef Esther Ikuru, originally from Nigeria, who taught us about the culture and history behind the exceedingly healthy moi moi she makes at The Cooking Pot. For more ways to indulge in some globally inspired cuisine here in the Queen City, check out our roundups of where to get Peruvian food, birria tacos and the best Chinese restaurants in Charlotte as recommended by foodies, restaurateurs and readers.

That’s not all…

Outside of these mega trends, in 2022 expect to see more talk of tip pooling, creative dining options (think igloos), and the growing use of ghost kitchens like Charlotte’s own The City Kitch to get delicious food from inspired chefs to the masses.

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Laurie Larsh is a freelance writer and travel junkie with an affinity for sunglasses, coffee and all things Tarheels. Relentless curiosity about people and places keep her wondering and wandering near and far and writing stories about it. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram @goexplauring or her website