Whole fish

In 2012 you may encounter some unusual suspects on your dinner plate. Although the current economic recession has indeed vaulted “comfort foods” such as grilled cheese to a whole new level, more exotic flavors have entered the eating realm as diners search for some way to indulge their adventurous hunger.

Nose-to-Fin: Expect to see your seafood dinner looking back at you in 2012. Serving the whole fish “nose-to-fin” has always been popular in countries like France, but as consumers become more conscious of their impact on fisheries worldwide, they will demand more sustainable seafood served in more sustainable ways. Waste not, want not – and just remember, you don’t have to eat the eyeball.

Savory Ice Cream: Would you like to cap off your meal with some garlic gelato, shrimp sherbet or rosemary ice cream? From basil to bacon, new flavors are entering the ice cream lexicon, and shops like Scoops in Los Angeles and Max & Mina’s in New York City are introducing savory tastes to diners with sweet teeth. Brown bread, Gorgonzola, lobster, grass, wasabi, balsamic vinaigrette, goat cheese, cheddar or sour cream ice cream – try your favorite for dessert (or dinner itself)!

Edible Dirt: Call it a return to the earth, but foods that look like dirt are popping up on dinner plates all over the nation – thank goodness that they don’t taste like dirt too! Using either dry or charred ingredients to fool the eye, edible dirt is made out of everything from dried malt to chickpeas and onions to olive oil. This fun trend reminds eaters where their dinner came from – and puts a new meaning to cleaning your plate!

Craft Ice: Hand-crafted everything is a big trend today and processed anything is OUT. You’ve heard of small-batch artisan cheese and homemade beer but how about handcrafted ice? NPR reports that one bar in New York City is freezing 300-pound blocks of ice that is free of impurities and those pesky bubbles, and it is someone’s job to harvest it anew every day.

Offal: Considered gourmet dining in many countries, offal continues its inroads to the palates of American diners. Offal aka “variety meats” (as Wikipedia puts it) include not only the organs but also the entrails of an animal. While foie gras continues to lose popularity (and will be illegal in California by July 2012), other organ dishes are up-and-coming. Get your forks ready for sweetbreads, haggis, chopped liver dishes, tripe, menudo and chitterlings.

Flora Food: Ever searching for the next new flavor, chefs have introduced a wide variety of flora into their meals to give their patrons a new taste adventure. Hay, moss, pine and juniper have sprung up as flavorings on restaurant menus around the world, stimulated by the rising popularity of Nordic food and echoing the foraging trend. Along with the flora food fad comes the spirit of the year: gin, made from juniper berries and expected to be the hot alcohol for 2012.

Image: The Intrepid Traveler