There are two kinds of food trends. Call them flashes in the pan and fine red wines. The former explode out of nowhere, but then quickly plummet back into obscurity once people tire of them. (Think acai berries.) The latter start slow, reach a peak, and then continue to remain relevant for decades to come. (Chipotle, perhaps, or balsamic vinegar.) Which one is salted caramel?
It's already been around for a while, which suggests fine red wine. It was first invented by French pastry chef Henri Roux in the early '80s. He sold it at his small pastry shop in Brittany. In the '90s, it migrated, via patissier extraordinaire Pierre Hermé, from to Paris, in the form of widely-beloved salted caramel macarons.
Then it came to America, first on the dessert menus of a few high-end restaurants, then in some gourmet sweets, and finally in mass-market products sold by the likes of Haagen-Dazs and Walmart.
As long ago as 2008, Kim Severson of the New York Times argued, in the foodie equivalent of Miranda Priestly's famous speech about the half-life of the cerulean trend in "The Devil Wears Prada," that salted caramel had gone mainstream, in no small part thanks to President Obama's endorsement of the salted chocolate-colored caramels made by Seattle confectioner Fran's.
Since then, the popularity of salted caramel has skyrocketed, as you can see in this graph from Google Trends:
The speed of its rise in popularity makes it look a lot like a flash in the pan. More and more big food producers add salted caramel to their slate of flavors every month. Ice cream chains 16 Handles and Cold Stone Creamery debuted salted caramel frozen yogurts, in August and early October respectively. Starbucks started selling salted caramel-flavored cake pops on September 4. And California Pizza Kitchen just announced that it's adding salted caramel pudding to the dessert menu on November 15.
So is salted caramel is on the verge of jumping the shark?
We think not. Those four are all relatively urban, hip chains, at least compared to McDonald's or Subway, so the inclusion of salted caramel on their menus wouldn't necessarily portend the end of its relevance among foodie cognoscenti even if it were a flash in the pan.
But salted caramel-flavored foods remain popular even in the markets that have been exposed to them for the longest. Just look at the Salted Crack Caramel ice cream at Brooklyn's Ample Hills Creamery or the ever-popular Salted Caramel flavor at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco. That suggests that people buy them because they really like the taste of salted caramel, not just because they like novelty -- the hallmark of a fine red wine-type food trend. Or at least a nice bottle of dry German riesling.
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Celery, along with carrots and onions, are the central ingredients in a mirepoix -- a flavor base for soups, stocks, sauces and more. But the green itself doesn't always get much love. When not cooked correctly, its crunch can disrupt the texture of a meal. Although dieters might swear by it, we don't actually believe that anyone can love this "<a href="http://www.theskintfoodie.com/1/post/2012/01/celery-a-malign-and-spiteful-vegetable.html" target="_hplink">malign and spiteful</a>" vegetable. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmrosenfeld/3155153457/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: JMR_Photography</a></em>
This divide often occurs at a young age -- the kids that can munch on strands and strands of Twizzlers and the kids that would rather have a chocolate bar. The licorice love/hate division continues into adulthood as ingredients like anise and fennel are incorporated into dishes. Soups, salads, desserts and cocktails can be ruined -- or elevated, depending where you fall on the licorice spectrum -- thanks to the addition of anise, fennel or licorice. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ungard/5594026014/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: ungard</a></em>
Red peppers are smooth sailing for most eaters, but green peppers are another thing entirely. In fact, although we know plenty of people who don't mind green peppers, we can't really think of anyone that particularly loves them. While red and yellow peppers offer some sweetness, and can add a layer of complexity to certain dishes, green peppers often end up mucking them up. Sorry, we know we're supposed to present both the pro and cons of the foods, but we're finding it hard to see much of a pro with this one. It is by far the least loved. After all, chef <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/06/dining/06banned.html" target="_hplink">Dan Barber won't allow</a> green pepper into his restaurants. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuffedpeppers/5572058462/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: Sharon Hunter</a></em>
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If you haven't spent time in England or Australia recently, you might not understand why there is so much hullabaloo regarding the yeast extract spreads Marmite and Vegemite. The taste is very umami-rich and extremely savory -- it's best to use a thin layer. Even though many residents of the United States find these spreads rather revolting, there are so many die-hard fans from across the pond, it is probably better to just agree to disagree. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbennett/9205357/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: Los Cardinalos</a></em>
Now's here's a real dessert ruiner for some. Coconut is always the least popular flavor in a box of chocolate truffles. And although some love coconut shards as a topping for ice cream sundaes, we have a feeling most would abstain. However, this new coconut water craze has put the fruit in an entirely new light. Apparently, many people are willing to sacrifice taste in favor of supposed health benefits. <em>Photo by Flickr user: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/35832540@N03/3330701660/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">SingChan</a></em>
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