Fall is in the air, and many of us associate the season with familiar aromas wafting out of the kitchen. This year, foods like pumpkin, butternut squash and the sweet potato are gaining speed as one of the biggest trends in the specialty food arena.
Louise Kramer, communications director for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, said this time of year inspires chefs.
“The specialty food industry is all about experimentation, and I think fall is always a time when specialty food products are trotted out more for parties and entertaining, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or tailgating parties,” Kramer said.
Experimenting no longer means adding a little more sugar and spice.
“Pumpkin is definitely being used as an ingredient to enhance traditional foods like nut mixes and salsas, etc.,” said Kramer.
Pumpkin crackers, flavored with dried cranberries and thyme, and pumpkin dip, made with cream cheese and spices, are getting rave reviews from consumers. Pumpkin pasta sauce, hot sauce and jams also are up-and-coming items. However, the pumpkin is not the only fall food consumers are craving.
“We’re seeing a lot of sweet potato being used in creative ways and also butternut squash,” said Kramer. “There’s a wonderful pasta sauce made with butternut squash that won one of our sofi Awards last year, which is the top honor in the specialty food industry.”
Sweet potato butter, chocolate bars and chips are examples of new items that are
enticing the palates of consumers. And risottos, soups and ravioli all now have butternut squash versions.
These three harvest foods are high in potassium and antioxidants, which draws consumers to them. Kramer said people also like their favorite flavors being incorporated into familiar foods for a marginally higher price.
“The specialty food industry has been doing fairly well despite the very rocky economy,” she said. “It’s products like sweet potato tortilla chips that consumers are willing to spend a few cents extra on to enjoy a new flavor. They might be having that to liven up their at-home party or meal versus going out to a restaurant these days.”
If specialty fall foods are not your thing, you can always prepare fall staples the old-fashioned way and bake a pumpkin, sweet potato or butternut squash pie. They can also be used as ingredients in muffins, cookies and cakes.