I really like the latest food fad.
Which worries me. Because a fad is bound to fade. And I don’t want another bacon.
Bacon was once a breakfast staple. Then somebody decided to put it on a burger. And it was good. And the world said, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.”
But let’s face it: bacon is awesome. Fat, crunchy, and salty are the cornerstones of any healthy diet.
Sorry, did I say healthy? I meant American.
The real fad part of the bacon journey wasn’t when it took its natural spot atop hamburgers, though. That came in the early aughts, when we started bacon-wrapping everything. Some of it was great. For instance, if you cover your meatloaf with bacon, it protects the outside, and the fat renders down to keep the whole thing moist. Plus the salty and the crunchy still work.
Hell, Emeril Lagasse made an entire career out of it.
But then we went overboard. Some things aren’t meant to be wrapped or rendered in fat. Ever been able to actually eat a bacon-wrapped item on a stick? The bacon loses its structural integrity as soon as you bite into it. Unlike a corn dog, where the rest of the sheath remains intact as you eat it, once you bite into a bacon-wrapped hot dog on a stick, you’re stuck with half a slice of bacon hanging from your mouth (or falling to the ground) with the remaining “entree” being 100% hot dog.
I have yet to meet the french fry that can hold onto its bacon bit all the way to my mouth. And don’t get me started on cheesy fries.
Then we started infusing things with bacon. Of course, to “infuse” something is supposed to mean steeping it in liquid over time. But in practice, it usually just means you add a flavored syrup. With a bacon infusion, you’re losing most of what makes bacon good. The crunchy is gone. The wonderfully-marbled curve of fat, that mouthfeel of heaven, is replaced by a vague smokiness. And I don’t care how many times the Food Network repeats the lie, smokiness and fat aren’t the same taste.
So when you take a shot of bacon-infused vodka, you’re basically just gulping down some alcoholic seawater. I tried a bacon soda once, which I’m pretty sure was just a dirty dishrag strained through a sugar cube.
When Peak Bacon hit, you couldn’t swing a blood pressure monitor without hitting some bacon-flavored contraption. When someone, probably Guy Fieri, proposed bacon-wrapped, bacon-infused bacon, we should have known we’d gone too far.
Remember the chocolate-covered bacon? Yeah, nobody could admit this at the time, but it was never all that good. You never got the proper mixture of the different flavor profiles. It was usually a sweetness on the front, although not too sweet because it was usually dark chocolate, followed by a flood of salt. You never fully got the chocolate flavor, and even the bacon was just lost in the salt. Some brands have forayed back into that realm recently, when you can do it with neither fanfare nor eye-rolls, and I think some of the modern candy bars are getting closer to a proper blend of bacon and chocolate, but it usually needs to be done with bacon bits, not giant strips in the middle.
Of course, I never would have admitted to that opinion back during peak bacon. Saying anything with bacon wasn’t wonderful in 2002 was kind of like admitting to being a communist in 1952. You only did it behind closed doors with people who had sworn a blood oath. Nothing said “Unamerican Activities” more than “it’s a little too much bacon.”
And then, poof, before you knew it, bacon became blase. That bacon-wrapped everything booth at the state fair went from an hour-long line to a walk-up-and-get-it booth. I think the last time I was at the state fair, the deep-fried catfish had a longer wait than the chocolate-covered bacon. Cause deep fried never goes out of style!
All of a sudden, a restaurant that carried more than one bacon item seemed like it was trying too hard. Saying a new bacon idea sounded intriguing became the equivalent of shouting out ‘Murica. If you’re not doing it ironically, you might need an intervention.
That’s the way fads go. Put bacon on your ice cream now, and you might as well be wearing a mullet.
Over the past decade, we’ve had a few smaller food fads, but none of them have approached the bacon craze. They tend to pop up for a season or two then fizzle out. For a little while there, I thought bleu cheese/gorgonzola was poising itself for a breakout. It started popping up in more foods, starting, much like its bacon forebear, in burgers and pastas. Salads started to come with bleu cheese dressing AND bleu cheese crumbles.
But bleu cheese is too intense, too pungent, a flavor for a lot of people. It has a tendency to overpower whatever it is paired with. So does bacon, but maybe we’re learning. Whatever the reason, it never went mainstream. I don’t envision any gorgonzola cookies in the near future. We never bleu-cheese Torani coffee flavoring. No bleu-cheese margaritas, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it in martinis. Bleu cheese seems to have settled into an accoutrement, slowly expanding its foothold over the past twenty years.
And I’m good with that, because I like bleu cheese and I don’t want it to go away.
A few years ago, New York Magazine predicted that the “next bacon” would be pumpkin. There are certainly some parallels. Pumpkin’s grown from its dessert roots. It went the coffee route instead of the burger route, because tying yourself to an addictive chemical seems a pretty sure bet. I’ve started seeing dinner pumpkin casserole recipes pop up in my social media feed. Last autumn, there were at least three cereals that came out with pumpkin-spice flavors.
But while I can see pumpkin extending its autumn empire more, I can’t imagine it expanding its borders to become a year-round flavor. It’s a hundred degrees where I live right now. When my armpits and crotch are setting new world records in the World Cup of Moisture, a nutmeg and clover-flavored squash sounds about as appealing as an adult diaper. For dinner.
Which leads us to the current trend. I wrote about it a little bit in my Hawaii posts, but I love me some coconut, and the month of June seems to be prime-coconut time.
Like some of the previous fads, the flavor can come from multiple sources. Unlike bacon, the extra sources are usually still legitimately coconut. The shredded coconut has a texture that’s rare in other foods, almost crunchy and chewy at the same time. As a milk or water, it has a sweeter element to it.
And, of course, there’s the Torani flavor.
Over the past few summers, coconut seems to be venturing beyond its home base of desserts. It’s made some pretty serious inroads into the coffee and health food fiefdoms next door.
You didn’t know the dessert and health food fiefdoms are next to each other? You must not have the same culinary map as I.
So far, I’ve been loving this coconut expansion. As I mentioned when I was in Hawaii, my wife is no fan of the flavor. She was hoping to give me so much coconut in Hawaii that I would be done with it when I got home. No such luck. All she succeeded in was making me aware that these wonderful Coconut Clusters are available in Costco on the mainland, too!
And hey, I just saw them at Starbucks:
Then there’s the whole coconut oil, coconut water thing. Coconut oil was briefly being sold as a healthier alternative to vegetable oil. Then there was backlash because it has more fat. Somehow it’s the second decade of the twenty-first century and we can’t figure out that healthy and non-fat aren’t always the same thing. As for the coconut water, I’m not particularly a fan. It doesn’t really taste like coconut, nor like water. It’s just a sweet water. Maybe it “hydrates,” but it doesn’t quench my thirst. But unlike the oil, coconut water doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Every time I’m at the grocery store, there seems to be some new flavor.
But this is where I start to get worried. Because if coconut expands too fast, or if it starts to cross over into non-coconut friendly areas of the menu, there will be a backlash. The M&Ms were fine. The coated seafood? Okay. Potato chips? I’m starting to get worried. Sure, the chips “made with coconut oil” are one thing, because they don’t taste like coconut. Trust me. But I just recently saw a bona fide “red curry coconut” flavored chip. Naturally, I bought it.
Then saw a menu that put shredded coconut on steak. And to that, even I have to say: “Dammit, coconut, you’re going too far!”
I’m sorry. I take it back. Oh, coconut, I’m going to miss you when nobody will be caught dead trying a new fusion of you.
There might be one saving grace from the future backlash: if coconut becomes the summer flavor. The first time I noticed the new incarnations was at Peet’s Coffee two summers ago. They had a coconut latte. It was delicious. They had a coconut black tie, a mixture of cold brew coffee and condensed milk that they usually do with chicory. It was also delightful. I kept going back to order them. Then one day, probably in early September, I popped in to order a coconut latte, and the barista said, “Sorry, we just switched over to pumpkin spice.”
Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be. A little bit of forewarning would’ve been nice, but whatever. I guess I’ll just wait until May to get my fix again. Shit, how far away is May?
But maybe that will keep things fresh, like the McRib of good taste. Wow, did I just write McRib, fresh, and good taste in the same sentence?
But seasonal flavors have a way of lasting past their shelf life. Pumpkin spice isn’t going anywhere. We roll our eyes at it, but the phrases Autumn and pumpkin-spice are damn-near synonymous. Just like eggnog has its hold on December, although it seems to be ceding ground to whatever the hell “gingerbread spice” is.
So maybe coconut will become the summer flavor. I don’t know what’s so summery about it, because as I said, I don’t think sweetness quenches thirst. But I’m not going to question it as long as it stays relevant.
And I’ll just ignore the fact that Peet’s now keeps the coconut black tie year round. Dammit! Don’t ruin it, guys.
In the meantime, I’m going to go put my head in the sand.
Or maybe my feet.
With a pina colada.