The Half-Life of a Cronut

Using Data to Chart 2010s Food Trends

With the pandemic causing so many changes in eating habits – from restaurants closing down to everyone becoming a sourdough baker – there’s no doubt that what we will be eating a few years down the line might look a little different than what we were eating a few months ago. So with the decade coming to a close (at least for the pedantic ones out there), I decided to look back at the last ten years of food trends and try to suss out if there are any larger forces behind which dishes have staying power, and which were more of a flash in the sauté pan.

Here’s how I did it. I put together a list of 24 of the biggest buzzwords in the culinary world from the 2010s and used Google Trends to chart their popularity over time. From that list I was able to find seven distinct categories that I’ve highlighted below.

A note on the data here – although the X axes (time) of these charts are aligned, the Y axes (popularity) are independent of each other – so each line on the graph will always have a moment of peak popularity (100) that form the basis for the rest of its scale.


To begin with, we’ll start with the three items that most deserve to be called a “fad” rather than a “trend” – the difference being, a fad gets interest through novelty and has a relatively short lifespan, while a trend has a much longer period of sustained interest. The defining characteristic of these three items is that they are generally inventions of new items based off of existing ingredients. Add bacon to a donut, or a donut to a croissant, or ramen to a burger – none of these equations are intuitive, so much of their interest comes from the newness of pairing two disparate items together to cause conversation (and maybe, secondarily, something delicious).

What that leads to, however, is a sudden onset of popularity that only lasts 6 months to a year before quickly diminishing. And for whatever reason, all three of these items peaked in 2013 – that heady time when we all still thought self-driving cars were gonna happen, the idea of a Trump presidency was ridiculous, and the thought of replacing a burger bun with noodles seemed like a good idea. Both the ramen burger and the bacon donut seem to have had a secondary peak a couple of years later – perhaps due to Johnny-come-latelys trying to cash in on the fad and partially relighting the fire. The trademarked and proprietarily processed cronut, however, didn’t receive this same luxury. 

The message seems to be clear to any aspiring chef lustily looking at their egg rolls and Nutella sitting perilously close together. If you want to make a hit, get in strong and get out fast.


This is the category I’ve created for three items I consider not to be new to the 2010s, but rather rebranded versions of items we’ve had for years.  Açaí bowls? That’s a lovely term for a smoothie in a bowl. Hard seltzer? That used to be hard soda, and before that Zima, and a whole host of other names for the flavored malt beverage class. But now it’s marketed for a more health-conscious market.

Bone broth is the best example of this – it’s literally just the same thing as broth. I’ve usually got at least a quart of it in my fridge, made at home for free from what narrowly avoided ending up in the trash. But by adding a needless modifier in front, I can sell it for $5 more than all of the other broth, implying that it’s differentiated from regular broth somehow (very much like asbestos-free cereal).

Interestingly enough, if you compare the search trends for bone broth and broth, you’ll find that regular broth tends to peak twice a year – in November (assumingly all at about 2pm on Thanksgiving Day) and in the peak of flu season in January. But bone broth only has that January peak, which shows that the public seems to think that bone broth is a healthier product – even though, again, they are the same thing.

Bone Broth vs Broth

There’s a lesson in here for organizations that have a strong marketing department but not much invested in new product development. By giving an old product a facelift with a new name, you can reach a potentially new audience without that much work. But it also depends on a certain amount of ignorance on the part of your consumer – the more complex your product is, the easier this is to pull off.


Of course, not all of the food trends of the last few years have been for finished products –some very popular ingredients have waxed and waned as well. But the trend lines are much more gradual, as you can see above. With no one company to really be able to “own” the product, trends become much more driven by consumers, who seem to experience an increase in awareness and a gradual leveling off to a higher rate than prior to the surge.

Again, health seems to be a factor here, but wider product availability and diversification of grocery stores also seems to play into these trends. Sure, kale may not be as popular today as it was in 2014 – but it’s certainly available in many more produce aisles.


Seasonal Beverages

No conversation about food trends would be complete without discussing the seemingly ubiquitous PSL. Notice how dormant both of these items are in between their season – down to almost no search traffic in the summer months for Pumpkin Spice. But also see how they seemingly counterbalance each other’s success. Pumpkin spice gives way to salted caramel as the leaves fall off the trees and advertisers change their focus. These are two items whose trends are overwhelmingly influenced by a single major player in the space (hint: mermaid, burnt coffee, Karens yelling at baristas about a virus hoax).

Since Starbucks has so much sway here, they are able to determine for the rest of us that pumpkin spice is for fall, and salted caramel is for winter – although there’s not much inherently that demands it be that way. This is somewhat of a manufactured trend, although of course that doesn’t make it any less real.


Wanna take a dish from another culture, bring it to a new audience, and then claim you “discovered” it? Congratulations Columbus, you probably have a good chance at success. These already established items – mostly from Asia, at least in this era – may owe their popularity to the fact that there are literally entire nations that can act as proponents to help get the word out.

When the beneficiaries of these trends are part of the cultures from which they originate, this can be a net positive. But this being America, of course that’s not always the case. I remember attending a conference where the CEO of a popular poke chain was speaking. He claimed that he was responsible for its popularity after visiting Hawaii on vacation and seeing everyone eating poke. And then without irony, in the next sentence he decried the fact that several “copycats” had popped up and stole his idea. 

I blacked out at that point, but I assume the audience probably gave him a standing ovation and called him a “thought leader.”



While there are plenty of foods that are trendy in and of themselves, there are also plenty of words we use to describe those foods that fall in and out of fashion all the same. The difference, is that these trends tend to have a much longer timeline, as they tend to be baked into the business model of the restaurants. Many of the restaurateurs that I’ve worked with now despise the term gastropub, and would hate to have it mentioned in reference to their outlet. And why shouldn’t they? It seems to have peaked back in 2013, and restaurants thrive on being responsive to the times. But while scrubbing it from your menu may be simple enough, removing it from reviews, Yelp pages, and the mouths of your fans might not be as easy.

Nevertheless, Asian fusion seems to still be rising as a search term, despite the fact that it’s a fairly racist idea that assumes Asian food culture is static and without agency. Perhaps there’s a compounding force of Columbusing playing into it, or perhaps since it’s more tied to the food itself than a term like gastropub, it is more inextricably linked to the menu. Either way, it still seems to be a growing trend.

Meanwhile, the success of the term superfruit had a comparatively shorter lifespan of 5 years. This may be because of the product timeline of the companies who perpetuated it – produce wholesalers, rather than restaurants, which have more flexibility in pivoting. As the effectiveness of the term wears down, they can always switch to a whatever’s more on-trend – probiotic? Antioxidant? Prooxidant?


Modern Twists

Finally, the category of foods that seem to have jumped the realm of trends and have been accepted as part of the modern food lexicon. While all of these dishes are fairly new, they are not quite so incongruous as the inventions mentioned above. Spicy fried chicken in the Nashville style makes perfect sense as part of the American diet, so when Prince’s Hot Chicken began to popularize the dish it wasn’t due to novelty. It’s something that eaters want, understand, and can quickly incorporate into their habits – and so it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.

Same too, with Buffalo Cauliflower. The credit for this dish actually goes to my former employer, Mohawk Bend, the inventors of Buffalo Cauliflower back in 2012. The dish is unique, but easily replicable and even more easily understood: it’s essentially just a vegan Buffalo wing. And so now every upscale casual bar (don’t call it a gastropub) seems to have it on their apps list. That sort of functionality isn’t likely to make it disappear.

There are undoubtedly more conclusions that can be drawn from this data – and definitely more sources that someone could use to assess what we’re all interested in eating. But hopefully this guide has provided a little insight into what’s likely to be the next big dish, and what’s the next forgotten food fad. So tell me – what do you think is coming?  

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