Novelty in Food

As I walk around various markets in Seattle and places beyond, I have this urge, this desire to seek out the new and the odd. Sometimes my discoveries border on the grotesque, other times I can be shocked to find things that I like. Yes, I may claim that I am a culinary traditionalist. But the reality is that I adore the novelty found in foods.

It’s easy to dismiss novelty. Whether it’s a hamburger smacked between two grilled cheese sandwiches,Cookie Dough flavored Kit Kat Bars, or eating a durian fruit, some might see these activities as nothing more than culinary stunts.

But novelty in food has a long and storied tradition. If one were to replace the phrase “quest for novelty” with “searching for new tastes”, then it becomes easier to see how this behavior has always been prevalent amongst us homo sapiens. It’s what has allowed our tastes to change over the course of millenniums. The search for new tastes has introduced both cilantro and kiwi into the mainstream, two tastes almost unheard of in American culture twenty years ago. And let’s not forget salsa, which has quickly become one of, if not the most popular condiments on the market today. Thirty years ago it was virtually unheard of in the northern parts of the United States. What caused these tastes to embed themselves into our consciousness? Someone, somewhere was willing to take a risk and try something new, liked it, and then passed it on to their friends.

Novelty means different things to different people as well. For some it means searching out the exotic. For others, it means trying that new flavor of Corn chips. Food corporations know novelty as well. The recent trend in classic candy bars to try new flavors has been based on the idea of introducing new flavors into a relatively conservative marketplace, and seeing what sticks. While Pina Colada Almond Joy may not have been a hit, Mint 3 Musketeers (which is excellent, btw) may soon find itself staying on the shelves. Granted, dark chocolate and mint is hardly a new flavor combination, but historically speaking, getting candy companies to commit to anything new is novel in of itself.

Not all novel ideas are good. Not all foods need to be deep fried, nor do we really need add bacon to everything, although I am still intrigued by cinnamon and bacon. But the fact that people are willing to try these things should speak to all of us. Try new things. Take chances. Admit to yourself when things are horrible, and when they are good. Then share your results with the rest of the class. Whether you head to that Ethiopian restaurant downtown, purchase a mango, or buy the new flavor of Pepsi, it matters not. Find what works for you.