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U.S. food tastes trend toward healthier, more adventurous

When U.S. food consumers crave sriracha, chimichurri and yuzu, you know things are changing.

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As warmer weather drifts across the U.S., the happy prospect of grilling outdoors and rolling out a picnic blanket is nearing reality. But what we’re grilling and packing changes every year, and so are the foods we live on between outings and entertaining.

According to "Food Technology" magazine, the year is a game-changer for U.S. food consumers.

READ: Does buying in bulk really save money?

Editor A. Elizabeth Sloan has drawn up a list of ways Americans are looking at food this year, and it’s worth a look before drawing up that grocery list:

We’re venturing upscale. With the worst of the economic hangover worn off (hopefully), more Americans are choosing to “savor” food and dining experiences. Sloan defines that as consumers choosing better cuts of meat, more exotic spices on their dishes (twice as many as in 2010), and the freshest food possible. A quarter of Americans say they want to be “savoring,” the magazine reports.

We want it fresh. Sloan says 9 out of 10 Americans view fresh food as “healthier,” inspiring us to ask waiters and grocery specialists for “house-made” or “artisanal” foods. Free-range and grass-fed meats and specialized dairy and produce choices are also at a three-year high.

We’re going solo. The classic family meal is in moderate decline, Sloan says. Part of that is that students and commuters are chowing down on energy bars on the way out of the house. But at least Americans who dine alone are eating healthier, with more opting for freshly made meals over frozen dinners.

READ: 5 delicious budget-friendly recipes

We’re investigating the ethnic. U.S. food consumers love foreign dishes, but it’s getting even more specific and specialized. For example, Americans love paninis, but now they’re edging closer to ethnic treats such as Mexican griddle sandwiches or pressed Cuban sandwiches. Sloan adds that sriracha, chimichurri, aioli, yuzu, queso fresco and Thai chili are among the fastest-growing ethnic food flavors.

We crave finger foods. Among the fastest-growing food categories are “craveable” finger foods. It’s all about those mobile Americans on the go, with 45 percent of food consumers surveyed saying they wanted high-quality, “savory” snack foods to munch on during commutes and errands. It might be messier, but providers shouldn’t forget to add condiments or dips; 67 percent of Americans want those extras with the finger foods.

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.