From the food editor: Social media-driven culinary mashup a delicious experiment
If you browsed food-related posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, what do you think you'd find? Would kombucha emerge as the trending beverage? Would broccoli leaves break through as the darling of the produce aisle? Are we still a nation obsessed with bacon and sriracha?
The folks at the National Pork Board were curious too what Americas were talking about (virtually speaking, of course) and wondered what makes up the ultimate American meal. So in conjunction with digital analytics from Crimson Hexagon's ForSight tool, they analyzed more than 30 million social media posts across our 50 states for a year (ending Nov. 30, 2014) and found that nearly half of socially shared food content included smoked (bacon!), hot and spicy flavors paired with popular proteins. The most common ethnic flavor was Cajun -- with Mexican and Asian close behind.
"It doesn't matter if you consider yourself a foodie, a novice chef, a restaurant aficionado or just someone who enjoys a great home-cooked meal -- diversity is the most common denominator in our tastes, based on what we're sharing on our plates," said Pamela Johnson, director of communications for the National Pork Board. "Exotic and unexpected flavors are becoming such staples of our American cuisine; they can easily be seen as our new American palate. We see sriracha on pizza, ramen on burgers and chorizo in everything from eggs to eggplant parmesan. Flavor is at the center of our country's table."
Turns out pork was prince of the foodporn hashtag (#foodporn), claiming 41 percent of the posts compared to beef's 31 percent and chicken's 23 percent, and bacon is the top-mentioned pork product, a stat that surprises probably no one. Cheese reigns as the country's most popular food topping, while maple captures the top spot as a seasoning flavor -- just not in the Land of Lincoln where garlic rules. Bread was the most frequently mentioned grain, which confirms, according to the pork board, "that Americans are fans of foods that they can really wrap their hands around."
With that knowledge in hand, they headed to the test kitchen with the team at Eater.com to create the Ultimate American Meal: a culinary mashup of those top-trending flavors. And what they came up with is unbelievably delicious -- I know because they cooked one for me. It's called the Cheesy Maple Bacon Cajun Pulled Pork Sandwich.
This data-driven recipe features Cajun-rubbed, cayenne pepper-infused pulled pork piled on top of a hearty bun (thankfully we're over the pretzel bun obsession) with extra-sharp cheddar cheese, bread-and-butter pickles and maple bacon, then served alongside crispy potatoes and a sriracha-spiked Greek yogurt.
"They say the sum is greater than the parts," Johnson said. "After the Cronut, mashups have been gaining momentum, so an original recipe mashup of our most socialized food is the truest illustration of how we eat and what we share."
Go for the greens: Even though kale is one trendy green, I can't say that I'm surprised that it didn't make a showing in the #foodporn search. A quick search I just did on Instagram turned up 1.2 million posts with #kale, compared to 3.6 million with #bacon.
Kale's image took a hit recently when eatthis.com (a branch of Meredith Corporation, which also produces Eating Well and Shape) shared results of a Centers for Disease Control study that shows kale's not the healthiest green on the block. According to a ranking of 47 "powerhouse fruits and vegetables," kale placed 15th for nutrient density (49 out of 100 points). Turns out romaine lettuce packs high levels of folic acid that contributes to its score of 63, and parsley (that curly garnish we generally push aside) is heavy on the vitamin K.
As the weather has gotten a little warmer, I've gotten back into the habit of making chopped salads and that article reinforced those three as my go-to greens. For a couple years now, I've taken to tossing a few tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley in my salads, and guests always comment on the vibrant, perky notes it brings to the palate.
When you're on the go and craving a healthy salad, stop into Corner Bakery Cafe for its new Kale Caesar Salad with Chicken. The dish features a mix of fresh kale and romaine lettuce, croutons, parmesan cheese and a not-too-heavy Caesar dressing. The chicken comes grilled and can be left off. Paired with the Tuscan White Bean Soup, a vegetarian option complete with vegetables, white beans and kale, the meal comes in at 590 calories.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at email@example.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/DebPankey.DailyHerald or follow her on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter @PankeysPlate.