We Asked Home Cooks (and Cooking Experts!) for the Biggest Cooking Trends of 2023
Three years ago, when the pandemic hit, those of us who were lucky enough to hunker down at home had two options: Panic … or cook. For millions who decided to find refuge in their kitchens, cooking became a comfort as well as a growing skill, and this fueled a once-in-a-generation wave of cooking interest and growth.
This pandemic surge of cooking is now behind us, but not all has returned to the status quo of pre-2020. We have always been deeply curious about the grocery shopping, cooking, and eating decisions of real people across the country. But we’re also curious about the changes that cooking professionals are seeing now and ahead in 2023. So we asked them both. First, we surveyed a large pool of home cooks with no attachment to the profession but a deep passion for the art; and second, we gathered responses from expert cooking teachers and journalists with access to bigger-picture insights on what millions of Americans are craving right now.
At the forefront of these insights, we found three major themes. When it comes to the food that cooks buy and consume, their choices are driven primarily by budget, health, and a desire for quick and easy simplicity. At first glance, these findings are not too surprising, as hunger must be appeased at least three times a day. But once we dug a little deeper, we found some interesting insights across these three consistent influences and how we see them evolving in the year ahead. Here are the trends as our surveys show them now, and going forward into the rest of 2023.
1. Grocery costs have gone up — but cooks aren’t necessarily slashing their budgets.
Let’s start with the topic everyone has an opinion on. Nearly the entire group of home cooks we surveyed (88 percent) said that their grocery bills have increased over the past year. Most of them (86 percent) are taking action to account for these increased grocery costs, but how they do so is where the results show much more variability.
While some shoppers resort to fairly traditional ways of saving money, with 56 percent waiting until an item goes on sale and 55 percent finding a cheaper brand, we also saw a high proportion of shoppers (51 percent) say that they aren’t very strict with their grocery shopping budget at all. In other words, even though prices are rising, many cooks seem … resigned?
We saw that shoppers are still willing to splurge on higher-priced items that align with their diets, from meat (39 percent) and produce (33 percent) up front, to seafood at the back (21 percent).
Even though meat falls into some of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ highest categories for food inflation — there has been a 17 percent rise over the past 12 months in chicken prices, and 14 percent for meats — cooks are still willing to spend on animal protein.
Overall, even though nearly all cooks polled are dealing with higher prices at the grocery store, they still indicate that convenience is their top priority. When we asked what cooks prefer in a grocery store, 72 percent said they would first look at choice and variety — whether the grocery store had everything in stock that they usually want. They also valued the store being close to their home over the third and final option, having lower prices. So while a receipt’s total is certainly a factor for cooks, when it comes to grocery shopping, getting this chore done fast is the most important thing.
Jocelyn Delk Adams, author of Everyday Grand: Soulful Recipes for Celebrating Life’s Big and Small Moments: A Cookbook, and one of our surveyed cooking experts, says none of this surprises her. “I think of how limiting the pandemic was in terms of how we could celebrate, and how we could spend time with family. Now we’ve reprioritized. We don’t want to be told we can’t have what we want!”
So if nearly all shoppers are noticing high prices, but only about half are willing to be strict with their budget to address this, does that mean that shoppers are mostly resigned to higher food costs? Perhaps, or it could be that their idea of taking action is more about what they do with food and not just how they shop for it.
So when we saw that 61 percent of cooks are more concerned about food waste this year than last, it made sense.
When groceries are more expensive, cooks are more careful about using them up and avoiding waste. Jocelyn Delk Adams seconded this point and it aligns with what she sees in cooks she interacts with on social media too. “They are like, ‘I am just going to be more mindful — I might freeze this expensive meal and then make sure to eat every single morsel.’”
As we look ahead in grocery trends for 2023, we see cooks continuing to rebel against the lingering effects of pandemic self-denial and food cost inflation. As we approach the holidays we expect to see cooks look for more ways to prioritize pleasure, abundance, and flavor discovery. When we asked our panel of cooking experts what they expect to see on freezer shelves (and in carts) this year, they called out gourmet restaurant pizza, soup dumplings and shumai, and other flavor-forward grocery buys that help cooks bring restaurant-quality food home.
2. Cooks are more health-conscious than ever before — but they’re leaving restriction-based eating behind.
When we asked our panel of home cooks how they would describe their cooking, most of them called themselves “health-conscious” (69 percent). Food spending and cooking choices are closely tied to cooks’ dietary preferences, particularly ones deemed as “healthy.” Perhaps the data reflects a feeling that after three years of living through a pandemic, healthy eating is important. In fact, 55 percent of responders say that it is.
What health goals are cooks focused on? While 80 percent of home cooks mentioned weight management as their goal, 10 percent of home cooks said that weight loss is no longer a priority for them in 2023, unlike in previous years, which may indicate a trend away from weight-first definitions of health.
Preventive health was a close second concern at 71 percent. We saw that this latter goal was new to 15 percent of cooks this year, and a third goal of digestive and gut health was new to 14 percent.
Cooks are clearly in the midst of reconsidering how they think about healthy eating, and 65 percent of those surveyed say that they’ve changed their viewpoint over the past year. So what do real cooks and eaters identify right now, in 2023, as “healthy eating” for the purpose of these health goals? Whole ingredients. In the midst of rising food costs, a slightly fuzzy but determined focus on whole ingredients such as produce and whole proteins are what most cooks surveyed consider to be “healthy.”
This is opposed to more hard-edged diets and eating styles that are restriction-driven like low-fat, fat-free, or even low-carb eating, which 19 percent of cooks surveyed pay less attention to these days. The one exception to restriction-based eating is sugar; a growing number of cooks are focusing on low-sugar eating in 2023. But still only eight percent named it as a new concern. The focus for most cooks we surveyed is a healthy eating style driven by what they put in (whole foods) vs. what they leave out (fat, carbs).
This also aligned with our expert panel and what they’re seeing in the recipes they’re asked for and the social media trends. Plant-based cooking, with its emphasis on produce and whole plant-based proteins, is trending far more than low-carb recipes of the past, they say.
Here’s one more telling statistic on what cooks currently consider healthy: When forced to make a choice between ingredients and eating behaviors, 86 percent of responders would prioritize the quality of ingredients more than smaller meals or fewer calories.
Looking ahead to healthy eating and cooking in 2023:
As Leslie, a reader from New Orleans, said, many cooks are looking more holistically at the way they eat.
We expect this focus on whole foods and a sense of quality and pleasure-first eating to continue to grow this year, but for cooks to find ways to further define and make convenient a style of eating that prioritizes whole ingredients.
3. Quick and easy cooking is increasingly defined by social media.
One thing remains the same: Quick and easy cooking is core to what cooks want and need! Cooks are still preparing quite a few meals at home, the average being eight meals per week from scratch. Our surveyed cooks said that they will use about seven ingredients for weeknight meals.
The top factors most cooks take into consideration when choosing a recipe is how long it will take to cook (75 percent), whether they have the ingredients on hand (74 percent), and how difficult it seems to cook (48 percent). Easy meals, short ingredient list.
None of this is surprising on its own, but what does seem to be changing is the role of social media in how cooks discover and define easy cooking at home.
Quick and easy aren’t the only terms that cooks like to experience in unison — they also want to have fun and be inspired. While 62% of cooks would describe their cooking style as “easy,” 59 percent also describe it as “curious.” The primary avenue for this curiosity is social media like TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest. A huge percentage of surveyed cooks at 81 percent say they cook recipes that they discover on social media.
The vast majority, 97 percent, also add these discovered recipes to their regular meal rotations.
This directly contradicts a lot of common belief about social media and cooking that held that food videos and social media functioned as entertainment and inspiration second — but not as actual recipes to cook in your own kitchen.
These findings match up closely to what our surveyed panel of cooking experts expressed. Sixty-one percent of experts name Instagram as their top resource for recipe and cooking inspiration, and they also are highly attuned to how changes in social media algorithms have affected what people consume. It’s all about video bringing food to life. But also, the rise of TikTok means that people are learning about food in ever smaller, faster, and more accessible ways — which also affects their expectations of how long it takes to cook.
The swift, fast-paced energy of social video makes nearly any recipe look easy and turnkey. And on the other side, a recipe really needs to be able to fit into these bite-sized moments of video. As Jacqueline Tris, a food stylist and recipe developer on our surveyed experts panel said, “With the rise of TikTok, recipes have to be shorter, easier, and visually captivating.”
Which brings us to the appliance of the year: The air fryer. Both our surveyed cooks and experts tapped the air fryer as the small appliance most on the rise. This budget-friendly countertop fixture is an excellent tool for cooking simple meals that often focus on whole foods and simple, budget-friendly meals. May we recommend perfect air fryer salmon, a big hit here at Kitchn, as Exhibit A, and air fryer cauliflower as Exhibit B in the argument for air fryers as an essential weeknight dinner tool?
And while air fryers were the quick-and-easy MVP of 2023 our experts do see a resurgence in the steamer as a tool for healthful cooking and whole foods-first recipes, from the classic bamboo stovetop steamer to silicone options for the microwave.
Experts’ Food Trend Predictions
So what will we be seeing more of in flavors and food trends this year? It’s the part you’re waiting for, we know! Our experts see the whole foods and plant-based eating (driven by cooks’ more holistic view of health) leading the way in food trends this year. And the convenience of online grocery shopping is going nowhere.
The ingredients we’ll see everywhere by the end of 2023 are also big on punchy flavor: yuzu, black vinegar, and chili crisp. Vinegar in particular was a common theme throughout all of our trend questions and conversations. James Ren, Head of Merchandising, Food. at Thrive Market, gave us a compelling argument for Chinese black vinegar and the way its dark, robust flavor can punch up so many things (try it in a salad dressing!) Pistachio is also clearly an ascendant flavor and ingredient of 2023.
When it comes to flavor combos our experts expect to see everywhere this year, they centered first on flavors common in Filipino cooking and Southeast Asian cooking like ube and coconut, and cilantro and lime. The much-loved Tex-Mex cheddar and jalapeño pairing is one that is never out of style, but our experts see it surging this year.
The acidity in our experts’ flavor trends is also reflected in the ingredients they feel are currently most underused in cooks’ kitchens. Again with the vinegar!
And because our experts just seemed to love vinegar and acids so much we had to play a game of this-or-that with two popular vinegars. (Sherry vinegar — do you have it? Time to pick up a bottle. Read this piece on what to look for.)
Let’s Play a Round of Make or Buy!
We asked our experts to also weigh in on the cooking trends and grocery trends they see with a round of “Make or Buy!” They were pretty united in their opinion that a good chocolate croissant is still best to buy from your local bakery (or frozen at the grocery store), but that gnocchi is a totally doable project.
2023 Is All About Pleasure First
Overall, as we polled home cooks and surveyed cooking experts, the themes of health-consciousness, budget, and social-first simplicity come back for us to one word: Pleasure. Cooks, no matter how constrained in budget or in time, are intrigued by new recipes and inspiring ideas that spread literally overnight through social media, and they’re willing to economize in other areas to enjoy the pleasure of taste (and convenience) at home.
This coming year will see even more of this, we believe, as flavor and pleasure come first in the kitchen — something we wholeheartedly agree with!