Plenty of news coverage has been devoted to the ways the pandemic has changed how we eat, as evidenced by the skyrocketing revenues of food delivery apps. But what we eat is also changing.
The food and drink we’ll be consuming in 2021 reflect the reality of our current world (get ready for even more “immune-boosting” food and drink!), but also feature exciting flavors designed to thrill us every time we open the refrigerator or pantry.
We spoke to two seasoned food trend experts to fill you in on everything new and notable coming to your kitchen in 2021. Your shopping list is about to get a lot more exciting.
Perhaps not surprisingly, food and drink that offer immunity benefits have seen renewed interest during the pandemic.
“This trend is especially important given the stress and anxiety brought on by 2020,” said Rachel Bukowski, team leader of product development at Whole Foods Market. “It’s a time when health is taking a front seat on our collective priorities, including companies incorporating functional ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms and adaptogens to foster a calm headspace and support the immune system.”
Indeed, immunity is top of mind for many people right now, according to Melissa Abbott, vice president of culinary insights for The Hartman Group, a consumer research firm that studies American food and beverage culture.
“[Immunity] comes up every winter, but it’s taking a very specific focus [now] because people want to be resilient and not get sick,” Abbott told HuffPost.
Take beverage brands like Sunwink and Heywell, which play up the adaptogenic — or anti-stress — ingredients in their sparkling waters, such as ashwagandha and lemon balm. Vitamin-rich mushrooms have long been valued for their health benefits, which is why products such as Om Mushroom Broth, Pan’s mushroom jerky and Four Sigmatic mushroom-enhanced coffee have also sprung up.
Plant-based food featuring (less processed) plants
Perhaps you’ve seen plant-based foods on supermarket shelves that seem more like they’re processed on factory production lines than made from plants grown on a farm. You’re not alone.
“As much as everything has ‘plant-based’ on the front of [the package], we’re going to start to see more scrutiny of ingredients, processing and sourcing of plant-based things,” Abbott said. “I’m talking about any brand that has actual plants in it that identify as being a plant. Flour, sugar and fats generally don’t qualify.”
For example, Hilary’s veggie burgers have recognizable ingredients such as millet, kale, sweet potato, flaxseed and apple cider vinegar, and Dang keto bars cite almonds as the first ingredient on their nutritional label.
Behold this buffet of breakfast foods
In a Whole Foods Market report on food trends, the grocer shined a spotlight on breakfast. The morning meal is likely to be popular in 2021 and beyond, “as several employers are shifting to allow their team members to permanently work from home, or at least build more flexibility into their schedules,” Bukowski said.
“We’re seeing cereal [sales] rise again, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re home,” Abbott added. “There’s a nostalgia element to boxed cereal, but there’s quite a few cereals that don’t reflect the iconic ones that we grew up with.”
Instagram-famous brands such as Magic Spoon and The Cereal School promote high-protein, sugar-free cereal with nostalgia-inducing flavors like Frosted and Cookies & Cream. This is not the same cereal you ate before taking the bus to school.
Experts have a gut feeling about fermented foods
Humans have been consuming fermented foods for thousands of years, well before the word “probiotics” was splashed across food packaging. And yet, what’s old is new again.
“We’re seeing more interest in various fermented foods like kombucha and pickles, but what consumers really want is something authentic,” Abbott said. “They don’t want to consume something that seems like it’s been too scientifically fortified to help their gut.”
Abbott predicts an increasing interest in the Mexican fermented pineapple cider tepache, which right now is mostly limited to the brand Tepachito in Mexican grocery stores and online. The flavors in tepache can vary based on the region of Mexico and can include cinnamon, tamarind, herbs, spices and botanicals, Abbott said.
“It’s a beautiful palate for the premium beverage industry to be able to harness,” she said.
Foods rich in prebiotics are also showing up in the snack food aisle, with options like Barnana plantain chips and Pamela’s tiger nut flour, which can be used to bake paleo-friendly cookies and cakes.
Chickpeas are the secret weapon in everything from pasta to dessert
Sure, you can get your fill of chickpeas from hummus (and you should!), but the packaged food industry is using the popular legume in much more than just that Middle Eastern staple.
“The chickpea, which we predicted as growing in popularity in 2021’s food trends, is vegan, super versatile and high in fiber,” Bukowski said.
Combining chickpeas and water yields aquafaba, which has already been used to make products such as Sir Kensington’s Vegan Mayo. But Bukowski sees another use for aquafaba.
“Chickpea juice can be whipped into a meringue-like consistency (much like egg whites), so this expands into more plant-based dessert options,” she said. There aren’t many desserts using aquafaba on shelves now, but considering the fact that you can make a variety of baked goods with it, it’s only a matter of time.
Get excited, coffee lovers
Next year, the mornings will likely not be the only time of day you have java flavors dancing on your taste buds.
“Coffee has such a fantastic, iconic flavor and following, and really lends itself to blend seamlessly into so many diverse product formats,” Bukowski said. “Coffee is finding its way into granola, yogurt, candy and even whiskey!”