7 food trends of 2015 that embrace health and sustainability

Some years see food fads that bring shudders to the green- and salubrious-inclined, but 2015 has ushered in some fashionable noshes that we can live with.

There once was a time when food trends centered around the newfangled and convenient; and consequently, the less-wholesome and non-sustainable. But in a beautiful swing of the pendulum, contemporary food faves are returning to ingredients that offer nutritional punch and often keep the planet in mind as well. Time Magazine came up with their basic picks for 2015, from which we've borrowed, adapted, and added to for this list. Here's what to look for:

1. Millet as the new quinoa

Oh quinoa. Once a local staple of the Andes that emerged as a nutritional powerhouse superfood, it is now a global commodity that comes with its share of problems. Namely, demand has led farmers to scramble for new land and thus older sustainable agriculture is being pushed out and soil fertility is being challenged. And the crop itself has become so valuable that farmers are foregoing it on their own dinner plate and opting for cheaper, less-nutritious staples like white rice.

So what’s a quinoa-loving healthy-grain eater to do? Follow the thinking of Melissa Abbot, director of culinary insights at The Hartman Group, whose pick for the “Food of 2015” is millet (pictured above). While the main ingredient in birdseed may not be the sexiest of staples, Abbot notes that it’s gluten-free, protein-rich, high fiber, and has a superfood quality all of its own. “It retains its alkaline properties after being cooked, which helps in reducing inflammation ideal for those with wheat allergies and sensitive digestion,” says Abbot. Plus, no South American farmers will suffer and food miles can be mitigated: The Great Plains (Colorado in particular) is one of the world’s major millet growing regions.

2. Peas as the new soybeans

Kari Söderholm/CC BY 2.0 Soybeans are little protein bombs that food makers love to put in their products to boost protein levels, but soy is also falling out of favor as people are becoming increasingly concerned about the hormonal implications and GMO aspect of the mighty beans. But we adore our protein – Barb Stuckey, vice president at food product developers, Mattson, describes us as being in a “torrid love affair” with protein. Whether or not we need it or not, food companies are fueling our obsession with the nutrient by making sure we have plenty of it.

Soy has been the go-to protein pumper of choice, but as food manufacturers are seeking non-GMO plant-based sources of protein, Stuckey says, “the newest, hottest kid on the block is pea.” The humble pea? Indeed, they are high in protein and, as people gain more experience processing it, the flavor is improving, says Stuckey. “Look for pea protein to show up the ingredient list of bars, cereals, beverages, you name it,” she says.

3. Fat as the new non-fat

Taryn/Flickr/CC BY 2.0For years we’ve been told to avoid fat at all costs – but just like the world turned out to be round and we revolve around the sun, perhaps the fat fear was based on false facts after all? When it comes to natural fats, maybe. There is a growing trend in celebrating fat, with authors and experts chiming in that natural fat is part of a healthy diet.

Kara Nielsen, culinary director of the Boulder, Colorado-based Sterling-Rice Group, thinks that 2015 could be known as the year that more and more Americans get over their fat phobia, notes Time. She’s not talking about the trans fats found in processed food, but rather natural, animal-derived fats – think real butter over margarine and full-fat yogurt over its insipid non-fat cousins. “Americans are recognizing that the fear of fat that we’ve lived under for so long is erroneous,” said Nielsen. And indeed, there’s no denying that it’s more wholesome to eat something that has its full complement of components intact; there is less processing involved, and you get the benefit of the full array of nutrients that the food has to offer.

4. Local meat as the new local produce

Warren Layton/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 We’ve been pretty good at becoming aware of the importance of sourcing local produce; even mainstream supermarkets are beginning to distinguish local from imported. And most food trend trackers agree that the local food movement will endure. But new to the mix is a greater emphasis on local meat. Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry tracker for the market research giant Technomic, predicts that amongst local food news, local meat will come to the front.

5. Harissa as the new Sriracha

Frédérique Voisin-Demery/CC BY 2.0 There was a time, many many moons ago, when just about the only hot sauce regularly consumed across the United States was good old Tabasco. But as the American palate slowly evolved, the hot sauce market grew along with it and now the choices of hot sauces are legion. And the star of the show, the It Girl of hot sauces – Sriracha, aka “rooster sauce” – can now be found in just about every market, restaurant and kitchen in the country.

But we are a people who like change, and Maeve Webster, a restaurant analyst for market researcher Dataessential, thinks that harissa – the Tunisian spread of dried chiles, garlic, tomatoes, caraway, paprika, coriander, and olive oil – is just the thing to knock rooster sauce of its roost. Although still not widely known in this country, Webster says the time is right. “U.S. consumers can’t get enough of spicy foods. Harissa has a flavor profile that is both spicy and familiar,” she says. Datamonitor notes that in 2014, less than 3 percent of American restaurants included a harissa item, but that’s a more than 180 percent leap over three years. And maybe the best part? It's easy to make at home.

6. Matcha as the new chai

Catherine/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 As Bon Appetit wrote in January, “With one finger on the mug of our green tea latte and the other on the pulse of all things up-and-coming in the food world, we can’t help but notice that the chatter about matcha is getting louder.” And it’s true, matcha cafes are popping up everywhere and a quick Google search for “matcha” just brought up 13,700,000 results.

The bright green powerhouse drink brought to us from Japan is made from a finely ground powder of green tea leaves which are grown in gradual shade and hand-picked and stone-ground; the process preserves both the vibrant hue and nutritional qualities of the tea. The powder is whisked into a hot drink and offers a shot of sustained energy (with less caffeine than green tea), a load of antioxidants, and a “calm-alertness” courtesy of the amino acid, L-Theanine. Let the matcha chatter ensue.

7. And edible insects for the trifecta

© Exo While most westerners have been slow to embrace the eating of bugs, other cultures have been enjoying the protein-rich critters for ages. But it looks like 2015 might finally be the year of the edible insect in the United States. Suzy Badaracco, president of food trend consultancy Culinary Tide, selected insects for her “Food of 2015,” saying that they hit on three distinct food trends: wild foraging; eating invasive species, and the booming desire for more protein. (Did you know that grasshoppers have as much protein as a chicken breast?)

Full insects won’t be appearing right off the bat, but they will increasingly be processed and incorporated into things like power bars – you can already purchase cricket flour products from companies like Exo. And Badaracco believes that insects, in flour form, will soon become a popular protein sources for bakery and cereal products.

Tags: Agriculture | Food Miles | Health | Organic Agriculture

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