3 great new food trends that embrace sustainability

green spirulina powder
CC BY 2.0 Vegan Photo -- Spirulina powder on a spoon

Consumers want simpler, more natural foods with ethically-sourced origins. Farmers and manufacturers are listening.

Nutrition evolves with the times, or rather, what we perceive as nutritious. There was a time when fat was vilified, then carbohydrates, and now gluten and sugar are the biggest no-nos. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we’re completely off base, and of course everyone has their own take on what the perfect diet should be.

Nutrition scientists and food manufacturers are driven by this ongoing search for nutritional perfection, as well as growing consumer demand for ingredients that are healthy and safe for human consumption; hence the emphasis on simpler, less processed additives that have been produced ethically.

An article in the Wall Street Journal profiled several up-and-coming 'green' food trends that it predicts will become commonplace in the near future. Three are particularly intriguing.

1. Regenerative Grazing

No longer is grass-fed beef sufficient. ‘Regenerative grazing’ refers to a way in which cows are grazed that improves soil health. Consumers want to know not only what the cow ate, but also what impact the cow had on its environment:

“There is a growing movement called regenerative agriculture, in which different farming practices are used to restore soil degraded by planting and harvesting crops. One way to regenerate the topsoil is to graze cattle or bison on land used for growing crops, because their manure and left-behind forage act as natural fertilizers.”

While some might argue that not eating cows at all would likely be the best way to help the planet, these are valuable discussions to have; and any progress in the direction of extended environmental awareness is good. After all, it starts with realizing the effect that cows do have on our warming planet.

2. Jackfruit, the new meat alternative

jaca in Brazil© Laura Rheinheimer (used with permission) -- Some of my Brazilian friends on the memorable day on which I first tried eating jaca.

Jackfruit is a tropical fruit grown in South America and Southeast Asia that looks sort of like a spiky lime green watermelon. Its unimpressive exterior masks surprising potential to become a meat substitute. WSJ writes:

“Of all the budding meaty substitutes, food experts say jackfruit has the most potential to go mainstream because of its meaty texture and ability to absorb the flavors in which it’s cooked.”

Appealing to home cooks is that fact that it’s minimally processed, compared to common substitutes like tofu, tempeh, and seitan, and holds up well to seasoning. It's a refreshing change from the boredom that can ensue while living on a plant-based diet.

What the WSJ article did not mention, however, and that I was wondering about, is the terrible smell. I recall from my days of living in northeastern Brazil that jackfruit, or jaca, as they call it in Portuguese, was notorious for its very strong and nasty smell, described by some as “decaying onions.” That could deter American cooks.

3. Spirulina as food coloring

M&M’s maker Mars Food is now using spirulina, a blue-green algae, to dye its candies blue and green – colors that, up until now, have been difficult to replicate without artificial additives. Orange and red were never a challenge, with ingredients like turmeric, annatto, beetroot powder, and paprika at their disposal.

The switchover to natural colorants is the result of pressure from parents and educators who are concerned that artificial dyes trigger allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children.

“The Food Marketing Institute, a grocery trade group, expects the volume of spirulina used for food and beverages to quintuple in 2020 from 2014, and the natural food-coloring industry to grow at an average annual rate of 6.8% in that time frame.”

It’s about time manufacturers in the U.S. moved away from the “rainbow of risks,” as it’s called by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, especially considering that the U.K. branches of these food manufacturers (Kraft, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Mars) stopped using artificial dyes years ago in response to consumer pressure.

3 great new food trends that embrace sustainability
Consumers want simpler, more natural foods with ethically-sourced origins. Farmers and manufacturers are listening.

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