Food Trends & Themes of 2021

2021 has not quite got off to the positive start we had all hoped for when we bid farewell to 2020. Despite the challenges that still exist for everyone at the moment, we have to continue to try and find gleams of happiness wherever we can and one way that many people continue to do this is through food. Food is used by many to bring joy and comfort to them at times of uncertainty and provided this is done in a healthy and moderated way, there is no problem with using food to provide that.

It therefore probably comes as no surprise then that according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), the Covid 19 pandemic has transformed the way we eat, shop and think about food and this is reflected in some of the food trends and themes we are expected to see this coming year. So let’s take a look at what’s ‘hot’ in 2021 when it comes to food.

Pickling / Fermenting

Not many people will be able to forget the mass panic buying of foods that took place last year at the start of the pandemic.  The anxiety of potential food shortages at that time, led many people to start growing their own fruit and vegetables, which was made easier than ever before with people forced to spend more time at home and in their gardens. This resulted in a renewed passion for ‘living off the land’ and people turning their home grown harvests into foods that would last some time and line the shelves of their pantries for months to come. The way to do this of course was to pickle and ferment these foods, which had somewhat of a renaissance last year and continues to be a theme of this year.

There really is no limit to what fruit and veg you can choose to pickle or ferment, including, beans, beets, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, the choice is endless so why not give it a try. Not only is fermenting foods a good option for preserving foods, but it also has health advantages too. Fermented foods are very beneficial for gut health and we do know that maintaining gut / digestive health has a direct impact on a healthy immune system. These fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria so by consuming them you are adding ‘good’ bacteria to your gut flora, which in turn enhances your immune system. In fact new research studies specifically on gut health and Coronavirus, showed that people who had poor gut health are more likely to develop severe Covid if the virus is caught. This was likely due to the fact that if healthy microbes / good bacteria are lacking in the gut, then it is easier for the virus to infect the cells within the digestive tract, and remember 70-80% of your immune function is found in the digestive system!

Foods for Immunity

Talking of immunity, the current pandemic has caused everyone to review their own health and in particular question our own body’s immune system health.  This has caused a huge rise in consumer interest in what we call ‘Functional Foods’. These are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods say they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of various diseases and in current times the interest specifically lies in foods that can have a direct positive impact on immunity. Immune boosting foods, beverages and drinks increased in popularity last year and this trend continues to grow this year as the pandemic continues.

Specific foods containing certain vitamins and minerals such as selenium, vitamin D and vitamin C, which are proven to have a benefit for immune function are especially popular. Foods containing Beta Glucan, a soluble fibre found in a variety of foods, such as barley, oats, rye, shitake mushrooms, seaweed and yeasts (oats are the highest source) will also continue to be popular and found in many food products claiming to have an immune boosting effect.  With research showing that Beta-Glucan can help strengthen the immune system, has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, and can enhance the function of some white blood cells needed to fight infections, it is certainly a food that should be added to your daily menu.

Online cooking classes

Since the pandemic started we have all had to get used to a life online, whether that be for work reasons or personal life, living life through a screen has unfortunately become the new normal for many.  With more time on our hands too, it is not surprising that the demand for online courses has rocketed and this includes the demand and increased interest for online cooking classes. This is not necessarily because you can’t cook and are now forced to learn due to restraint closures, but because those people who are used to eating out or dining on fine cuisine are no longer able to, so are turning their hand to learning to cook their favourite dishes through online courses. So if you are missing your favourite Indian or pasta dish, why not look at learning to make it yourself with all the online classes available, many of which can be accessed free.

Plant Based Foods

This is a continued trend from last year as the popularity in plant based foods continues to dominate the food market, not just because of the popularity of veganism, which also continues to grow, but also because consumer knowledge continues to increase on the health benefits of consuming more plant based foods in the diet, irrespective of whether you eat meat or not.

In 2020 we saw many more food outlets and food manufacturers launch plant based food alternatives to traditionally meat based dishes, including food such as plant based burgers, mince, kebabs, sausages, bacon etc. and this is set to continue into 2021. If you are trying to cut down on your meat intake in 2021 either for environmental, ethical or health reasons, then now is the time to try some of the many plant based foods available, and experiment with the many online recipes that can allow you to cook your own plant based meals.

Eggs

Eggs really are the original fast food, but healthy! What also makes them so great is the versatility that they offer. Supermarkets last year all reported a large jump in egg sales, with one supermarket seeing a 22% increase, which at the start of the pandemic led to eggs selling out very quickly and becoming unavailable for a short time. This high demand then led to a surge in chicken sales…..yes chicken sales, which meant at one point last year trying to find a live chicken to buy was as difficult as finding hens teeth! With many people now owning their own feathered friends, with eggs available on demand and social media publicising various egg recipes and crazes (mainly TikTok), eggs have had somewhat of a resurgence, which will continue into this year.

That’s not a bad thing for our health either, as eggs provide a great source of good quality protein, are high in omega 3 fatty acids, and have a positive effect on cholesterol levels by helping to raise the ‘good’ cholesterol.

Eco Friendly Food Packaging

When it comes to food, sustainability and environmental friendliness is big on the agenda, especially when it comes to packaging. This is becoming increasingly important as consumers and governments become more environmentally conscious. This has caused food manufacturers to place huge focus on what packaging they are selling their foods and beverages in, and recyclability is the name of the game here.

Although the focus on this took a back seat last year as the pandemic took over and huge demand needed to be fulfilled in whatever way possible, even if this meant packaging was not eco-friendly, this year the focus is back, coupled with an increased need for protective packaging to protect contents against virus spread. So this year, expect to see more reusable containers and more cardboard and wood fibre packaging, which are not only recyclable, but according to the National Institute of Health these porous packaging types are ‘less hospitable to the Coronavirus than non-porous surfaces, such as plastic’.

Nostalgic Foods

According to many big food outlets and supermarkets, nostalgia is a key word for 2021 when it comes to food as people crave comfort, familiarity and pre lockdown memories, all of which can be provoked through food. With lockdown continuing and dining out not possible, people are craving a taste of the past and sales for traditional foods are seeing a steady increase. These include traditional deserts such as sticky toffee pudding, trifles, and treacle sponges with one mainstream supermarket seeing a 67% increase in rice pudding during the pandemic and another seeing a 187% increase in Custard Powder. These of course would be classified as true comfort foods, so it is therefore probably not surprising that in this time of turmoil and stress we are reaching for these food types and we expect to see this trend continue into 2021……remember moderation is everything here if we don’t want our trouser buttons to be social distancing after lockdowns ended!

Why not have a go at making your own custard, which is far easier than you may think and far tastier than anything you can buy in a shop. All you need is a pint of milk, 3 egg yolks, a vanilla pod (or vanilla paste), 1.5tbsp of sugar and 2 tbsp of cornflour. Using Delamere Dairy’s Whole Goats’ milk gives a wonderful creaminess to it, as well as providing you with a much needed dose of good quality selenium essential for healthy immune function (who would have thought eating custard could be said to boost your immunity!!).

Pour the milk in a pan, slice the vanilla pod and scrape out the tiny vanilla seeds. Add both the seeds and pod to the milk and heat gently until almost boiled. Lift off the heat and cool slightly. In another bowl add the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together and stir. Once combined, start very slowly adding the milk and vanilla mix to the egg mixture, stirring constantly to avoid any lumps forming. Remove the vanilla pod. Place this liquid on a medium heat and stir constantly until it starts to thicken. This will take approximately 4-6 minutes depending on how hot it is. Once thickened it is ready to serve with any desert of your choice or delicious just on its own.

In these times of continued uncertainty, which has created a lot of stress and low mood for many people, hopefully enjoying some of the food trends and themes around this year will bring a little comfort and joy and make these days of lockdown a little more enjoyable.

References:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19: impact on the gut microbiome, 2020, Translational Research
  • Gut microbiota may underlie the predisposition of healthy individuals to COVID-19, 2020. BMJ
  • Diet, Gut Microbiota and COVID-19, 2020, Indian Journal of Microbiology
  • Gut microbiota and Covid-19-possible link and implications, 2020, Virus Research