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5 food trends to try in 2021

Following a tumultuous 2020, it’s not surprising that the trending ingredients for the year ahead are aimed at being healthier and more sustainable.

Whether you’re looking to eat more plant-based meals, support your immunity or choose more sustainable food options, our nutrition team round up 5 new food trends for 2021 and look at the science behind their benefits.

1. Algae

What is algae?

The term ‘algae’ refers to a family of plants, some of which you may have heard of – think spirulina, chlorella or seaweed. It’s a microscopic aquatic organism packed with nutrients and chlorophyll, giving them their intense green colour.

Algae is becoming increasingly popular as a sustainable ingredient that grows incredibly fast – 10 times faster than traditional crops. It’s also cost-efficient to grow as algae farms can be built anywhere and can even grow in different types of water.

What does algae taste like?

It depends on which type of algae you’re eating, but it can taste relatively plain. Blue-green algae is quite bland, which makes it easy to mix into dishes or drinks, while something like nori (the seaweed on the outside of sushi) has a briny, salty taste. If eating algae is not your thing, you can also find many powder forms. These can be added to smoothies or stirred through a salad dressing.

Is algae good for you?

Humans have been eating algae for a millennia and research shows that it’s generally good for you. Take spirulina for example. One tablespoon provides 4g of protein plus other nutrients such as iodine, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.

Though it is not a source of active vitamin B12 as is often claimed. Seaweed (kombu, wakame), another variety of algae, has been named one of the 14 longevity superfoods from those living in the Blue Zones – 5 communities around the world that have the longest living residents.

However, it can be difficult to quantify the benefits more broadly as there is a lot of variance depending on the species, the season and even the regions it’s grown in. 

2. Banana blossom

What is banana blossom?

Some people refer to it as a banana flower or the ‘heart’ of the banana. They’re purple-skinned flowers that grow at the end of a banana fruit cluster. Banana blossom is similar to jackfruit in that it can be used like a vegetarian ‘meat’ alternative, with a texture that mimics the flaky texture of fish. As a by-product of banana production, the banana blossom is becoming increasingly more popular as people look to alternative ‘meats’ to reduce their intake of meat and support more sustainable farming practices.

What does banana blossom taste like?

Banana blossom has a pretty neutral taste so it absorbs other flavours well. It’s also quite fibrous so can handle lots of seasoning. The darker, tough husks on the outside can be stripped away to reveal tender yellow-green leaves inside. People often liken the taste to artichoke leaves. You can chop and serve them in salads, use similarly to jackfruit in a curry, or add them to stir-fries like you would any other greens.

Is banana blossom good for you?

Yes it is, which is impressive given it is simply a waste by-product of banana production. It’s high in dietary fibre and contains a range of phytochemicals and vitamins including vitamin C. The vitamin C content is actually higher than those found in other fruits like blueberries, grapes and pears.  

3. Fonio

What is fonio?

Fonio is a grain that comes from West Africa and is a type of millet, similar to quinoa and couscous. It’s popped up in the Western world in recent years as it needs very little water to thrive and grows well in poor and sandy soils. It can also be harvested three times a year and its extensive root system can help fight soil erosion. All of these qualities making it a highly valuable crop in the face of the changing climate.

What does fonio taste like?

It’s a small grain and has an earthy, nutty flavour. You can use it as you would rice, quinoa or couscous and it works well in sweet or savoury dishes.

Is fonio good for you?

It sure is! It’s a gluten free grain and is a high quality plant protein. It contains 4 times the protein, 3 times the fibre and nearly twice the iron of brown rice. It also has a low glycaemic index, which helps keep you fuller for longer and provides a more sustained release of energy. Given Kiwis struggle to reach their daily wholegrain targets, having another grain option in your kitchen repertoire can only be a good thing.

4. Lupini beans

What are lupini beans?

The lupini bean is an ancient legume similar to chickpeas or lima beans and popular in Mediterranean cuisine. Also known as ‘lupins’, they’re often pickled, eaten as a snack or used as a meat substitute, which is why they’re currently surging in popularity. However, they have a high alkaloid content which makes them quite bitter and can even be toxic without proper preparation.

What do lupini beans taste like?

The taste is quite similar to soybeans and they are quite salty from the process of soaking them in brine for several weeks to remove the bitter alkaloids. They’re often served with olives or as part of an antipasto platter. A sweeter Australian version has also been made into a flour, which can be used in baked goods as a healthier alternative due to its reduced carbohydrate and glycaemic load.

Are lupini beans good for you?

Yes, they are incredibly high in protein – double the amount found in chickpeas – and fibre. However it is important to note that some people can be allergic to lupins, especially if they are also allergic to peanuts. Canned options are currently limited in New Zealand – chickpeas are a more readily available alternative, with plenty of affordable options at all major supermarkets.

5. Oat milk

What is oat milk?

Oat milk is a relative newcomer to the scene of dairy-free milk alternatives. Hailed for its deliciously creamy quality that appeals to both dairy drinkers and plant milk enthusiasts, it’s now popular in the Kiwi café scene and a staple on supermarket shelves. 

What does oat milk taste like?

Not only delicious, oat milk is also incredibly versatile, making it one to try in 2021 (if you haven’t already). As its flavour profile isn’t overpowering, it can be used just like dairy milk. Oat milk is creamy and has a deliciously mild flavour, meaning it can be used in almost any recipe from smoothies to cakes to soups, or enjoyed straight from the glass. Adding to the list of reasons to give oat milk a go, it’s also been touted as one of the more sustainable plant-based milks.

Is oat milk good for you?

Oat milk is a great option for those with dietary restrictions or intolerances, especially people with nut, soy or dairy allergies. Not all oat milks are created equal however, so look for those that are low in sugar and fortified with calcium and B vitamins.