Butter, bitter flavors and brain foods are on the horizon.
Brain health is top of mind for many consumers who are interested in ingredients linked to improved cognitive function. Medium-chain triglycerides, or M.C.T.s, the fat found in coconut oil, have been shown to treat brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, said Elizabeth Moskow, creative culinary director of Sterling-Rice Group.
An estimated 900 new product launches in 2018 list M.C.T. as an ingredient, according to Innova Market Insights.
“We’re also seeing a lot of call-outs on the words ‘neuronutrition’ and ‘nootropics,’” Ms. Moskow said. “At the natural and organic level, a lot of products are claiming to benefit brain health. Products like C.B.D., adaptogenic herbs, mushrooms, ashwagandha, spearmint and chocolate are all now being pointed at as being good for your brain.”
Associated with a broad range of health and beauty benefits, collagen is being used in more food products — upwards of 3,000 new launches this year, according to Datassential. Expect more next year, Ms. Moskow said.
“People started out putting collagen topically on their faces years ago as an ingredient in many beauty products, and then people started injecting collagen,” she said. “Now, they’re actually imbibing collagen…. We think more of that is going to pop up in 2019.”
Seaweed and algae, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid also are emerging in products positioned for health and beauty.
Predicted to sprout in more products next year, Kernza is a perennial wheatgrass with deep roots that is shown to have a positive impact on soil health, carbon sequestration and water retention. Companies such as Patagonia Provisions, Ventura, Calif., are sourcing the grain for products such as craft beer and cereal.
“We’re calling it the darling of the organic regenerative farming movement,” Ms. Moskow said.
Another ingredient of interest is fonio, a nutty, nutritious grain grown in Africa that Ms. Moskow described as “the next quinoa.”
“Grains have been vilified over the past couple years, whether you’re on the paleo diet or the keto diet or ‘grain brain,’” she said. “There’s some research being done now… that cavemen really did eat grains in the form of some wild grasses.”
Consumers are experimenting with periodic fasting and meal replacement beverages to achieve optimal health and wellness. Brands such as Soylent and Ample cater to these “food avoiders” by providing precise daily nutrition in convenient ready-to-drink or just-add-water formats.
Followers of the ketogenic diet may skip breakfast in favor of a cup of coffee blended with butter, which is believed to produce lasting energy and a mental boost.
“What are restaurants and C.P.G. companies supposed to do when people are in intermittent fasting mode or looking for meal replacements?” Ms. Moskow said. “We’re starting to see some of the more tech-oriented companies who are catering to these 24/7 fast-moving techies who just want to get their macro- and micronutrients and they don’t care where it comes from. Just make it easy for them and inexpensive.”
Americans are embracing bitter flavors. Menu mentions of the term “bitter” are up 22% in the past four years and are projected to grow an additional 18.1% in the next four years, according to Datassential.
Craft cocktail bitters and aperitifs are raising the bar in beverages as consumer palates shift to shun sugar, Ms. Moskow said.
“Whether people are drinking hoppier I.P.A.s or experimenting with different forms of kale and brassicas and Brussels sprouts, all of those bitter tastes are ushering in further experimentation to bitter,” Ms. Moskow said.
The plant-based foods trend is pushing hearty vegetables to the center of the plate. Think cassava, Japanese yams, parsnips, jicama and even the classic white potato.
“Everybody is talking about plant-based and plant-forward cuisines, but sometimes what plant-based lacks, especially if you’re vegan, is that fullness and satiety,” Ms. Moskow said. “People are turning more toward root vegetables in that plant-based cuisine to get that belly fill as opposed to just making a plate of tender greens over some couscous.”
Butter has seen a resurgence in recent years, hitting an all-time high on U.S. restaurant menus at 64%, according to Datassential. The rise in high-fat, low-carb diets, plus the perceived naturalness of butter, has elevated the kitchen staple to a “miracle ingredient,” Ms. Moskow said.
“Anytime you give people permission to eat more of something that they thought was bad for them, it’s popular,” Ms. Moskow said. “So, we’re seeing butter pop up on menus as a flavor … for example, a brown butter-flavored donut, butter coffees, or high-end and even quick-service restaurants serving giant slabs of butter on top of burgers.”
The “great romaine lettuce scare of 2018” has chefs exploring alternative varieties, such as celtuce and hydroponically grown greens, Ms. Moskow said.
Lettuce also has moved out of the salad bowl and into bottled beverages, she noted.
“At (Natural Products) Expo West, I saw several (brands) juicing lettuce or kale or greens as the main component of a hydration beverage,” Ms. Moskow said.
Fermented foods and beverages are proving to offer much more than digestive health benefits. Consumers are discovering the rich, umami flavors of products such as tempeh and nutritional yeast. The latter is climbing on menus and in packaged snack products as a plant-based substitute for cheese seasoning.
“We’re seeing some experimentation in fine dining by using koji mold, which is a mold spore that typically ferments miso and soy sauce, and chefs are using that on meats to give it a more fermented taste,” Ms. Moskow said.
What’s next? Make way for marmite, a British food spread made from brewers’ yeast extract, and its Australian cousin, vegemite, Ms. Moskow said.
Restaurant operators and packaged food companies may respond to consumer trends much faster, thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence delivering real-time food and flavor trends.
“This is uncovering the trends as they’re happening so those restaurants and C.P.G. companies can action on them sooner and be more relevant, and also to help them tighten up their supply chain and save a lot of money,” Ms. Moskow said. “This is really changing the way restaurants and C.P.G. companies decide what products to put on their menu and shelf.”