In my travels, I’m always on the lookout for the local cuisine’s specialty, with a preference for local ingredients that are also in season. Food tells the story of the local culture – where the elements came from, how the flavors created the unspoken narrative about the people and their values, and how the local communities identify with what they eat. I take home with me the taste of the ocean that is in Spanish seafood paella in squid ink, the earthy smell of the freshly-boiled Turkish coffee, and the creamy colors of vibrant gold, orange, red, and green of the Indian sweet potato curry.
Food doesn’t have to be unimaginative and the same old leftovers from yesteryears. Food and how, where, and when we prepare and enjoy it constantly evolve and innovate along with our ever-changing lifestyles, tastes, and desires. We see the food trends in 2021 take an evolutionary leap. Capitalizing on technology and digital market platforms, grocery shopping is made easier through delivery and curbside assistance. Chef-inspired cooking is accessible now through Zoom and Master Classes, making restaurant-quality meals served readily at home. Post-pandemic lifestyle changes are ushering in innovative food solutions to newly-discovered dietary needs.
In this post, I’ll bring the food trends in 2021 that you should be following now. They are generally available in your local groceries and favorite online shops, so why not have a taste to experience a new generation of foods that offer nutrition, health and wellness, and satiety. I suspect that they’ll baseline what we expect to see in 2022 as well.
This article features products that our editorial staff has carefully and independently selected. We only recommend products and services that align with our brand, philosophy, and mission. If you make a purchase using the affiliate links included in this article, we may earn commission at no extra cost to you.
1. Chef-inspired meals made at home
A simple Google search on this term resulted in a whopping 97.5M results. There is no doubt that we are into cooking at home, but in a much-elevated way exploring new flavors and cooking techniques befitting a chef. We are known for our barbecues in Texas, so my personal favorite is Aaron Franklin’s Master Class “Texas-Style BBQ“. The flavors are bold, meats cooked to perfection, and each bite luscious and tender. I’m a big Gordon Ramsay fan and have tasted his food at his Michelin-starred restaurants in London and Las Vegas. Through his Master Class “Restaurant Recipes at Home“, he’s transforming home cooks into our own “Master Home Chefs”. The virtual classes are easy to follow and create the proper habits to prep, plate, and pair recipes that elevate everyday ingredients to a dining experience.
2. Functional food
Staying healthy and strengthening our immune system has become a top priority as a first-line defense against COVID. Brands are in a gold rush to bring functional ingredients into their snacks, drinks, and even skincare, as functional foods continue to gain popularity within health and wellness communities. Also known as “nutraceuticals”, functional foods promise to deliver health benefits above and beyond their nutritional value. These health benefits are touted to prevent or treat diseases and improve health baselines to exceptional levels. Whole foods with superlative natural nutrients are used to fortify everyday foods, making these nutrients accessible in a format that we typically enjoy. I go nuts when it comes to functional food. I love innovative, designer foods that contain lots of healthy plant-based ingredients.
My go-to drink is Rebbl because there is simply nothing I don’t love about this company. Their story is something I can fully identify with, coming from a Southeast Asian background. Rebbl is with a cause whose mission is to “identify an innovative solution to uplift vulnerable communities around the world”. They donate 2.5% of net sales to Not For Sale, a global organization fighting modern slavery in the form of human trafficking and exploitation. As a die-hard chocolate lover, I love their Dark Chocolate Plant Protein Immunity Elixir, a plant-based drink upgraded with functional ingredients such as ashwagandha, maca root, and reishi extracts combined with 16g of high-quality plant-based protein and cocoa. Ashwagandha, the king of Ayurvedic herbs, may reduce cortisol, insomnia, fatigue, and symptoms of depression. Maca is a nutritional powerhouse known for its mood-enhancing effects and may also help protect skin from UV radiation, boost energy, protect against hair loss, and remedy sexual dysfunction. Reishi mushroom shows some scientific evidence of its effectiveness in enhancing the immunity system, improving sleep, and reducing fatigue. While this drink tastes so good, the functional ingredients used a standard chocolate beverage as a vehicle to deliver more nutrition that otherwise would not have been easily consumed.
3. Korean heritage food
Anything Korean is well poised to become a worldwide phenomenon. Koreans are dominating the pop scene (K-Pop), movies and TV series (K-drama/K-movies/K-series), beauty and skincare (K-beauty – have you seen their glassy faces and dewy, line-less skin), and food scene. I was not an early adopter of the Korean culture, although my sister, nieces, and Filipino friends were certified K-fans. Later I got pulled in to join the K-bandwagon and must confess my closet love for anything Korean. I binge-watch K-series on Netflix (link to my other article about why K is in) – there, I said it! When it comes to food, who would not drool over bulgogi (think slices of marinated beef and grilled on a barbecue), bibimbap (rice dish equivalent to the Asian fried rice or Indian biryani), kimchi (salted and fermented cabbage with lots of seasonings and spices), and gochujang (savory, sweet and spice fermented condiment that is anointed as the new sriracha and harissa). Not to forget – soju drink. Every K-series I have seen featured at least one or two scenes of the leading actors discussing business matters, crying from unrequited love or loss of a loved one, or celebrating an occasion over soju drink. According to Drinks International, soju is the world’s top-selling liquor by volume. I have yet to taste one, but I’m packing a bottle or two the next time I visit the local Ranch 99 supermarket.
4. Cultured & 3-D printed food
So, “how do you like your eggs, dear?” “Plant-based, honey!” A San Francisco-based company, Eat Just, is doing precisely that. They are innovating the way we eat eggs, sans sunny-side-up though. They have figured out how to re-engineer the production of “eggs” without using chicken and its real eggs. Their labs incorporate mung beans as the protein source, and turmeric for the perfect egg color. And the rest is science incubated (no pun intended) in the lab. Now, how about – “honey, what’s for dinner?” “wait, I’m printing it, dear!” What? Yes, you heard it right. 3D-printed steaks and chicken are no longer a thing of the future. The future has arrived. The technology, in simple terms, is called bioprinting, which involves injecting lab-grown animal cells or vegetable matter into a magnetic 3D printer to replicate and produce the meat in various shapes. Japan’s Osaka University has recently replicated a wagyu beef using tendon-gel integrated bioprinting. Because its origin comes from animal stem cells, it is a differentiated offering to those plant-based “meats” created by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
5. Lifestyle food
Brands will continue to capitalize on the trending lifestyle obsessions at the moment. The top lifestyle food trends in 2021 include Mediterranean, keto, plant-based, and flexitarian. The Mediterranean eating pattern is drawn from the lifestyles and cuisine surrounding the Mediterranean sea, as popularized by Greece, Italy, and Spain. It is characterized by whole foods, vegetables and fruits in abundance, fish in moderation, and minimal wine, meat, and dairy. Keto foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, wines, supplements, bread, subscription boxes, and meal kits are some ways that you could procure keto in the modern market. Hello Fresh, through its newly acquired Green Chef, offers keto meal kits. In terms of subscription boxes, the ones to try are The Keto Box and Keto Krate. They provide a monthly variety of keto-curated goodness that tastes good and takes the macronutrient calculation out of the way. Then there’s the plant-based and sustainable food category that continues to strengthen its momentum as consumers begin to realize the role of nutrition and diets on their health and the environment. Hello Fresh is also offering vegetarian meal kits with plant-based recipes. Pure plant-based meal delivery kit Purple Carrot is on a mission to bring good food for your personal and planetary health. For those who are not ready to commit to an entirely plant-based diet, there is a flexitarian lifestyle food trend that is centered on being “flexible vegetarian”, a part-time plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meats. Whichever one you pick, the common theme of these lifestyle food trends is improving health and weight profiles through increased consumption of whole foods, getting the right balance of macronutrients for protection and immunity, and preserving the environment through sustainable and earth-friendly manufacturing and distribution processes.
Artificial intelligence is taking a central role in shaping the future of food using data and analytics. Tastewise, a company founded by a former Google executive, Alon Chen, is a Tel-Aviv-based startup with a platform that harnesses the power of AI, predictive analytics, computer vision and natural language processing to scan billions of data and images found on social media, menus from top restaurants and home recipes. Their algorithm could predict food trends and particular foods that could become popular in the future. They are also helping food brands generate the right messaging, product or recipe naming, branding, and packaging to one that resonates with the brand’s target customers.
One of their partnerships was with Freshly. I’ve been using Freshly for five years now, on and off. I love the convenience, price, taste, portion, quality, and freshness of their meals. However, after some time, I got tired of eating the same food over and over again. In the past years, the lack of variety and imagination, not to mention innovation, held me back from continuing my subscription. Freshly is set out to change that by offering meals that are desired by their customers and using food intelligence from TasteWise to drive go-to-market 10x faster. According to Rachel Waynberg, Meal Innovation at Freshly, “what used to take 3 days of painstaking research takes 3 hours of data-driven analysis.” Given their access to TasteWise insight, Freshly is able to do research on what restaurants are putting into their menus and what home cooks are cooking at home. If Freshly is able to jump in and offer exactly what is popular, trending and resonating with their target customers, they might have just found the perfect recipe (no pun intended) to their meal success.
The future of food is intelligent & tasty
I’m thrilled for the future of food and am wondering what we might be cooking next! The food trends will continue to be powered by technology and science and guided by our palate and stomach. Who knows – artificial intelligence might just be able to invent a new kind of food that has no strings attached: super nutritious, incredibly delicious, and yet doesn’t cause any weight gain no matter how much you eat!