It’s hard to be upbeat at the beginning of a new year in which the safest prediction on the food front is that prices will go up in the next 12 months – but even leaving aside the price of Roquefort after 29 March and, less flippantly, the shameful stats on food poverty, trend forecasts for 2019 are a bit of a downer: more of the same, just more expensive.
And more vegan, naturally – though I think once Greggs embraces something, it can fairly be said to have passed to the mainstream. There’ll be more zero-waste kitchens, more “ancient grains” and yet more of the ferments that have been touted as the next big thing for the past decade, though as my mum still hasn’t got a clue what kombucha is, I suspect they’ll remain a niche interest.
That said, vegan food is subject to its own trends. The delivery service Uber Eats claims that while searches for seitan – a meat substitute made from wheat gluten – and haem, the protein that allows even plant-based burgers to “bleed”, are rising on its app, the lower-technology likes of jackfruit, once promoted as the new pulled pork, are “predicted to fall out of flavour with many as the meat-free offering widens”.
In other words, plain old plants are (apparently) out of favour, even among vegans, unless they’re the nutrient-rich sea vegetables formerly known as weeds, or fashionably obscure things such as salsify, calamansi or lichen, which is, if National Geographic Traveller Food is to be believed, the new lettuce. Yes, that’s the same lichen that grows on rocks; such “previously forsaken greens are now cutting-edge… Noma used it in its early days, and last year, Michelin-starred Swedish chef Fredrik Berselius brought lichen to London during his residency at Lyle’s”.
Whether this composite organism (which, strictly speaking, isn’t a plant at all) will ever make it into a plant-based Greggs sausage roll is another matter.
Also unlikely to feature on the Greggs menu is CBD oil, a non-psychoactive cannabis extract described by one US cannabidiol start-up as “the new avocado toast… much bigger than kale, much bigger than quinoa, and much more fundamental”. According to Brighton’s Canna Kitchen, consumption of its zaa’tar roast cauliflower with CBD tahini cream and hemp and CBD chocolate brownies “may lead to a sense of relaxation, peace and well-being”, which is certainly not something I’ve ever got from quinoa.
More of a mood enhancer from my point of view is the news that carbohydrates are going to be making a comeback this year and that ice cream is “having a moment”: Waitrose claims in its Future Trends report that “the popular dessert is entering a new era of Insta-friendly indulgence”. I’m not quite sure what this means, but I’m hoping for more ice cream, more of the time.
The supermarket also reckons West African cuisine is set to be the next big thing – but jollof rice has competition from the east. BBC Good Food is backing Sri Lankan and Burmese cooking, while National Geographic puts its money on the Filipino flavours that “stormed the US last year” and whose “challenging, salty-sour notes – a metallic-tasting stew, dinuguan, and fermented seafood paste, bagoong, count as favourites – suits a foodie set obsessed with ever-more adventurous tastes”.
In fact sour and bitter are widely tipped as the defining flavours of 2019 more generally – though hopefully on the plate rather than in our politics. Happy New Year all!
This article appears in the 23 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s running Britain?