Last year the world shone a limelight onto healthy eating, where fine indulgences gave way to simple, flexible and mindful dining. Eating was no longer about splashing ingredients but an expression of attitudes.

Consumers, particularly millennials, have prioritised health and practicality, pushing traditional or retro-inspired recipes to the forefront. Healthy eating has been revolutionary in blurring the lines of art and science, and enmeshing the essence of time and nature into a holistic blend.

Here, conflicting impulses that have defined mainstream hits of the year are explored, especially the once simple and unnoticed, that have gained sudden impetus on the scales of modern living.

1. Seaweed – The promise of plant power

Seaweed that was only previously known to play a part in sushi rolls, has gained tremendous popularity on the health scale.
Seaweed that was only previously known to play a part in sushi rolls, has gained tremendous popularity on the health scale.

With the trend gearing towards sustainable food and more natural and flexible diets, consumers have driven a resurgence in plant-focused formulations. Throughout the year, supermarkets have been stacked with seaweed sheets, which proponents of green eating promoted as healthy snacks. Even seaweed seasoning – with its claims of less sodium than salt – has earned top place in health shops.

Media and celebrities fuelled the appetite for this marine plant, which has been eaten since ancient times and used as a seasoning or thickening agent. The acclaimed goodness of its nutrients – antioxidants, calcium and vitamins -- gave rise to more packaged products and recipes that leveraged the plant power. From savoury salads to tantalising pasta and desserts, seaweed somehow aligned with consumers’ health and wellness priorities.

Baum + Whiteman, a leading international restaurant and hotel consultancy, identified seaweed as a trend in its recent report on food trends. The report stated, “One reason for the rise of various seaweeds is the ramen explosion all across the country, where seaweed is the foundation of many broths. Another reason is seaweed packs a wallop of umami and chefs are sneaking it into finishing salts and oils, in fish sauce, incorporated into pasta.”

2. Matcha the superpowder

Matcha is also known for its weight-reducing and anti-cancer properties.
Matcha is also known for its weight-reducing and anti-cancer properties.

With the demands of modern life, consumers have been quick to espouse the benefits of functional drinks. Falling asleep has never been harder than now, and people were desperate for any promise of a calming elixir to soothe their cares and woes. Over the years, products like chamomile, lavender and other herbs have been helpful – apart from the good old hot chocolate drink. But even then, those are not enough for a good night’s sleep.

With a quiet but growing obsession for green products, people looked to the Far East for quick antidotes, and so matcha, a fine green tea powder, started to storm the social media scene, with consumers amplifying its calming effects. Traditionally used by Buddhist monks in Japan to stay calm and alert during meditation, the tea was widely promoted as having 10 times the antioxidants of regular green tea.

Apart from that, match also detoxifies effectively and naturally, enhances mood and aids in concentration, as well as provides essential vitamins and minerals – such as vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium.

The year 2017 crowned this green powder as the superfood ingredient for healthy desserts and ice cream. Matcha brownies and patisserie, along with French toast topped with matcha ice-cream were hot favourites.

3. Achieving balance through “Buddha bowls”

Most buddha bowls are vegetarian, maybe even vegan, but meat is also allowed.
Most buddha bowls are vegetarian, maybe even vegan, but meat is also allowed.

Buddha bowls replaced our Anglo-Asian plates and have become regular food trends featured all over social media. Also known as macro bowls, the colourful assortment of raw or roasted vegetables – artfully served on a bed of whole grains (chickpea or brown rice) and seasoned with sauce, with a sprinkling of chopped herbs, nuts and seeds for added texture – have created a strong social media presence.

Said to be packed with protein, fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants, each buddha bowl can be highly customisable and requires zero culinary superpowers. It encourages balancing the different types of food, and not overindulging in any one type. Balancing, after all, is an essential part of spirituality in Buddhism.

“It’s a nourishing meal that’s just little bites of everything,” said Lein, a consumer who has been eating vegan for just over two years, “The more varied the colour in the food that you eat, the more nutrients you’re getting.”

4. Taste the purple

Anthocyanins are found in high concentrations in many purple-coloured foods including aubergine (in the skin) and red cabbage.
Anthocyanins are found in high concentrations in many purple-coloured foods including aubergine (in the skin) and red cabbage.

Green was not the only colour on the food palette to pursue a healthier lifestyle. There was a fascination with all things purple on the plate and consequently, the world saw the purple hue descending on cauliflower, potatoes, corn, asparagus and other veggies in the supermarkets.

Even in winter vegetables, the violet hue was visibly splashed all over the menu. With so much staying power, the future of food seems to be heading towards the royal hue that has dominated the food rainbow for the entire year.

Colours of fruits and veggies indicate the type of nutrients they possess. For purple-coloured foods, they contain a certain antioxidant called anthocyanin. Ongoing studies suggest anthocyanins are related to increased longevity, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention and dementia.

According to food experts, purple kale, purple carrots, purple cauliflower, purple broccoli and purple potatoes also have amazing properties to fight diseases and soothe inflammation.

5. Coconut oil – a miraculous elixir?

Coconut oil is deemed as a superfood with a powerhouse of uses.
Coconut oil is deemed as a superfood with a powerhouse of uses.

A survey of supermarket stores throughout the past months showed that coconuts have reached a new level of popularity in 2017. Its proponents are mostly millennials who are quick to imitate the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston have claimed that coconut products can be therapeutic. Many food enthusiasts too have hailed the healing power of coconut water and coconut oil – though public health bodies are doubtful.

Deemed as a superfood with a powerhouse of uses in cooking, beauty recipes, natural remedies and around the home, it is believed that coconut oil provides a mental boost, hormone and immune support, as well as a great source of healthy fats.

Moises Mehl, a raw food chef of Nood food, says, “The great benefits of coconut water are now almost common knowledge. It is super hydrating, natural and extremely delicious. However, not nearly as many people know about the benefits of coconut by-products.”

Now, thanks to coconut ice cream, smoothies, sugar and flour, the superfood has gained traction in 2017.

So, there seemed like an explosion of colours throughout the year. Will these foods retain its power as we move forward, or would we abandon sipping coconut water and matcha for more munching on flowers, mushrooms, powders and bubbles? MIMS

Read more:
Cold-pressed juices and superfoods: “A – Z” in a nutshell
Poring over coconut oil and selecting diet plans – a dietitian intervention
Food as medicine: Can proper nutrition alone heal our body?

Sources:
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/article/behind-trend-seaweed
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/article/behind-trends-matcha
http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-beauty/article/2058158/eight-hottest-health-foods-trends-2017-seaweed-pasta-and
https://www.superfoodly.com/top-10-superfoods-raw-and-vegan/
https://www.forbes.com/sites/payout/2017/09/29/five-food-trends-that-are-actually-good-for-you/#4e536c666b57
https://www.bonappetit.com/story/what-is-buddha-bowl
http://matchasource.com/health-benefits-of-matcha-tea/
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-are-anthocyanins-and-why-are-purple-foods-so-healthy
https://wellnessmama.com/5734/coconut-oil/