Each new year brings with it exciting new food trends. 2018 is no different, and it's on track to be one of the biggest years yet for exotic, health-conscious ingredients. From colorful South American berries to ingenious allergy-friendly flours to previously-underappreciated root vegetables, these 10 food ingredients to watch in 2018 are poised to take center stage.
It's long been a spice rack staple, but there's a whole other dimension to turmeric that's about to propel it into the spotlight. As more brands make the switch to natural food coloring, turmeric is appearing on an ever-increasing number of ingredient lists. Its deep, vibrant yellow color lends itself perfectly to a wide variety of products and cuisines.
On top of its use as a food dye, turmeric has a litany of health benefits thanks to curcumin, a major component of the spice. With anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it's one of the most versatile ingredients to be designated as a "superfood". Some early studies even suggest that it may help fight cancerous tumors.
The "Nutritional Facts" label consumers know so well is getting a new addition: choline. Though nutritionists and medical researchers have known about the benefits of this macronutrient for years, it is predicted that 2018 will bring about a a new emphasis on the choline content of their products.
Found in a variety of foods ranging from beef, chicken and fish to broccoli and toasted wheat germ, choline is vital to liver health, eye health, metabolic function and brain development. With such a wide range of sources, and with such critical health benefits, choline is sure to have its biggest year yet in 2018.
It seems as though each year, a new mushroom takes the food industry by storm. Past years have seen the likes of shiitakes, reishi and truffles have their time to shine. This year, the honor goes to the chaga mushroom. Though it's been used as a nutritional supplement and herbal medicine for thousands of years, chaga's culinary applications are now being explored more fully, and the unassuming fungus has a big year ahead of it.
Chaga mushrooms are high in fiber and low in calories - five grams of chaga provide five grams of dietary fiber in just five calories. Rich in antioxidants and B-vitamins, it's often ground and made into a tea. 2018 will see a surge in ready-to-drink beverages centered around chaga and its anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting properties.
Touted as a more sustainable alternative to wheatgrass, kernza is getting its chance to shine in 2018 thanks to a vote of confidence from a large U.S. based food company, which is expected to debut new kernza-based products this year. Slightly sweet and with a touch of nuttiness, kernza provides a similar nutritional profile to wheat and can be easily substituted for it in a wide variety of products.
The main benefit of kernza is due to highly drought-resistant roots that grow up to 10 feet deep. Because it's a perennial crop, kernza doesn't need to be replanted after harvesting, reducing time, labor and fuel requirements for farmers. With sustainability on the minds of consumers and companies alike, kernza could become the next big grain.
Beets aren't exactly unheard of, but the impending 2018 beet boom will demonstrate just how underappreciated they've been. Similar to turmeric, beets are a natural source of edible color - in this case, reddish-purple - and are already appearing on the ingredient lists of everything from cereals to ice creams for their vibrant visual properties.
But it's not just their color that's bringing beets their newfound fame. With high levels of iron, fiber, magnesium and folate, beets stimulate cardiovascular and neurological health. Athletes cite beetroot as a natural stamina booster and performance enhancer. From smoothies to sauces to stir-fries, grocery stores and restaurants will be filled with beets in 2018.
Unconventional food colors will continue to prosper in 2018. Some have hypothesized that this year, charcoal blacks and pastel pinks and purples give way to bright blue. The primary source of this color is blue algae, also known as spirulina.
Though it's already common as a nutritional supplement in capsule form, powdered blue algae is making a big splash as a natural way to achieve unnatural-looking food coloration. Juices and smoothies dyed with blue algae are already on the market, but the trend won't end there: baked goods, coffee-shop drinks and frozen desserts are sure to get the spirulina treatment this year.
The hemp plant is valued for the fiber it produces, but in 2018 it's believed that hemp seeds will make a big impact. Boasting a full array of amino acids and with comparable protein content to soy, hemp seeds are the next big craze in the world of healthy, natural foods. They're hypoallergenic and one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are typically found in fish.
Hemp seeds are often used in smoothies, shakes and energy bars. They are also commonly available in oil form for cooking and baking.
Native to the South, Central and Latin Americas, acerola looks like a hybrid between a cherry and a bell pepper, though it's related to neither. It's a nutricious berry, rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and various antioxidants.
Acerola may enter the global spotlight in 2018 thanks to its versatility. It can be used like any other berry to make juice, jam and candy, or eaten raw. In powder form, it can be used as a preservative for meat and poultry.
Green Banana Flour
Unripe bananas may not seem like the next big superfood, but when they're turned into a flour, their benefits become apparent. Extremely high in resistant starch - starch that isn't digested but still causes a "full" feeling - and inherently gluten-free, green banana flour is poised to take off in 2018.
Rich in potassium and magnesium and with no residual banana scent or flavor, green banana flour has excellent binding qualities for use in baked goods. It's also beneficial for gut health thanks to its high levels of probiotic fiber.
Coffee has long been valued for its beans, but in 2018 a different part of the plant will be appreciated: the coffee fruit. The pulp that surrounds the coffee bean is typically discarded in coffee production, but it's now being recognized for its extremely high antioxidant content and used in teas, candies, energy drinks and even alcoholic beverages.
In addition to its health benefits, the coffee fruit's new lease on life will have positive environmental effects as well: rather than being thrown out, the fruit will be turned into usable products, reducing waste from coffee production.