Every year comes with its own list of superfood trends, shining a light on ingredients that promise to pack a punch with their superior nutrient density. Last year was the time of tahini in just about anything, unicorn water (or boiled cabbage water), seaweed for snacking, poke bowls and more. And already in 2020, some produce is becoming increasingly popular on kitchen tables and supermarket shelves. Here's a look at the trends that promise to dominate the start of this new decade …
Avocados are here to stay
The world's obsession with avocados isn't new by a long shot. The fatty green fruit rose to internet stardom in about 2016, with social media only fanning the flames of its popularity. By 2017, the term 'avocado hand', or an injury that occurs when one is cutting or preparing the fruit, was created. Yet, despite the memes and jokes, avocado continues to hog the limelight.
Kirti Meghnani, head of procurement at Choithrams, says demand for avocados has been growing, also noting a rise in derivatives, such as avocado oil, for its mild flavour, health benefits and high smoke point.
Eat your (micro)greens
Microgreens are the harvested seedlings of vegetables and herbs, and are widely touted for their health benefits. Laura Weyel, a nutritionist in the UAE, says plants that have recently sprouted have a concentrated nutrient density.
"They're really good for you. They're also easy to grow at home or are easily available at organic stores," she says. Meghnani says she expects to see a surge in UAE markets. Cress, rocket and alfalfa are a few to consider.
The miracle mushroom
They've long been a staple in eastern medicine, but their popularity is now mushrooming here and in the West, too. Medicinal mushrooms are increasingly being considered as superfoods, and Emma Sawko, co-founder of organic restaurant Wild & The Moon, says reishi, in particular, will be the up-and-coming fungus of 2020.
"Research shows that it has benefits for heart health, fatigue, depression, blood sugar control and more. Bottom line, it may not grant you immortality, but there's a good chance it'll keep you going through 2020," she says. Research is also being conducted into the mental health benefits of consuming reishi mushrooms. They are available in powder form and capsules, and can be added to soups, smoothies and teas.
Colour yourself healthy
Instagram has been a dominant factor in what's trending for a few years now, and this holds even more weight in the world of superfoods. Food blogger Diana Zavzeatii of Busy Avocado has noticed an increase in ingredients that offer health benefits – as well as a riot of colour. "I'm seeing more and more of superfoods that, when blended with a base in smoothie bowls, turn into unusual colours," she says. "I am talking about blue spirulina, pitaya (dragon fruit) and butterfly pea powder. These look very photogenic because of the vibrant colours they lend the food." Spirulina is mild in flavour and full of essential minerals, including magnesium and calcium. Sawke explains: "With 70 per cent complete proteins, it is one of the richest sources of protein out there. It also contains carotenoids, vitamins, trace elements, antioxidants – it's a good addition to gym shakes while those New Year's resolutions last."
The tropical dragon fruit is known for its dietary fibre and bevy of vitamins and minerals. But now, freeze-dried pink pitaya powder is increasingly common in the UAE, not just because of its pretty rose hue, but also its detoxing properties. As with many superfoods, it's not cheap, though, as a 50g packet from Ripe Market will set you back Dh82.95.
Ingredients like matcha and turmeric are also known for their health benefits, and, luckily, they photograph well, too. "The turmeric trend has been around since 2018, but we expect to see more products launched using this superfood in 2020, especially in fresh cooking," Meghnani says.
Finally, in 2020 we will also see more of chlorella, a single-cell algae that is praised for being a powerful detoxifier. "We definitely expect to see more shades of green chlorella on Instagram smoothie posts in 2020," says Sawko.
Last year, kombucha, a fermented, effervescent tea drink, hit shelves in the UAE. It's believed to have originated from China and Japan and is thought to have numerous benefits, such as improving gut health and immunity and fighting inflammation.
Saba Kombucha, "born and brewed in Dubai", is now available at some Spinneys and Waitrose supermarkets, while restaurants such as Lowe offer its own home-brewed kombucha on tap. As more restaurants experiment with the drink, its accessibility is bound to make it more popular, Zavzeatii says. "Fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh and kombucha are already popular in many countries for their ability to improve digestion and keep a healthy gut. I believe their popularity will only grow this year."
It’s been a few years since people started looking out for alternative flours for baking, especially in the case of gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. “Buckwheat is a popular alternative,” says Zavzeatii. “It has been embraced by many health-conscious people in the UAE and I see more and more recipes with it.”
Oat flour and almond flour are also commonly used in the region. But 2020 may herald the rise of some unexpected varieties. "Many items are now being made by replacing regular flour with pea or lentil flour," says Meghnani. "This trend is expected to grow."
A word of warning …
At the end of the day, it's important to keep in mind that the "superfood" label can be overused. "'Superfoods' may just be a marketing term," Sawko says. "Some of these items have been highly praised in traditional circles – it's the West that's only just discovering them."
Nutritionist Weyel says that while some foods are healthier than others, she doesn't recommend "superfoods" in powdered form to her clients. "While these ingredients may actually offer a host of health benefits, the form that we end up receiving has been powdered, freeze-dried and robbed of nutritional value." Instead, she advises her clients to eat locally sourced and organic food as much as possible.
Sawko agrees. “We need to steer away from highly standardised diets imposed by the latest trends and instead aim to keep the food on our plates as diverse, organic and wild as possible. It’s also important to preserve our regions’ traditions and ways of cooking and fermenting. Our food cultures come with their own natural spices and herbs – those are the original superfoods.”