Thousands of food lovers are experiencing a taste of things to come at a major culinary event this week.
Gulfood, which is being held at Dubai's World Trade Centre, is the prime spot to discover food trends which are set to be far more than just the latest flavour of the month.
From a move towards fine dining at home to diets that nourish the mind as well as the body, The National went in search of the leading innovations being cooked up for a post-pandemic world.
Dr James Wilson, from market research company Mintel, said people will want to feed their minds, not just their stomachs, in a shift towards a more considered way of eating.
“We predict that innovative food and drink formulations will help people learn how diet can impact mental and emotional health," said Dr Wilson.
"This will lead to new interest in psychology-based approaches to healthy eating."
Instead of just ripping open a packet during a grab-and-go lunch, food and drink brands will aim to soothe your stress by adding rituals to your mealtimes.
Consumers will be encouraged to pause in their day and take time to breathe; to meditate while their green tea brews, or to eat silently and contemplate the texture and taste of each mouthful.
Not the most natural portmanteau, this trend describes how food became entertainment during those long periods of lockdown and quarantine.
Dr Wilson said this is a trend that is set to stay, as consumers look for “approachable upscale meals to create at home”.
UAE residents may find themselves ahead of this curve, as fine dining restaurants started offering takeaway options as early as March 2020.
Going forward, this mode of eating is likely to influence prep-lite ready-made meals said Tom Harvey, general manager of commercial for the supermarket Spinneys.
“People are not eating out as much as they were, so they are looking for premium solutions for enjoying food at home.
"It might be buying the best you can afford - choosing Angus beef over normal beef.
“Or it’s having convenient solutions to make more of a restaurant-style meal at home.
“A lot of our product development is geared towards meeting those needs.”
Consumers are also becoming more adventurous, said Mr Harvey.
"They are extending their repertoire of cuisines.
"People are not flying abroad so they are travelling on their plates as a substitute.
"I expect to see strong growth in Mexican and Korean cuisine."
Immunity boosting nutrition
Many of the food developers exhibiting at Gulfood described how consumers are seeking out products to boost their immune systems. So stand by for a barrage of publicity about superfoods.
The National spotted monk fruit chocolate powder from Costa Rica, which boasts a healing antioxidant ingredient called magroside, while Active+ introduced their Vitamin C 1000mg drink which provides a massive dose of the supplement in a Pepsi-style can.
Organic fruit shots were advertised on dozens of stands, many extolling the health benefits of ginger root and turmeric.
Priobiotic and plant-based foods also dominated, with many exhibitors extolling the virtues of eating clean.
Whole grains are no longer the pinnacle of healthy eating, with the humble chickpea taking centre stage. But food developers have moved on from hummus, instead products like chickpea tofu, chickpea flour and even chickpea cereal are set to appear on your shopping list in the future.
Mr Harvey said choosing an organic or plant-based diet is no longer a fad.
"This style of eating will become a bigger part of your life, whether you're a die-hard vegan or a flexitarian who occasionally eat meat," he said.
Remember when food had to be fair trade? The new buzzwords are sustainability, traceability and transparency.
In the near future, it will not be enough for a chef to know the lamb he is serving is organic, they will want to be able to track its journey from field to plate, predicted Ron Hicks, the chief executive and founder of HerdX, and one of the speakers on the Gulfood Innovation Stage.
The American agri-tech inventor cited an IBM study of more than 18,000 participants in 28 countries, including the UAE, where nearly 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that sustainability is important for them.
He said this trend will help to save the world, and blockchain will be used to improve the transparency of food sourcing,
"Chefs have started to say 'I want my ingredients to be raised a certain way, I want to know that the animal was treated in a humane way,'" he said.
"Is there a crop rotation, how is the soil being treated, are there pesticides on there, how much antibiotic load is in the livestock?
"Next you'll start to see the spin-down into restaurants and grocers and consumers. It's coming soon. Sustainability is the future."