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We’re taking a look at the culinary trends sure to shape what’s coming down the line in 2019. From food halls to plant-based comfort food, functional mushrooms and more, we’ve looked into our crystal ball (and, okay, analyzed market research for hours) to bring you our predictions for 2019. 

1. Magic Mushrooms   

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In case you haven’t noticed, mushrooms are everywhere: in powders and capsules; in coffee and smoothies; in burgers, tacos, sauces and much more. Is it any surprise? Mushrooms are at the nexus of some of the 21st century’s biggest culinary trends, including sustainability and functional foods, or foods that potentially have a positive effect on health beyond providing basic nutrition.  

At a time when concerns about the effects of meat consumption on health and the environment are reaching a tipping point, mushrooms offer an eco-friendly, umami-rich substitute to meat. Mushroom powders can also be used to infuse foods with savory umami flavor without increasing salt content. In recent years, major culinary organizations like the James Beard Foundation have embraced the trend by creating a program that challenges chefs around the country to develop the best “blended burger” using a mix of chopped mushrooms and ground meat. Just this year, Ecovative, a startup known for building sustainable packing materials made from mushrooms announced plans to start producing lab-grown meat using mycelium (mushroom roots.)   

Once thought to be devoid of nutritional value, we now know that mushrooms provide a wealth of nutrients including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, but are just now beginning to be used therapeutically in the United States. Medicinal mushroom entrepreneur Tero Isokauppila’s book Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health became a bestseller after being featured on GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website. According to Grand View Research, the mushroom market is expected to exceed $50 billion in the next five years, with the market for medicinal mushroom extracts expected to grow 6.3%

2. Meaty Meat Alternatives

There was a time when the word ‘vegan’ conjured images of mushy, tasteless meat substitutes and angry protesters throwing buckets of paint on fur-clad runway models. That time was, well, any time before 2010. But in 2018, vegan is no longer trendy—it’s the norm. McDonald’s, White Castle, Shake Shack, Umami Burger, Domino’s and Pizza Hut all offer vegan or vegetarian versions of their classics. Meanwhile, fast-casual vegan chains like Veggie Grill and By Chloe are rapidly expanding. 

In 2019, plant-based alternatives to traditional fast foods will have the continued effect of drawing in curious consumers who just a few years ago may not have dreamed of eating vegan. The result is plant-based food that’s as decadent, delicious, and, well, meaty as anything carnivores could dream up. Adding to the growing list of plant-based comfort foods are vegan jerkies, “pork” rinds, and bacon chips made from ingredients like mushrooms, soy, and yuca.

According to a report by FAIRR, the market for alternative proteins is set to rise to $5.2 billion by 2020. While the number of vegans in the United States increased from 1% in 2014 to 6% in 2017, the demand for plant-based foods is mostly attributed to curious omnivores and ‘flexitarians’ whose diet consists mainly of plant-based foods but does not eliminate meat entirely. To this point, a 2015 study by JWT Intelligence found that 74% of US and UK Millennials would be willing to change their diet to reduce their impact on the planet.   

3. New Textures

Although it gets less attention than taste and smell, texture is an important part of the way we experience food. There’s even a science dedicated to it—food rheology is the study of the physics of food, or food’s consistency and flow under specific conditions. Why do we prefer crisp, crunchy apples to mealy ones when the flavor of the fruit is the same? The answer has to do with our perception of a food’s rheology—what food scientists called psychorheology. While we all have different preferences when it comes to texture, there seem to be a few things most of us agree on. We like crispy and foods almost universally— potato chips and other crunchy snacks are popular for a reason. Today’s food scientists are hard at work to meet the current demand for healthy foods that are just as tasty (and lucrative) as traditional snacks. The result? The current craze for popped grains of all types, crunchy roasted chickpeas, chips made from pulses and legumes, freeze-dried fruit, and other better-for-you snack foods. 

Dual-texture foods will also be popular in 2019, particularly in the dessert category. Caramel waffle cookies, cookie cups, macaron ice-cream sandwiches, creatively-filled donuts and stretchy ice cream are just a few examples of trending multi-textured foods.

4. Street Food Nation   

Food trucks have become hugely popular in the last decade, thanks to the rise of social media and a recession that limited access to traditional restaurant setups. Way beyond the hot dog stands of years past, today’s street food gives consumers a chance to enjoy high-end foods in a casual setting and at an affordable price point. Even so, regulations in cities like Chicago and New York have limited the ability of food trucks to reach a broader base. As a result, street food is moving inside—to the food hall.   

According to Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate services firm, between 2015 and 2017 the food hall market increased by nearly 70%. By 2020, the U.S. marketplace will have 300 food halls, up from 70 currently. Part farmer’s market, part food court, today’s food halls emphasize affordability, stripped-down authenticity and the use of local ingredients to create gourmet snacks, meals, and desserts.  With a full quarter of U.S. shopping malls expected to close within five years, food halls represent an opportunity for city councils and developers to breathe new life into empty suburban spaces: as an example, mall real estate company GGP recently introduced a pop-up food hall concept in suburban Illinois’ Northbrook Court mall called FOMO (fear of missing out,) that rotates restaurants.  

5. Regional Flavors

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As well-traveled, social media savvy millennials continue to seek culinary experiences, regional specialties will continue to rise in popularity. From richly spiced Middle Eastern dishes like labneh with zahtar and Ethiopian doro wat to Nashville hot chicken, specialized restaurant menus and retail products will reflect a demand for authentic culinary experiences. Fueling the trend too are Generation Z, who are set to eclipse millennials in terms of buying power in coming years. As the best educated, most ethnically diverse generation yet, they have been exposed to a wide array of global foods from a young age, and are notable for “having the highest food IQ compared to past generations,” according to a recent study by Tyson.

So what are the flavors consumers can expect to see in 2019 and beyond? West and North African cuisines will be more accessible than ever as specialty spice blends like harissa and berbere go mainstream. Similarly, Middle Eastern dishes spiced with blends like baharat will make the jump from restaurant menus to kitchen tables across the country. The cuisines of South America, once little known to most Americans, are also experiencing a surge in interest thanks in part to the popularity of spicy foods. Aji amarillo chile peppers, a key ingredient the ubiquitous Peruvian spice blend merkén, are finding their way into a wide range of products, from snack foods to sauces, seasonings, and more.

6. Simplicity

An emphasis on simplicity will also be evident on food labels as consumers continue to seek minimally processed foods free from additives and artificial ingredients. A global study by Nielson found that 75% of respondents around the world “strongly agree” that they’re concerned about the impact of artificial ingredients on long-term health, while nearly 70% agree that foods without artificial ingredients are always healthier. Health conscious millennials make up 52% of the organic food market, with ethically minded Gen Z right on their heels. As those groups continue to age and have families of their own, organic and clean-label will continue to rise in popularity, as will the tendency to cook blended meals at home using a fusion of prepared and raw ingredients.

As part of a recent panel at The Next Big Bite, Molly Yeh (cookbook author and host of Food Network’s "Girl Meets Farm") said, “We’re recovering from an age of too much-ery,” citing the rainbow bagels and charcoal ice cream popular in recent years thanks to Instagram. Hall predicted that better availability of simple, nutritious ingredients online would change the way people cook in coming years, adding “sorghum, millet, and other grains we couldn’t get five years ago are making it easier to cook soul food.”

7. Sustainability & Transparency  

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Though we may not want to admit it, most of the decisions we make—including what we buy—are influenced by our emotions. In fact, many of us intentionally seek out brands whose values we perceive as lining up with our own. Our purchases don’t just affirm our beliefs—they tell others about us too. In an age when consumers are increasingly distrustful of institutions, “voting” for social causes through buying power is more empowering than ever. So what values are consumers looking for in retail brands?

In 2018, sustainability isn’t just a trend—more and more American consumers feel that it’s a moral obligation. A 2015 Nielsen survey found that three out of every four millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable product offerings. The same study showed that consumers across all income levels are willing to pay more for products from companies dedicating to creating a positive social and environmental impact. Compostable, biodegradable and fully recyclable packaging will be key in 2019, as will other creative alternatives to minimalizing traditional packaging. Sustainably sourced meat, fish, and produce will also continue to be popular as consumers take a more active role in reducing waste through nose-to-tail (or root-to-stalk) cooking and at home composting.

Consumers will also place increasing pressure on manufacturers to offer complete transparency about where and how foods are sourced and processed after a record-breaking year for foodborne illness outbreaks. In one interpretation of this trend, minimalistic and transparent packaging (ideally made from recyclable materials) will be popular in 2018. According to a report from Mintel, 30% of consumers report that they judge freshness by looking at the product itself rather than the Use By Date. Technology will also play a greater role in empowering consumers to learn exactly where their food comes from. Scannable smart labels allow consumers to access more information than could ever fit on a traditional label, connecting them to, say, the farmer responsible for growing the product they hold in their hands. Eco-friendly certifications, like USDA Organic, also enhance transparency, creating all-important consumer loyalty. A report from Label Insight recently found that 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.