The Future of Food
From alcohol-free cocktails to fermentation, Square Meal Editor Ben McCormack predicts the hottest food trends of 2019.
By Ben McCormack
‘Has the poké trend peaked?’ So questioned the American site Eater.com after a slew of recent closures across the Unites States left the hottest food fad of 2016 smelling decidedly fishy. So which trends should you be stocking up on for 2019? Ben McCormack gazes into his crystal ball to report on what – and where – you should be eating in the year ahead.
Trust your gut instinct
When a restaurant has won the title of World’s Best Restaurant no less than four times, it’s worth paying attention to what its chef has to say about the future of food. So make sure that René Redzepi’s recently published The Noma Guide to Fermentation is on your Amazon wish list. Every dish at the Copenhagen restaurant contains some sort of fermentation and now, thanks to Redzepi, all of us can make our own kimchee or brew our own kombucha.
But don’t just take Redzepi’s word on the benefits of fermentation. Everyone from three Michelin-starred British chef Heston Blumenthal to Carla Oates, author of the forthcoming The Beauty Chef Gut Guide, will tell you that the healthy bacteria that fermentation produces are the key not only to good gut health but good health full-stop. Expect to see Korean kimchi, German sauerkraut, Indonesian tempeh and Central Asian kefir making it onto menus over the next 12 months. After all, you are what you eat.
Sweet and sour
Fermentation dovetails with a more general trend towards sour flavours. Sour is the final flavour that the human palate learns to appreciate and savvy diners who want to show off their sophistication – or who have turned their back on sugar – are lapping up anything that makes their mouth pucker.
Across America, kimchee has already made it out of Korean restaurants into everything from tacos, mayonnaise and mac’n’cheese. Next up, expect to see Filipino-influenced vinegar-based marinades and dipping sauces making an appearance on the smartest tables, or the tangy flavours of Persian cuisine – already a hit in Los Angeles – coming to a hipster district near you soon with their palate-pricking wake-up call of pomegranate, rhubarb and sour lime.
But diners with a sweet tooth needn’t despair. The recent launch of Cakes and Bubbles at the Hotel Café Royal in London, from Barcelona-based chef Albert Adrià, saw 200 diners queue around the block before it even opened its doors. Who cares about gut health – or needs a starter and main course – when you have the man voted the world’s best pastry chef serving Champagne and cake?
Soft drinks hit hard
It’s not just fermented foods that are set to be big in 2019: expect to see kombucha all over drinks lists for diners looking for an alternative to wine. Unlike many soft drinks, the fermented tea drink has the tart dryness and complex flavour to make it feel grown-up, while the palate-cleansing carbonation is great for food pairing.
Millennials might be blamed for many things, but the rise of the booze-free alternative to alcoholic drinks is one of the more palatable. And sugary soft drinks won’t cut it. Follow the lead of the globe-trotting Hakkasan Group, which recently unveiled its non-alcoholic Orchard List at its two London restaurants. Two years in the making, it is every bit as compelling as the group’s innovative wine lists, and should be rolled out around its other nine restaurants around the world.
If you don’t have two years to get your drinks list together, make sure at least that you’re stocking the latest non-alcoholic launches. Try the third member of the Seedlip family, Grove 42 – a zesty blast of orange, lemongrass and mandarin – mixed with the new soda water from ‘spirit enhancer’ Merchant’s Heart, owned by Suntory whisky. You won’t even notice you’re not drinking gin until you wake up without a headache.
If 2018 was the year when vegan food went properly mainstream (does anybody ever talk about old-fashioned vegetarians anymore?), 2019 looks set to be the year that veganism wins over even the most hardened carnivores.
Leading the way is Silicon Valley start-up Impossible Burger, now available in a staggering 5,000 US restaurants compared to 50 in 2017. Its key ingredient is heme, a molecule found in haemoglobin which means an Impossible Burger bleeds in just the same way as a beef burger, only with heme derived from soy and not blood. Look out too, for vegan-friendly scrambled ‘eggs’ made from mung beans.
Cultured meat, real meat made from animal cells but without involving any animal slaughter, remains the holy grail of producing meat without the environmental footprint of farming and the ethical issues of killing animals. It is also a more palatable alternative to insect-based protein, but don’t let your mouth start watering just yet – it is estimated to be at least 20 years before it becomes widely available. Until then, enjoy your Impossible Burger – and hold the bacon topping.