The most important wholesome meals traits in 2021, in accordance with a nutritionist

In a year when our lives were turned upside down, our eating and drinking habits changed accordingly. And since health will be the focus of conversation for the foreseeable future, foods that boost immunity and keep us healthy rule the day. The coming year will feature more plant-based options, tech-assisted products, and an emphasis on BIPOC-owned food companies. Let’s dive into the food landscape in 2021.

1. Postbiotics

Yes – you read that right. You’re familiar with prebiotics and probiotics, but the newest player in the gut health game is postbiotics. We know that prebiotics are the food for probiotic bacteria and that both are essential for optimal gut health. Now let’s learn about postbiotics – the metabolites (or end products) of fermentation that probiotics take place in the gut. Postbiotics are being studied for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and can also help boost the immune system and improve the intestinal barrier.

Postbiotics are found in some of the same foods that contain probiotics, such as kefir, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kimchi. Since they are not alive, they can be used in many more applications than live probiotics. In 2021 we will see some form of postbiotics supplementation, and probably also that they will be added to food.

Cabbage kimchi

Jean Cazals

2. Elevated home cafe

Now that a third of the population works from home, many of us make our morning cup of joe instead of picking it up at a coffee shop. But every old cup is just not enough anymore – to survive all those Zoom calls, we want more than just an average cup of coffee. A recent survey by coffee company Melitta found that 45 percent of respondents were using a new coffee brewing method at home compared to 2019. A similar number of people (46 percent) showed an interest in improving their home brewing skills. We’re also buying more beans to brew. Sales of packaged Starbucks coffee for home brewing rose 17 percent in the final quarter of this year.


Consumers have already improved their game with pourers, frothers and pampering creams and will invest even more in their cup in 2021. Sales of plant-based creams rose by 30 percent in 2019, according to Nielsen. Younger consumers like to experiment with milk flavors to recreate custom coffee shop drinks. Chobani is launching a S’mores-flavored milk jug, while Planet Oat is launching caramel- and coffee-cake-flavored oat milk creams next month.

3. Food created by AI

Artificial intelligence is helping food companies create things we could only dream of a few years ago. Food tech company Perfect Day created what it says is the same protein as milk protein but which is completely vegan. The animal-free protein enables ice cream machines to create pints that taste like the real thing. Perfect Day’s whey protein is used in several frozen “ice creams” including Brave Robot and Graeter’s. And get those bagels ready, because the next classic dairy product Perfect Day will go into is cream cheese.

Eat Just Inc.

Eat Just (formerly Hampton Creek) used AI to create an egg-free product that is very similar to the product we’ve always used made from chicken. The company was able to identify the protein in mung beans as a candidate for egg replacement. NotCo, a company focused on finding plant-based alternatives to animal foods, has developed a non-dairy milk that behaves like milk (it foams, froths and mixes like dairy products) but is made from pea protein, cabbage juice and pineapple juice and other herbal ingredients.

Infinite harvest

4. Microgreens

Microgreens aren’t exactly new, but consumer appetites for them are higher than ever. These tiny shoots are the baby counterparts of plants like carrots and broccoli. You may have enjoyed microgreens at a meal in a high-end restaurant in the past, but now you can find them in myriad varieties at the grocery store, including Red Rambo radishes, popcorn, and wild cabbage. Not only are they colorful and cute, but they’re also packed with nutrients. A 2012 study found that microgreens contain four to 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterparts. The tiny shoots are delicious on egg dishes and sandwiches, and can be added to salads and smoothies to add flavor and nutrients.

You can also grow microgreens at home from seeds using kits from Hamama and Back to the Roots. It only takes 7 days to grow certain microgreens, which is slightly faster than making your own sourdough starter.

5. Seaweed is the new kale

Seaweed, traditionally used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines for thousands of years, has been slow to creep into mainstream American cuisine. Sure, you’ve eaten it in sushi and miso soup, and your kids may enjoy dried nori as a snack, but it’s unlikely to make up a large part of your diet.

Dried seaweed is one thing, but American consumers haven’t really known what to do with the fresh stuff until now. Nutritionally, seaweed is a superstar, with multiple minerals in each serving, including calcium and B vitamins. And it’s an absolute dream in terms of sustainability. Kelp can go from a seedling to a 15 foot plant in one season, doesn’t require fertilizer to grow, and actually helps purify the water by removing the nutrients that cause algal blooms.

Look for Maine seaweed (a subset of seaweed) in tasty concoctions like sea-chi (kimchi made from seaweed) from women-run Atlantic sea farms. Or toss a cube of seaweed into your next smoothie for a 5 calorie nutritional boost. You can also find seaweed in vegan broth and smoky campfire salsa, which is made from seaweed grown in Alaska.

6. Foods that fight climate change

Food production is a major contributor to climate change and accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, our eating habits can help counteract the effects of climate change. This year Panera partnered with Cool Food to help customers identify lower carbon menu items, such as their Baja Bowl with Chicken. “We are committed to transparency and empower guests to eat in a way that reflects their personal values. That includes continuing to offer options for lower carbon meals, ”said Sara Burnett, Panera’s vice president of food values, sustainability and public affairs.

Cool Food is in talks with several restaurants, caterers, and food companies and is hoping to bring the Cool Food badge to more Americans in 2021.

7. A better spice trade

Most of us don’t think about it when it comes to spices. When we need cinnamon to make a ton of snickerdoodles, we grab a bottle at our local grocery store without even considering how that cinnamon did it there. Spices are a commodity and have traditionally not focused on quality, taste, sustainability or fairness for farmers, but rather on price – the cheaper the better. But a handful of new players to the spice world are working to change that.

Andria Lo

Burlap & Barrel was founded four years ago by two young entrepreneurs who wanted to change the spice industry. They source directly from farmers in 14 different countries, bypassing middlemen and brokers. This allows them to offer their customers new and unique heirloom varieties, which means that they not only sell cinnamon and turmeric, but also Royal Cinnamon from the Quang Nam Mountains in Vietnam and New Harvest Turmeric from Karnataka, India.

Spicewalla and Diaspora Co. are two other companies that are changing the world of spices. The latter is female-owned and specifically focuses on spices grown in India like nandini coriander, with origins that are incredibly fragrant, sourced from the Sakariya family’s farm, and named after the family cow. Spicewalla is in Asheville, North Carolina of all places, about as far from a spice growing area as possible, but the founder knows a thing or two about spices. Chef Meherwan Irani from Chai Pani sources super fresh spices from all over the world and packs them in brightly colored cans that look fantastic on your kitchen counter.

8. Increased spices

As the pandemic continues, consumers are missing their favorite restaurant foods and are trying to reproduce those flavors at home. This has led to increased demand for authentic sauces, chutneys, and spice mixes that home cooks can use to create Latin, Asian, African, and Caribbean-inspired dishes.

New York-based, Latin-owned Loisa was launched in 2018. It produces certified organic Adobo and Sazon blends that are vegan, gluten-free and do not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Garlic, turmeric, oregano, and black pepper adobo is used in a variety of Filipino and Puerto Rican dishes, including mofongo. Sazon – a mixture of coriander, cumin, achiote, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper – is used in hundreds of recipes, including black beans, rice, and grilled chicken.

Arroz Mamposteao (Puerto Rican red beans and rice)

Juan Fernando Ayora @thetravelerslife

Indian food is no stranger to bold flavors and spices, and Brooklyn Delhi is helping people create those tastes at home. The best-selling tomato achaar, a sweet, tangy, and spicy sauce, is made from locally grown tomatoes, tamarind, Indian spices, chili powder, and sesame oil. While achaar is traditionally used with dal and curry, you can use it to top almost anything.

While these established brands saw sales soar during the pandemic, a sister startup called Omsom launched in May of this year at the height of the crisis. Vanessa and Kim Pham knew it was the perfect time to launch their Southeast and East Asian appetizers (all vegan and gluten-free), including the sauce and condiments you need to make a meal like Korean bulgogi . You add the vegetables and protein. Think of these starters as today’s equivalent of Hamburger Helper, but much tastier.

We all hope life will normalize at some point in 2021, but at least in the meantime we have plenty of new foods to experiment with at home.

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, is a nutritionist, author, and best-selling author. Her latest book is Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. Follow her @FrancesLRothRD.

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