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5 Emerging Food Trends Restaurants Need to Know for 2023

As a focus on sustainability remains an overarching theme in the food service game, a shift towards local and regional sourcing, greener practices, and plant-based alternatives continues to make waves as 2023 approaches.

But, there’s more to planet-presentness than the farm-to-table and meatless movements. As 2022 begins to wind down, restaurants need to be aware of some of the emerging trends to reduce their carbon footprints and stay relevant with eco-conscious consumers.

1. Regenerative Food

A regenerative food system goes beyond sustainability, making feeding humanity without depleting the Earth a top priority. Taking a more holistic approach, a regenerative food system focuses on finding solutions that address problems collectively.

Though there is no single definition of regenerative agriculture, regenerative farming includes things like soil health, biodiversity, cover crops, no-till farming, crop diversity, and using fewer synthetics and pesticides.

Building a regenerative food system is vital to feeding humanity while also repairing damaged ecosystems. While it’s only in the last few years that this farming practice has started to flow into the mainstream, Indigenous communities have practiced regenerative food agriculture for centuries.

A Nielsen poll found that almost half of the nation’s consumers say they are willing to change their eating habits if it would help reduce their carbon footprint. And among eco-concerned Millennials, that figure rose to 75%.

Foods that fall under the regenerative umbrella include minimally processed plant-based foods, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and organic produce.

For restaurants, this means supporting local farmers and sourcing ingredients from companies that are dedicated to the regenerative food movement. Though the cost might be a bit higher at times, the benefits to the planet, and your ultimate bottom line, could prove to be priceless.

Using hashtags like # regenerativefoods, supportlocalfarms, sustainablefoods, and regenerativefarming on social media will show your eco-consciousness.

2. Alternative Proteins

The world of alternative proteins has been growing exponentially this decade, and in 2023, there will be even more options to explore.

But while the phrase “plant-based” is thrown around as an umbrella term for everything that isn’t meat these days, not all alternative proteins come from plants.

  • Fungi-based protein

While many food manufacturers are racing to bring new soy and pea-based products to market, a new kind of meat alternative made from fungi is emerging. Once grouped with the plant kingdom, the truth is, that fungi are actually not plants!

While plant-based meat alternatives are made by extracting the protein from the plant, leaving its other nutrients behind, fungi are made in a fermentation process that results in creating a new protein that packs a nutritional punch that matches meat and rivals plants. A newer player among the “alternatives,” fungi-based proteins are naturally free of cholesterol, contain almost no fat, and are packed with vitamins and minerals. And because fungi-based proteins aren’t cell-based meat, they’re a true vegan protein source.

In addition to nutritional benefits, fungi have several other advantages over conventional plant-based proteins. Fungi have a unique flavor profile that’s naturally neutral, (think tofu) allowing for a wide variety of food applications. And fungi’s fibrous texture makes it a highly versatile ingredient for both sweet and savory recipes.

Other than being an alternative to meat, common foods made with fungi include cheese, bread, chocolate, coffee, tea, pickles, olives, salami, soy sauce, tempeh, and miso.

Use hashtags like # FungiFood, FungiBasedProtein, or MushroomMagic on social media to let folks know you're a fungi fan!

  • Duckweed

Duckweed, also known as Lemna or water lentil, is a fast-growing aquatic plant that is highly sustainable, colorless, odorless, and nutrient-dense with a clean neutral flavor. A complete plant-based protein, duckweed is the most protein-dense plant on the planet, producing an abundance of important micronutrients including inflammation-fighting antioxidants.

Duckweed boasts an even longer list of advantages compared to other plant-based protein sources. One of the fastest-growing plants on earth, duckweed grows quickly in open hydroponic systems and doubles its biomass within 24 to 36 hours. And because it only takes half an hour to process the ingredient from farm to table and it can be grown year-round, it is 100 times more efficient in producing protein than soy and 400 times more efficient than peas.

Duckweed-sourced protein can be used in place of soy or pea protein in plant-based products such as burgers, shakes, smoothies, protein bars, muffins, and other baked goods. Customers with certain allergies who want to avoid soy could be very interested in giving items with duckweed as a base a try.

Use hashtags like # duckweedprotein, lemnafoods, and aquaticplantprotein on social media to let customers know you’re on the cutting edge of the alternative protein movement.

  • Hemp Hearts

They say the best things come in small packages, and when it comes to hemp hearts, that could not be truer. Tiny hemp hearts, becoming a superstar in the seed world, are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. A highly versatile ingredient that adds a nutty taste and crunchy texture, hemp hearts can be added to just about anything!

In addition to being nutritionally dense, and packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber, hemp hearts are outshining other seeds like flax and chia seeds, because they are the only ones that contain all essential amino acids. A complete protein source, hemp hearts are especially beneficial for those following vegan and vegetarian diets.

Because these tiny but mighty seeds contain 10 grams of protein per serving, (that’s more than beef, cheese, chicken, almonds, or eggs) adding hemp hearts to your restaurant’s repertoire will attract customers looking to find healthy, soy-free alternative proteins.

Use hashtags like # HaveAHempHeartHere WeLoveHempHearts, or HempProtein on social media to speak to health-conscious customers.

  • Watermelon Seeds

Watermelon seeds are another new player in the alternative protein arena. An excellent source of magnesium, zinc, iron, and heart-healthy omega-3s, while watermelon seeds may be small, they pack a huge nutritional punch.

Watermelon seeds, which can be eaten raw, are much more enjoyable when roasted or dehydrated. Dried watermelon seeds taste a bit like sunflower seeds with a slightly milder taste, which makes them the perfect topper for salads and smoothies.

Products with watermelon flour are also starting to pop up on shelves more as people catch on to its powerful nutritional profile and allergen-friendly makeup.

Another way to reap the protein-rich benefits of watermelon seeds is to eat them in seed butter form. Similar to tahini, watermelon seed butter has a mild and earthy flavor with a slightly thinner and creamier texture.

Have fun with hashtags like # ItsOK2SwallowWatermelonSeeds and SavetheSeeds on social media.

3. Faux Seafood

Thanks to a multitude of perceived health benefits and an increased interest in pescetarian and flexitarian diets, seafood is a highly preferred animal-based protein choice. But, while this food from the sea might be healthy for the human body, the fish industry is far from healthy for the planet.

Recent estimates show that the world’s oceans could be virtually depleted of fish by 2048. In fact, as of 2022, 90% of marine life populations are fully used, overused, or under severe threat due to overfishing. But because 3.1 billion people rely on fish for 20% of their daily protein intake, seafood alternatives are stepping up to meet the demand.

Plant-based seafood made from ingredients like lentils, peas, fava beans, banana blossom, seaweed, and jackfruit is becoming increasingly popular and more readily available, as is beleaf shrimp, a vegan shrimp made from konjac powder, that can be pan-fried, stir-fried, or grilled.

Use hashtags like # FauxFish, SeafoodFakeout, and SustainableSeafood on social media to let people know you carry seafood alternatives.

4. Mood Altering Foods

Our relationship with drugs has changed dramatically over the last decade. With the legalization of cannabis and the penetration of CBD in multiple food categories, there is a lot more openness towards an acceptance of controlled substances within the wellness culture.

Many so-called “mood foods” and beverages that include cannabis and mushroom derivatives are finding favor with consumers for relaxation, improved sleep, and stress reduction.

And as attitudes towards CBD improve, interest in THC, its psychoactive sister, is increasing as well.

So far, 19 states have legalized recreational marijuana use. In these states, savvy chefs are starting to experiment with cannabis to offer customers unique menu items and dining experiences. Because cannabis remains federally illegal, however, infused dining options are still complicated. With a bill in congress in the works, restaurants around the country are offering CBD-infused drinks and other menu items in the meantime.

***Be careful when posting anything on social media with the words cannabis, THC, or even CBD. Go with more ambiguous hashtags like # MoodFood, FeelGoodFood, or FeelGoodFriday.

5. Sober Beer

Whether seeking abstinence or moderation, consumers are choosing low/no alcohol drinks in droves. With the sober-curious sector projected to increase 31% by 2024, offering non-alcoholic beverages at your restaurant is a great way to jump on the “wellness revolution” wave. Not only do non-alcoholic beverages pack fewer calories, but the lack of restrictions on alcohol-free products also makes them more accessible.

And with sales of non-alcoholic beer climbing, significantly outpacing the growth of the broader beer market, the trend is expected to continue.

When it comes to trends for the coming year, concern for the health of the planet and the individual is the common thread. As 2022’s last few months glide along, and the holidays quickly approach, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to incorporate some of the emerging food trends into your 2023 growth strategy.

By Eileen Strauss


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