CHICAGO — Faux fish and magic mushrooms may appear on more plates next year, according to research by food innovation intelligence company Spoonshot.
Kishan Vasani, co-founder and chief executive officer of Spoonshot, discussed three trends on the horizon during a presentation at IFT FIRST, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition, held July 10-13 in Chicago.
Minneapolis-based Spoonshot uses artificial intelligence, tapping into thousands of data sources from menus and recipes to blogs and news articles, to predict consumer demand and identify product development opportunities.
One such opportunity addresses the “absolutely vital” need for seafood alternatives, Mr. Vasani said, pointing to the rise in flexitarian and pescatarian diets. Global fish consumption has doubled since 1998 and is projected to nearly double again by 2050; however, 70% of marine fish populations have been fully used, overused or are under severe threat as a result of rising ocean temperatures, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, and pollution, he said.
“Plant-based seafood is not exactly new, but this category has not grown in the same manner as dairy and meat alternatives,” Mr. Vasani said. “Less than 0.2% of seafood product launches carry plant-based or vegan claims, and attitudes toward seafood alternatives have been quite polarizing. We analyzed product reviews and found there to be many complaints about texture and flavor.”
Common ingredients in alternative seafood products are soybeans, fava beans, peas and green lentils. However, ingredients of interest among consumers based on online discussions include banana blossom, a flower with a flaky texture, alongside seaweed, mushroom and jackfruit, Mr. Vasani said. Potential applications may include ready meals and frozen foods inspired by popular dishes such as fish and chips, fish tacos and crab cakes.
“We’re looking at a very real possibility of a future with limited access to fish and seafood,” Mr. Vasani said. “It has become absolutely vital for innovation in seafood alternatives to happen now.”
Another trend to watch is rising demand for plant-based products with fewer, simpler ingredients.
“The call for clean label claims in plant-based foods is becoming louder,” Mr. Vasani said, noting 10% of consumer conversations about plant-based foods centered on clean eating. “Consumers are starting to be put off by long, complicated ingredient lists.”
Product developers rely on additives to achieve texture and stability in plant-based formulations. Methylcellulose often is used as a binder and thickener in meat alternatives but, Mr. Vasani said, “has been at the receiving end of quite a bit of flak recently as it is not a naturally occurring compound.” He cited citrus fiber, a byproduct of juice processing, as a promising replacement more likely to gain consumer acceptance.
“As the plant-based space grows, food manufacturers will need to rethink the ingredients,” Mr. Vasani said. “This development also means opportunities for ingredient suppliers to create clean label building blocks for plant-based foods to improve texture, flavor and appearance.”
Also on tap for 2023 is a growing interest in foods and beverages incorporating psychoactive substances such as psilocybin or tetrahydrocannabinol as “grownup functional ingredients,” Mr. Vasani said.
“Chefs experimenting with cannabis are looking at different aspects of dosage and strain to give their customers a unique culinary experience in fine dining,” he said. “Packaged foods are getting in on the act … chips, crackers, chocolates, cocktail kits.”
Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in certain mushrooms, has been the subject of emerging research on treating mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and mood disorders, as well as a handful of cookbooks, Mr. Vasani said. Several cities have decriminalized the substance. The consumer adoption of mushrooms for adaptogen or nootropic benefits paves the way for psilocybin as part of “wellness culture,” Mr. Vasani said.
“While it’s too early to talk about full legalization, there’s actually a growing implication that many of these ingredients hold the key to dealing with stresses of modern life,” he said.