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Good Eats | From at-home mixology to flexitarianism: The latest food trends — shaped by the pandemic
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Good Eats | From at-home mixology to flexitarianism: The latest food trends — shaped by the pandemic

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Food trends can be somewhat difficult to predict. Everyone in the food world will tell you something a little different any given year, but themes often emerge. One thing that is apparent is food — and all that surrounds it in 2021 — points toward taking better care of ourselves.

This might mean stretching dollars with pantry meals or shrinking our 2020 waistlines with healthier food options. Exploring our individual food heritage and eating comfort foods may help nourish our souls. Learning to preserve all the food from our quarantine gardens and even using a bit in a mocktail or two will build new and lasting cooking skills.     

Pantry Meals

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many people into their kitchens for what seemed like the first time. Non-cooks found themselves struggling with the notion of preparing daily meals while seasoned home cooks explored new cuisines and learned new skills. Shortages of all kinds meant using what we had in our pantries, freezers and refrigerators, which gave rise to the pantry meals trend. 

Pantry meals aren’t receding all too fast, as many of us are still preparing most or all meals at home. We’re filling out pantries with new items, too, as we look for ways to spice up our home-cooked meals. Spice blends like Za’atar and cooking sauces like Piri Piri allow us to be more adventurous, even as novice cooks. 

Hummus breakout star, the chickpea, is set to be one of our favorite pantry staples in 2021, according to Whole Foods Market. Everything from roasted chickpeas to chickpea flour and cereal, the mighty legume will be popping up in recipes and products. 

Flexitarianism

A variety of lifestyle changes occurred in 2020. The number of people joining the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle is on the rise, according to Cozymeal, which offers online cooking classes and chef-crafted meal prep delivery. 

Plant-based diets and cooking for our mental health are also on the list of 2021 trends. 

However, not everyone is willing to make a leap completely away from their favorite meat and animal products. As a result, flexitarianism is anticipated to attract more and more people this year. Instead of having meat in our regular rotation of meals, it becomes something we eat on the weekends or for special occasions. Flexitarianism is a few steps further than “Meatless Mondays” but not a complete jump away from meat. 

The flexitarian focuses on eating more fruits and vegetables and getting the majority of protein from plants, legumes and other non-meat sources. Limited refined sugar and processed food is a mainstay of this food lifestyle. There is more of a focus on what to include as opposed to things you can’t eat, which may be easier on our mindset. 

Plant-based meats are set to move mainstream in 2021, in part due to our collective desire to eat less animal meat. According to BCC Research, the US will dominate the plant-based meat market in North America with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 15% through 2025.  

Heritage Cooking 

As we look to get back to our roots — even if that means just our pre-pandemic selves — heritage cooking and comfort foods are becoming more popular. Heritage cooking is something that first-generation and immigrant chefs are proud to showcase, according to Food & Wine magazine. Introducing customers to ethnic food increases appreciation for different cultures, and chefs are happy to open a door that allows for more diversity and representation in the food world. 

On the home side, the uptick in use of genealogy websites has also led to a desire to learn more about our own cultural backgrounds. One of the easiest ways to experience our individual heritage is by learning to cook foods that our ancestors once did. Ancestry, Family Search and My Heritage all provide information and recipes on their websites for family historians to peruse. Learning grandma’s recipe for kruschiki connects us to simpler days. These cultural comfort foods provide a sense of normalcy that we have spent the last year without. 

Preserving Food

Canning and fermenting taps many current interests by both home cooks and restaurant chefs alike. Preserving our food helps reduce kitchen waste and allows us to consume more regionally grown foods year-round. For those who jumped onto the quarantine garden trend of 2020, there may be a need for preserving some of those backyard veggies.

Nearly any vegetable can be fermented and you still reap the health rewards from the food. Fermenting may also make some vegetables easier to digest as well as support our immune system. Fermented foods can be canned for longer storage, but there is a process and a bit of science to follow in order to get it right. Luckily, there are also many ways to find help, including online cooking classes, another trend that emerged from the pandemic. 

If fermented foods aren't appealing, making jams and jellies is another way for you to preserve local fruits and some vegetables like peppers. These can be made in small batches, as can fermented vegetables, and stored in the freezer or refrigerator. 

The At-Home Mixologist

When restaurants closed last year, so did our favorite drinking establishments. This sent packaged liquor sales shooting into the sky during the first few weeks of the pandemic. 

According to Nielsen, retail alcohol sales increased 54% during the week ending March 21, 2020. That same timeframe had a 262% increase in online sales. 

As the year wore on, sales leveled out a bit, but the beverage industry saw its best year in retail sales with a large spike (20%) in high-end premium and super-premium spirits, according to Food & Wine. This translated into a lot of at-home mixologists!

This trend isn’t likely to stop in 2021, either. We’re mixing up boozy drinks at home, for sure, but there is also a trend in craft mocktails. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants' seventh annual Culinary & Cocktail Trend Forecast indicates a desire for more health conscious drinks. These include mocktails and cleaner cocktails with ingredients like honey and ginger. 

Gone are the days of the vodka soda, too. Today’s savvy drinker is experimenting with more elaborate ingredients like kombucha. However, if you like your vodka soda, you can still be a trendsetter with one of the newer botanical vodkas available at your favorite local liquor store.   

2021 is turning out to be the year we get back to our roots, focus on healing from a particularly difficult 2020, and move forward toward more soul-soothing culinary adventures. 

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