We speak to a renowned chef-turned-food-innovator to get the tasty lowdown on the sustainability-focused foods we'll be eating in 202
We’re still firmly in ‘new year, new me’ territory and for many that means a diet overhaul. Luckily, the year ahead promises a slew of food innovations that will keep sticking to your resolution – be it going vegan, cutting down on drinking or just eating a bit healthier in general – interesting and tasty.
But this year’s leaps in food technology promise more than just better health; they promise a healthier planet. “We all need to eat, but the food system is broken,” says Bodil Sidén, a general parter at Kost Capital. With a mission to invest in companies developing alternative ingredients, food products and production systems, the Copenhagen-based fund just announced a €25 million first close to invest in food tech in Europe – evidence that we may be on the precipice of a food revolution. “A growing population, climate change, food waste, health issues and policy changes require rapid funding now to ensure sustainability, efficiency and resilience in the future of food,” says Sidén.
On the other side of Kost is Koststudio, a food development lab that brings together entrepreneurs, chefs and scientists to create the food of tomorrow. Here we find founding partner Peter Nøhr, who, following a career as a chef at several Michelin-starred restaurants (including Svinkløv Badehotel and The French Laundry in California), shifted his focus to developing sustainable food products. “We’re basically trying to change the food system, the food products available, the culture,” says Nøhr. “Everything related with food.”
Below, Nøhr breaks down four technology-driven food trends set to define what we’ll be eating in 2024.
Food as medicine
Gone are the days when food was seen as simply a source of fuel or pleasure. This year we’ll place a larger emphasis than ever on the wider health implications connected to what we put in our bodies. “It used to be that if you were into eating or drinking products that would have some sort of function, you would have to go to a health store,” says Nøhr, noting that niche products of the past didn’t necessarily emphasise flavour. “But now we’re seeing lots of products that are ready to go – they can be snacks, they can be drinks – that are having some sort of function.”
So what sort of ‘functions’ will be the focus of 2024? Nøhr predicts gut health will still be a big deal (cue flashbacks to the great kombucha craze) as well as longevity – the sort of diet that can actually result in a longer life. Further proof of a greater focus on longevity is the runaway popularity of Netflix docuseries You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment, which explores whether a vegan diet can prolong one’s life.
One medicine-like ingredient we may soon be adding to our diets comes courtesy of a young Danish company called Nutrumami. They’re developing a powder that can be added to vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s designed to replace the nutrients found in meat products. Plus, Nøhr assures me, it’s “actually really nice tasting”.
Futuristic crop substitutes
Among the countless catastrophic impacts of climate change is its negative impact on some of our most beloved crops. “We can already see how the coffee, cocoa, avocado and wine industries are really getting hit by climate change,” says Nøhr. “And that will most certainly result in much higher prices for these crops or, eventually, they’ll complete vanish from the market.”
We can already see how the coffee, cocoa, avocado and wine industries are really getting hit by climate change. And that will most certainly result in much higher prices for these crops or, eventually, they’ll complete vanish from the market.
In 2024, we’re poised to start seeing alternatives for some of these struggling crops. Danish celebrity chef Matt Orlando, best known as head chef at the now-closed Amass, has developed a chocolate alternative already being tried out by top chefs and bakers. Called THIC, the sustainable chocolate substitute is made from a byproduct of beer and, apparently, tastes delicious (just ask the Wall Street Journal).
Nøhr expects similar sustainable coffee alternatives to hit the market soon. “There are already some coffee alternatives out there, but I would call them version 1.0,” he says. “Now, with a lot of advancement in fermentation techniques and knowledge of how to process other crops, we can actually start doing products that are as good as coffee.” He notes, however, that to make a coffee alternative succeed in Scandinavia, it’s about more than replicating the taste, it’s about replicating the culture.
Better meat alternatives
Good news for those who are vegetarian or vegan-curious: this year we’re primed to see major advancements and improvements in meat alternatives. “A lot of the meat alternative products that were coming out in the past five years were based a lot on technique, but we kind of forgot the flavour and the texture,” says Nøhr. This year, he argues, not only will we find products that are as yummy as (or, ideally, yummier) than meat products, we’ll find them at a more alluring price point.
Take, for instance, supermarket Lidl’s programme to price-match their own alternative protein products with the meat found in-store. “That’s something that will really change a lot of people’s minds about alternative protein products,” says Nøhr. “Then it’s suddenly a different choice.” Nøhr also predicts that the meat alternatives of the future will boast shorter, more recognisable ingredient lists.
A continued emphasis on discovering climate-friendly foods will also result in more products based on side-streams and bi-products. In addition to Orlando’s chocolate alternative, which finds its origin in a beer byproduct, we may soon be cooking with an innovative alternative to palm oil. Estonian company Äio is making a palm oil alternative out of sawdust, a wood industry side-stream. “Palm oil is the cause of a lot of deforestation, so an alternative to that would be amazing,” says Nøhr, noting that the sawdust-based vegetable oil is “really nice tasting”.
Another side-stream product that dovetails ideally with many new years resolutions is Lillow, a no-sugar, low-alcohol beverage made from a yeasty side-stream of the beer industry. It’s been developed by Nøhr and his team at Kost Studio. “We see this trend of maybe wanting to drink a little less alcohol and a little less calories,” says Nøhr, noting that the product is launching very soon. “It kind of emphasises everything we want to do here in one can.”