The rediscovery of ancient foods like quinoa has now opened the door for other forgotten plants to go global, according to market research organisation Mintel.
The prickly pear cactus and chia seeds are two of the latest such examples, according to Mintel. Both foods were used by the ancient Aztecs.
According to Mintel, the use of chia seeds as an ingredient has continued to grow, with a tenfold increase in ingredient penetration globally between 2009 and 2014. North America saw the majority of chia seed food and drink launches in 2013, with 47 per cent of launches in the US and 12 per cent in Canada, compared to 18 per cent in the Asia Pacific region and 11 per cent in Europe.
Chia seeds, which Mintel said looked to be the next big superfood, were being primarily used in food products, but recent years have seen an increase of chia seeds in beverages as well. In 2013, 12 per cent of products launched with chia seeds were in the beverage category, up from zero in 2009.
Chia, which is a complete protein, has been rumoured to reduce food cravings, lower blood pressure and aid in weight loss, but studies have been unsuccessful at validating these claims. Consequently manufacturers should keep claims for chia products focused on its nutritional value rather than unproven health claims.
On the other hand, prickly pear ingredients were most commonly found in beverages, with 57 per cent of all food and drink products using a prickly pear ingredient between 2009 and 2013 launched in the beverage category. Twenty-six percent of these products were launched in Mexico.
Although fewer than 100 products have been launched globally with a prickly pear ingredient between 2009 and 2013, Mintel said the health benefits as well as the plant’s resilient nature will make it a “promising superfruit” in the coming years, especially given the increasing number of droughts. According to Mintel, the plant has also been used traditionally in Mexico as a hangover cure and to address a range of health conditions, including blood pressure problems, ulcers, and fatigue. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has also suggested that prickly pear could be an effective feed for livestock.
Mintel said 44 per cent of US consumers had eaten ancient grains and that interest was increasing. Both chia and prickly pear have a unique opportunity to position themselves as the next big ‘it’ ingredient, given their health benefits and diversity of uses.
Sales are soaring of foods free from ingredients such as nuts and wheat that are said to cause allergies and other illnesses. Increasing intolerance to wheat, dairy and nuts means they are being removed from breads, biscuits, milk and other foods on our shelves. Latest figures show that despite the premium price tag for these items, the ‘free from’ food market has grown by 50 per cent in just two years. Data from market research firm Kantar shows the market is worth £360 million, up from £240 million in 2012.
Tesco, which is launching a range of products including a nutless peanut butter to capitalise on the growing appetite, says the boom is being driven in particular by products free of wheat and its protein gluten. The products, which can cost up to eight times as much as standard versions, include breads, cereals and cakes in which wheat-based flour is replaced with gluten-free flour from rice, corn or other sources. Other foods are being sought out by those intolerant to lactose or whose children are allergic to peanuts. But while many are being bought by people with a genuine medical problem, it is feared the bulk of the rise is being fuelled by the ‘worried well’. Portsmouth University researchers found that nine in ten Britons who believe they have a food allergy or intolerance are perfectly healthy. The researchers concluded that although 20 per cent of adults – about 10 million – claim they are unable to eat foods from milk to mustard, fewer than 2 per cent actually have a problem. They blamed internet searches, self-testing kits and celebrity food fads for the epidemic of make-believe allergies and intolerances.
Astronauts longing for fresh lettuce in orbit will soon have the chance to grow it for themselves: NASA is sending a mini-farm into space.
When the private spaceflight company SpaceX launches its next Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station, the capsule will be carrying a small plant growth chamber, about the size of a microwave, to let astronauts grow “Outredgeous” lettuce in orbit.
The goal of the Veg-01 experiment, nicknamed “Veggie”, is to see how well plants grow in orbit. If these early tests go well and the food proves safe, scientists hope to expand the menu.
“Veggie will provide a new resource for U.S. astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station,” said Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie, in a statement. “Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test.” “They’ll grow the lettuce, freeze it and send it back to Earth. We need to look at what types of microorganisms are on the leaves so we can determine if they’re safe to eat in orbit.”
Space is at a premium on a spacecraft and also on the International Space Station, so the Veggie chamber is built to collapse for transportation and when it is in storage. When fully deployed, it’s about a 1.5-feet long, making it the biggest such plant chamber in space to date.
A version of the chamber has been tested on the ground, where lettuce and radishes were successfully grown at the Kennedy Space Center’s space life sciences laboratory. Veggie was developed by Madison, Wis.-based Orbital Technologies Corp.