Purple food and Mexican spirit: the food and drink trends making waves this year

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Amy Swales
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Some food and drink trends are less a trend than a way of life (hello, gin), but for anyone with an Instagram account, 2016 could well have been the year of multicoloured, rainbow food (and it’s leaked well into 2017 with unicorn bakes and lattes all over the virtual shop).

Social media aside, what are the food and drink trends set to dominate this year? Here, we take a look at the four rising stars of recent months.

New vegan

With the restaurant industry long since cottoning on to the idea that vegetables can be more than a mere side dish, as well as the sudden emergence of spiralizers, it seems it’s not just vegans embracing animal-free dishes these days.

Once seen as an extreme lifestyle choice, veganism is going mainstream. While the number of people embracing an entirely animal-product-free diet is said to have risen by 360% in the last decade (more than 1% of the population), it appears many are simply looking to cut back on their meat and dairy consumption.

High street names say they’re responding to these changing customer preferences. Pret, for instance, has introduced several vegan products. Brand director Caroline Cromar tells “We first noticed a growing demand for veggie and vegan products back in 2015.

“Since then we’ve developed bright, colourful and delicious meat-free recipes, many of which happen to also be dairy-free and suitable for vegans.

“In June, when we opened our Veggie Pop Up in Soho, we were amazed by how positively our veggie, vegan and meat-eating customers responded to the new options. Eight of the top 10 most popular products were vegan, and our dairy-free sweet treats seemed to fly off the shelves particularly quickly.

“Vegan recipe development remains a large focus for our chefs with new dairy-free soups, breakfast pots and hot drinks all released this year.”

The chain is opening a second Veggie Pret in London this spring, while there’s been a wave of interest in vegan-friendly replacements for everyday products and favourite dishes (a pop-up bar devoted to nut butter was set up in Selfridges earlier this year, while London’s first vegan fried chicken shop opened December 2016).

As the third annual Future 100 trends report by J.Walter Thompson’s Innovation Group mentions, protein-heavy jackfruit is coming into its own as a meat substitute in many restaurants (it can be easily shredded for a pulled pork-like texture), while other fruit and veg are being co-opted into swaps: nut-based ‘dairy’ products, vegetable ‘spaghetti’, broccoli ‘rice’ et al.

A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s tells us the supermarket is seeing a big focus from customers on healthy eating, as opposed to weight loss, with veg-based carb replacements booming. As with Pret, the feeling is that it’s not necessarily more straight-up vegans driving the change, but meat-eaters going flexitarian and varying their intake.

The supermarket now sells pre-prepared plant-based replacements, such as ‘courgetti’ (courgette spaghetti) and ‘boodles’ (butternut squash noodles) – sales of both have exceeded expectations. Susi Richards, head of product development at Sainsbury’s, describes it as a “veg revolution”.

“Shoppers are turning to our prepped veg range for carb alternatives. We launched courgetti and boodles in January 2016, and now sell an average of 30,000 units per week.

“We’ve built on this surge of interest, which we expect to continue, launching the likes of ‘squaffles’ (butternut squash waffles) and ‘swagliatelli’ (sweet potato tagliatelle) recently to a very positive reception from customers.

“I expect this trend to continue with innovations like pea pasta and edamame noodles.”

James Hamilton, prepared produce buyer, says the eight new lines have been flying out: “I think customers are always eager for new ways to serve their veg and prepared produce is convenient.

“The new lines have performed well ahead of expectations with squaffles and crinkle-cut butternut squash chips now outselling the previous favourites, courgetti and boodles.”


Mescal (spelled with an ‘s’ traditionally, but often appears as ‘mezcal’) is on the rise in our bars, both in its own right and as a cocktail ingredient. Globally, sales are on the up, though the 3.8million litres produced in 2016 have some way to go to compete with the 250m of tequila produced in the same period.

However, it could be the very fact of its smaller scale that has enabled mescal to rise without the somewhat messy reputation of its famous agave relation, says cookbook author Jane Mason, who has lived between Mexico and London for the past five years.

Mason, consultant editor on Mexico – The Cookbook and who teaches classes on cooking with with the spirit, says the production method, unlike tequila, is difficult to replicate on an industrial scale – tequila is made solely from blue agave, which is relatively easy to cultivate, while mescal can be made with several different types, not all of which are common or easily grown in large quantities.

“To make tequila, the producers cook the agave heart in ovens before continuing to process and ferment it. Most mescal makers cook the heart of the agave in a pit in the ground, over a fire. The smoke and ashes give it its smoky flavour and batches are necessarily small, as this is not a process that you can industrialize.

“Because mescal is almost unknown outside Mexico, the association of mescal producers has been able to develop the brand carefully. In Mexico, it’s changed from a more rural, working man’s drink to super trendy.”

The increased interest is likely symptomatic of our embracing of Latin-American cuisine and our increasing love of independent, small-batch-style companies, evidenced in the rise of experimental gin and craft beer (though with big brands now jumping on mescal, just as dominant breweries are attempting to co-opt the ‘craft beer’ tag, it’s worth checking whether your product is as independent as it appears).

Mason explains: “Outside of Mexico, the interest in Mexican food has been explosive, as has the interest in all things artisanal. Most mescal is still made in small batches by tiny producers, which is appealing. Plus, it’s a complicated subject so to have knowledge of it gives you bragging rights!”

As for what’s so good about it, Javier Escribano, bar manager at MNKY HSE restaurant, London, says its complex enough to sip on its own, but versatile as a cocktail ingredient.

“Mescal, more often than not, is very smooth and contains a wide variety of smells and flavours. Its smokiness is quite unique and interesting. Its ability to completely transform any cocktail it's added to is astounding.

“Each mescal has unique flavours which give us the opportunity to play. It’s a very complex spirit full of great flavours which come from different factors such as agave variety, micro-climate, altitude, soil, wood, water, yeast and the hand of the maker. I believe that all single malt whisky drinkers are mescal drinkers, but they don’t know it yet!”

He adds: “With MNKY HSE being a Latin-American restaurant, we have always had a high demand for mescal and it does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. I have also seen other bars and restaurants increasing their range.”

Purple food

It might sound more of an aesthetic thing than anything else (and yes, it definitely gives good Instagram), but purple fruit and veg as a trend is more about the health benefits.

Whole Foods pegged it as one to watch at the end of last year, having analysed consumer behaviour across 465 of its shops worldwide. The colourful foodstuffs, such as purple cabbage, carrots, asparagus and potatoes, are full of powerful antioxidants and get their hue (anything from red to a more blue shade) from anthocyanins – flavonoids (plant pigments) that studies indicate have many health benefits.

Just in case you were considering implementing a lilac-only rule, it’s generally accepted that including all colours of food in your diet is the best way to go, but the increased popularity might have you trying something new – especially if, like us, trying to have a ‘healthy’ dinner generally turns into an entirely green plate.

A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer tells us the retailer has seen interest in all things purple-blue hit new heights in recent weeks, with sales up on blueberries (over 30% increase), blackberries (up 25%) and aubergines (10%).

M&S tea expert Madeleine Lovett says the company has launched a purple tea (which is actually a leaf in its own right rather than simply coloured with fruit) to further tap into the trend.

“Green and herbal teas are becoming very popular and purple tea is an interesting new style tea for our customers to try,” she tells “We know that customers are keen to try more purple foods as they have heard lots about their potential health benefits, so we have combined two – purple tea and blueberry.”

Just by the by – we don’t think the big purple one in Quality Street counts.

Smart kitchens

Our passion for food and drink is set to become more influenced by our reliance on technology, in the home at least.

The Future 100 report asserts that smart kitchens – harnessing the ‘internet of things’ and connecting our various devices to our appliances – are on the up, and recent surveys seem to agree.

The 2017 Houzz UK Kitchen Trends Study found that homeowners overhauling their kitchens are turning to tech: 17% have colour touchscreen displays in their kitchens and 12% are controlling appliances wirelessly using their smartphone or tablet.

While many people actively enjoy the process of cooking, the study shows we’re fond of shortcuts too: a quarter of those surveyed have boiling water taps and nearly one in five a fitted warming drawer, further examples of our love of convenience.

For those wanting to skip steps, Future 100 points to Moley Robotics launching the world’s first robotic kitchen (slated for consumer purchase this year), boasting an “iTunes-style library of recipes” and some rather old-school sci-fi robot arms doing all the work. Meanwhile, in the more accessible quarter, both Samsung and LG have released smart appliances, such as fridges and ovens, that can be controlled remotely via apps as well as send information to the user.

Last year, LG revealed it would be adding a home hub to its SmartThinq range in the US, enabling users to link up their existing smart appliances with a central hub (later confirming it would work with Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa) while its My Recipe app allows users to send cooking time and temperature to their oven, download a customised dishwasher cycle, check what’s in the fridge and even ask the freezer to make more ice before they get home.

The new LG Signature InstaView fridge for instance, revealed in January, features a colour touchscreen that displays the various compartments of the fridge (and thus reveal how low you are on milk without having to actually open the door). It can also send images to the owner’s phone and display or read out recipes.

Carolyn Anderson, marketing director of LG Electronics UK, tells us that consumers are attracted by the time-saving benefits.

“Smart technology has become progressively relevant throughout the home, as people live increasingly busy lives and want smart features that can help to cut the time spent on household chores.

“The Harris Interactive SmartLife report (July, 2016) showed that seeking a more organised life was one of the key reasons driving consumers towards the Smart Home (33%) and Smart Fridge (31%).

“We’re continuously developing new technologies which help bring about the benefits sought by the consumer. One example is LG’s Smart Diagnosis, a feature that enables LG appliances to troubleshoot technical issues by transmitting a signal over the phone. By simply holding a smartphone with the Smart Diagnosis app close to the power button on the appliance, the technology will detect and analyse the sounds emitted from the appliance, and identify the problem. It then provides the steps needed to get your product fixed.

“This not only saves time, but reduces the inconvenience and of engineering call outs and associated costs.”

Images: iStock / Rex Features


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.