The Biggest Trends of the Year Signal a Major Shift in Our Relationship With Food

Food Trends

Finger limes, sometimes also known as Australian finger limes or caviar limes, are among the exotic fruits enjoying newfound popularity this year. Photo: Bonchan/Getty Images

When the pleasures of dining out were restricted by the pandemic, we had to improvise, turning to food photography, cooking videos and gorgeous table settings for solace and inspiration, and travel via our palates. We are now obsessive specialty-food shoppers, driving all over town seeking out rare ingredients, and standing in line for limited edition, pop-up treats.

We are cooking more, growing our own food, and reckoning with the food waste we generate. We are embracing old-fashioned homesteading tips and tricks to preserve food, out of respect for what we have, and fear of what we might not be able to get on the shelves. We are more conscious of eating locally and seasonally, yet yearn for rare and exotic fruit and vegetables. 

There is no question the pandemic is shifting our relationship with food. Here is a look at the biggest food trends this year.


The Hunger Games

Constant Cravings
Photo: TheCrimsonMonkey/Getty Images


Following the format of sneaker drops, where scarcity drives demand, specialty foods offered for a limited time (across the country and around the world, via the internet) became a passion for committed foodies. I kid you not, at one point before the holidays I ordered a $100 food basket from a company in Italy just to get the vintage apron a food influencer had chosen to promote the deal. Limited-edition gelato in pad Thai, grilled cheese or blueberry/mustard flavours, custom ice cream bars and $12 soft serve cones are driving lineups outside shops. Customizable, choose-your-own-level-of-funk kimchi is now a thing. Food-related passion projects, a.k.a. side hustles, moved out of home kitchens to become full-fledged businesses; eager customers set notifications on their phones to nab homemade Indian dinners or Italian pork sausage  (cotechino) with lentils. Restaurants began marketing their own condiments, and our fridges are now full of jars of chilli-crisp topping, aioli and dumpling sauces. Food shopping is now a competitive sport.


Exotic Fruit

Constant Cravings
Photo: Yingko/Getty Images


Last summer, there was a run on cucamelon seeds, a tiny green fruit that looks like a miniature watermelon but tastes like cucumber. The folks at
@gastroobscura, the foodie Instagram account for the online magazine Atlas Obscura, listed cucamelon among other hot garden fare such as black apples. Most of these specialty fruits are unlikely to appear in even the highest-end grocery stores soon, but you can seek out seeds or plants and, with some greenhouse finesse and jiggery, manage to grow them north of the 49th parallel. Other fruits on the upswing, according to Gastro Obscura, include Peanut Butter Fruit, a red-orange berry from the Andes, and Chocolate Pudding Fruit, a.k.a. black persimmon from Mexico and Central America. This year, you may see kiwi berries, white strawberries, pink lemonade blueberries and finger limes in garden stores and gourmet produce shops.



Constant Cravings
Photo: Rozakov/Getty Images


Old-school food preservation is a major revival trend. The fermentation frenzy came first, circa 2018, driven by coverage of Noma’s lab in Copenhagen and its bestselling cookbook. In the first spring of the pandemic, canning was on the upswing as we put up tomato sauce, pickles and pie filling. New on the horizon? The return of the cold cellar and a vogue for freeze drying food, which is not just for camping (or survivalist prepping) anymore. Sometimes we can’t eat all those homegrown veggies and boxes from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) allotments when they are fresh, especially the inevitable bumper crop of zucchini. Preserving is the old-fashioned way to retain nutrients, so you can enjoy the fruits of the field year round and stave off fears of food shortages. There are a remarkable number of newfangled homesteaders on social media, both the rural moms with soccer-team-sized families and a new, young, urban contingent that is making pantries chic again. The “shelfie,” or bathroom-shelf photo of covetable beauty products, has been replaced by racks of mason jars filled with vibrantly coloured contents.


Supercharged Food

The current frontier is where nutritional science meets ancient foraging and healing remedies. Superfoods are health-enhancing edibles that can enrich cocktails, desserts, salads, sauces and smoothies, from collagen to the medicinal herb ashwagandha (winter cherry) to spirulina algae. Hibiscus, the traditional Mexican food flower, is a hot topic, since its zesty, citrus-like flavour cuts through fatty meats and fishes and is loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants. Former Canopy cannabis CEO Bruce Linton has teamed up with investors (most notably, fashion titan Joe Mimran) to bring Strangelove x Mood Science Wellness Tinctures to market, which it describes as “mushroom-powered drops.” Made from non-hallucinogenic species such as cordyceps, Lion’s mane and chaga mushrooms, they purport to do everything from rev up focus, energy and memory, or help you sleep.


Couture Bakeries

Constant Cravings
Photo: Hanasaki/Getty Images


The pandemic made our carb fantasies come true, as amateur bakers across the land tended to sourdough bread starters and started churning out loaves. It also made our sweet teeth all fancy. In Toronto, customers lined up around the block for anything and everything at the bakery and sandwich boîte Emmer before it sold out every day (their coveted twice-baked croissants would be at home in Paris). Paul, a 100-year-old bakery from France, has opened its first, now bustling, location in Canada, in Vancouver. In Montreal, Au Kouign-Amann is treasured for the famed Brittany pastry of the same name. Japanese milk bread, those slightly sweet, square, white slices beloved by millennial food TikTokers, is moving east from Vancouver and going mainstream, while soufflé-like Japanese cheesecake continues to stoke palates. Meanwhile, buckwheat is having a dessert moment, with, for instance, the old-fashioned seed being puffed up and served atop a Korean barley tea mousse. 



Constant Cravings
Photo: Courtesy of Mrs.Alice


This is the catchall term for a new obsession with laying a dramatic and thematic dining table. After a few years of minimalism — remember bare tables and natural-toned pottery? — maximalism is in, now that we are able to show off our pent-up homemaking skills and hobbies. Use a tablecloth and a place mat, add a charger plate and centrepiece made of cabbage roses, and serve cabbage on cabbage-shaped plates as the brassica theme carries over into tableware. Sprinkle food, like clusters of grapes, berries or whole nuts, around the table, and go big on flowers and greenery. Develop tablecloth and napkin “wardrobes.” The British label Mrs. Alice is a big proponent of the trend to go joyously overboard on tablescapes (as seen on the left), with a catalogue exploding with chintz and seasonal colourways.


Brassica Attack

Constant Cravings
Photo: Science Photo Library/Getty Images


There is no vegetable humbler than a head of cabbage, a member of the brassica genus that is enjoying an unlikely renaissance on restaurant menus, in recipes and flashed all over social media, braised and roasted in thick, caramel-brown wedges, or sliced thin in complicated vinaigrette slaws. Hearty and shelf stable and inexpensive, it lasts in cold storage for months. Hip, young chefs and cooking stars alike are rising to the challenge of elevating the cruciferous veggie; Israeli British chef Yotam Ottolenghi has been on an absolute cabbage tear this winter. Come spring, more unusual forms — from purple sprouted broccoli (casually known as PSB) to crown-shaped Romanesco cauliflower, kohlrabi and kalette — will arise from an interest in rare heritage seeds.  



Constant Cravings
Photo: Benedek/Getty Images


This growing culinary trend is self-evident: We are all longing for simpler times and familiar flavours, so retro dishes are on the rise at home and on restaurant menus. Beef Wellington has had a very good winter, along with the vegetarian version of the Sunday roast, Portobello Mushroom Wellington. Everything old — escargots, Baked Alaska, Coquilles St. Jacques, fondue, French onion soup and even that old Silver Palate classic, Chicken Marbella — is new again. As for cocktails, the focus has shifted away from brown-liquor concoctions to more fanciful liqueur classics like the minty Grasshopper.

Potager Gardens

Constant Cravings
Photo: MediaProduction/Getty Images


A potager garden — from potage, the French word for soup — is a kitchen garden jazzed up with landscaping design that integrates plants, flowers and vegetables. Think various plant heights — some tall, some flush to the ground — with a flower border and walkways carved out between differently shaped beds. The idea is to have an integrated, esthetically pleasing whole, with complementary plantings to maximize natural pest defences. It makes sense this is taking off. Like Depression gardens and Victory gardens, when times get tough, our thoughts turn to providing for ourselves. This is a sustainable trend, much like the increasing interest in pollinator- and bird-friendly plants, and I hope it lasts.