Tasneem Backhouse offers the following insights and predictions for the food ingredient sector in 2017

2017 looks as though it could be the year of alternative ingredients and flavours, as demand for foods from exotic global regions become increasingly mainstream. Additionally, flours such as chickpea are set to become more prevalent in baked goods as a substitute to traditional wheat flours, tapping into the trend for free-from food products. Consumers of all ages are becoming increasingly experimental with new dishes and research from Mintel shows that 60 per cent of 16 to 34 year olds enjoy trying new cooking trends, ingredients, and products.

New food regions
Consumers’ love for world flavours is continuing to grow, with the demand for international cuisine predicted to increase by 20.3 per cent by 2017. The multicultural diversity of the UK population is bringing emerging cuisines to the high street according to the Bakers Federation, creating demand for retailers and food manufacturers to provide a wider variety of international foods. This has resulted in lesser-known cuisines being brought into the spotlight.

We have seen an increase in demand for spice blends and ingredients for Indonesian, Korean, and Cuban dishes and I predict this will continue in 2017. Leading favourites from 2016 are three of our newly launched blends, including:

  • Cuban sazon complete seasoning – a blend of garlic, oregano, black pepper with cumin and a drop of lime, used to create authentic Cuban styled meat, fish and vegetable dishes
  • Korean BBQ seasoning – a savoury soy sauce mix with ginger, chilli, and sesame seeds, used to coat pork ribs or stir fry with chicken to recreate the taste of the Orient
  • Indonesian fish curry powder – a tasty mix of cumin, fennel, chilli, star anise and fenugreek to create a delicious Indonesian fish curry

The taste preferences of UK consumers are always evolving and we’re seeing a greater demand for herb and spice blends from more unusual and exotic places around the world. For example, Asian cuisine remains a popular choice, but there are alternative regions with new flavour combinations coming to the fore, such as from Korea and Indonesia.

The Caribbean is also receiving more attention from consumers, and is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines with influences from Africa, Amerindia, Europe, East India, Arab nations and China. 2017 is set to be a successful year for manufacturers who embrace these trends and develop dishes, meal kits, marinades and spice blends for consumers to experiment with in foodservice outlets and in their own homes.

Chickpeas rule the roost
The United Nations named 2016 the year of the pulse (according to Mintel), highlighting the nutritional benefits of the food group and the need for food manufacturers to include pulses in their formulations and recipes.

Mintel also reports that sales of free-from foods have increased by 13 per cent since 2015, as consumers are adopting diets such as gluten-free for the health benefits, not just medical reasons. For food manufacturers looking to tap into this market and rebuild a healthy reputation for products such as bread, pulses are the ideal solution. Chickpea flour is a wheat flour substitute that has risen into the limelight this year and we predict it will continue in 2017.

A nutritious alternative to wheat flour, chickpea flour is gluten-free and high in protein, containing double the amount that’s in wheat flour, and it’s also high in iron and fibre. Adding a nutty taste to bread recipes, the ingredient also binds well in recipes and creates a consistent texture, which according to Epicurious, can be a struggle in gluten-free baking.

Using alternative ingredients, such as chickpea flour, in breads can raise a product’s health credentials and enhance its appeal. I expect a lot more alternative flours to be incorporated into gluten-free products in the bakery sector and across wider food products.

Spicing up soups and meal kits
Soup’s healthy image has made it a mainstay in the British food market all year round (source: Mintel), but there are opportunities to further its popularity. With spices regularly receiving positive media coverage, spicing up traditional soup recipes with ingredient blends can help to amplify the products appeal and create distinctive and delicious new flavours. Our key blends for spicing up soup recipes in 2017 include:

  • Aromatic Japanese style noodle seasoning – used to put a ramen-style twist on traditional soup recipes
  • Paprika, garlic and lemon blend – for a tasty, authentic Spanish style soup
  • Jamaican jerk seasoning – best used to create and spice up West Indian chicken soup
  • Spicy vegetable soup seasoning – ideal for winter favourites, such as potato and kale soup

Home cooking and entertaining is set to remain popular in 2017 with consumers looking to create impressive and complex dishes at home. A report from Mintel shows that there is a strong interest in ethnic spice kits that allow consumers to experiment with the scratch-cooking trend and cook their favourite international dishes. We predict that meal kits will continue to grow in popularity next year, especially among cuisines from different global regions. We’ve seen an increase in spice blends for soup recipes with international twists and expect to see more food manufacturers expand their ranges and become more experimental with blends from across the globe.

Meal kits are also a huge seller and while they remain popular in the retail market, there is an emergence of popular home delivery services. Mexican dishes, such as fajitas and quesadillas, are firm favourites but there’s increasingly more options for consumers, such as kits for Thai and Goan curries, Moroccan tagines, Spanish tapas and BBQ marinades, offering small quantities of ingredients to compile home-cooked meals.

Food manufacturers and retailers can capitalise on these developing trends to ensure they are meeting demand and making products more readily available, increasing convenience and choice for consumers in 2017 and beyond.

Tasneem Backhouse is joint managing director at EHL Ingredients. EHL Ingredients is an importer, blender and packer of food ingredients from around the world. From herbs and spices, to beans and pulses and dried fruit, it supplies over 300 food ingredients to all areas of the food industry, and boasts a 200-strong organic range as well as over 70 ingredient blends.