7 Lasting Food Trends from 2021

From charcuterie to kombucha, our experts take a look back at the tastiest trends in 2021.

In fashion and food, trends come and go. Sometimes "old" things that were previously en vogue return anew, especially when we're craving nostalgia—as many of us do when things feel challenging.

The trends during the uncertain days of 2020 leaned towards the familiar and cozy. Sourdough starters, warm-from-the-oven cookies, and classic egg salad sandwiches returned to favor as a source of comfort, as the 2020 Google Year in Search trends show.

In 2021, as we began to return to life before COVID-19, the trend shifted from the familiar to the different and more interesting in flavors and recipes. Cooking at home continued to be more popular than ever, but we were looking for ways to stretch our culinary experiences in our kitchens.

The Top 7 Food Trends of 2021 that We Still Love

overhead of charcuterie board
bhofack2/Getty Images

Next-Level Charcuterie

There's no doubt charcuterie boards and their offshoots—jarcuterie, mail-order charcuterie boards, and charcuterie chalets— continue to rise in popularity. As these artful smorgasbords are seen everywhere, it's no longer just about cured meats and cheeses: Bagel or pancake-topped breakfast charcuterie boards and taco bar-like Mexican charcuterie boards are now a casual family meal, and colorful candy charcuterie boards are featured at events and parties.

"Charcuterie has taken off for many reasons, but one reason is because it's highly visual. It's all over social media and the internet, and Millennials in particular reported even more impact on their diets from influencers and social media over the course of the pandemic," says Sarah Marion, Ph.D., a Seattle, Washington-based director of syndicated research for the market research company Murphy Research. "Back in January [of 2020], a little more than a quarter of millennials rated influencers and social media networks very influential on their eating habits. As social lives moved online, this number went up, hitting a high point of 41% in September and is currently sitting around 37%."

Prioritizing Plant-Based Eating

Instead of beef, pork, or poultry, even carnivorous Americans are picking more plant protein sources, including beans, legumes, whole grains, and plant-based meat substitutes. This trend took off in 2020 when 28% of people surveyed by IFIC said they were eating more plant proteins than they did the year before.

This turn towards plant-based meals was boosted by research proving that replacing red meat with plant proteins may lower the risk of heart disease. Referring to the increased availability and improvements in the market for plant-based beef and seafood replacements, Meyer says, "there's innovation that is happening around this style of eating and it feeds into other important issues such as sustainability and overall health."

Marion adds that "restricting animal products has become fairly common," even among those who are more flexitarian than vegan dieters. "What's fascinating is that the number of nutrition-engaged consumers restricting animal products [seems] to align with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, hitting a high point in November [2020] with 32% of nutrition-engaged consumers avoiding meat, dairy, or animal products. This [was] a significant increase from January [2020] when 25% were avoiding these things."

Spicy Barbecue Sauce
Andy Lyons

Spicy Sauces, Seasonings, and Condiments

This pantry staple food trend from 2021 is still hot. Literally. Instead of seasoning with plain ol' salt and pepper or drizzling recipes with olive oil, we're seeing snappy spices and flavor-boosted sauces. One of the sweetest of these trends is hot honey, which saw substantial growth in Yelp review mentions and Pinterest searches. Whole Foods Market and Instacart trend experts explain that this could be a way for home cooks to ensure their basics don't taste boring. More than one in five Americans (21%) polled by Instacart says they've tried foreign spices and flavors to add more excitement to their homemade meals. From piri piri sauce (aka peri-peri sauce, a style of Portuguese hot sauce made from peri-peri peppers) to za'atar spice blend, this is not your typical American pantry.

Shopping for Mother Nature

The trend of supporting friends and neighbors when the pandemic began continues as more Americans report they're investing their dollars into brands that align with their values. In addition, upcycled products (foods that use neglected or underused parts of an ingredient to reduce food waste) and sustainable sourcing continue to be priorities today.

"There's been an uptick in consumers buying environmentally-friendly food products, driven by millennials and Gen X," Marion explains. "From the beginning of 2020 to the end, approximately 50% more Millennial and Gen X consumers rated 'environmentally-friendly' among their top four food-purchasing criteria."

Shopping with Diverse Populations

In light of the racial justice movement and other equality initiatives, supporting female- and BIPOC-owned businesses seems to be more of a consideration than ever before.

"People are now selectively choosing where they spend their money and who they choose to support. As we've seen the collapse of small businesses, many people want to help small businesses get back on their feet so they choose a mom and pop shop over a big corporation to get the owners through this pandemic," Mee McCormick, the author of My Pinewood Kitchen and the chef and founder of Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile in Nunnelly, Tennessee, said in 2020.

An Instacart survey found that 14% of Americans report they've sought out brands run or owned by women (including Yes Way Rosé, Noosa Yoghurt, and Simple Mills). Fourteen percent have also prioritized shopping with BIPOC-run or owned brands this year (such as Partake Foods, Pipcorn, and Glory Foods).

Boosted Kombucha

This effervescent, fermented beverage has been taking over an increased amount of refrigerator aisle real estate at health food stores and supermarkets over the course of the past decade. Food brands are taking the gut-friendly drink to new levels of creativity and flavor with soda-like fizzy tonics and booze-infused kombucha.

"As a microbiologist, I'm very excited about this trend. It speaks to peoples' continued interest in fermented foods, the microbiome, and gut health," says Megan Meyer, Ph.D., the former director of science communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Mediterranean Breakfast Sandwiches
Jason Donnelly

Hot Breakfasts, Even on Weekdays

As Americans spent more time at home throughout 2020, fewer of us were living on-the-fly. For many, that continued into 2021 and beyond. As a result, meals, including weekday breakfasts that were previously rushed, became a mini occasion worth upgrading and lingering over. With a shorter or no commute, we've taken the opportunity to upgrade from a granola bar and coffee on the go to a warmer, more substantial breakfast such as fully-loaded omelets, protein-packed pancake stacks, keto-friendly egg bites, and Instagrammable breakfast sandwiches.

"When it comes to meal planning, breakfast varies quite a bit by generation," said Marion. "Boomers and Gen Z have shown stable habits, while Gen X has been increasingly likely to plan breakfast. It's feasible to assume that this trend is related to having more people at home on any given day." "As young adults have moved back in with their parents, Gen X households have grown, which may be leading to bigger and more planned breakfasts. Similarly, among millennials, having children around the house all day would likewise prompt an increase in more planned breakfasts." However, Marion predicted both trends would likely change dramatically once schools and universities have opened back up, as they have for the most part, and grown children move out once again.

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  1. "COVID-19 Pandemic Transforms the Way We Shop, Eat and Think About Food, According to IFIC’s 2020 Food & Health Survey." International Food Information Council, 2020. pp. 1-4

  2. Satija, Ambika et al. "Red Meat Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among US men: Prospective Cohort Study." BMJ, 2020, doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4141

  3. "New Year, New Cart: The Tastes and Trends of 2021." Instacart. 2021

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