Get ready for more cheese tea – green or black tea sipped through a cap of cream cheese blended with cream or condensed milk. Photo: Jeenah Moon The New York Times
More vegetables. Improved gut bacteria. Cocktails with less alcohol.

Many of the predictions about what we’ll eat and drink in 2019 point to a quiet, restorative and potentially grim time ahead. Then again, these forecasts always arrive carrying the clean, healthy pine scent of New Year’s resolutions.

The good news: there will be cheese tea. And salad robots, according to the prognosticators.

As we pored over dozens of lists handicapping the next big food trends, and interviewed the people who get paid to drill into consumer behaviour, we kept in mind that everyone could be dead wrong. Food forecasting is not a science, or even an art. Still, the game is a fun one.

Here are some of the most intriguing guesses at what and how we will be eating in the new year.

The Next Lettuce

Expect to see little-known varieties showing up on menus, and an explosion in lettuces grown hydroponically, many of them in urban container farms. Some chefs are rallying around celtuce, a lettuce with a leafy, bitter top and a stalk that’s kind of a cross between celery and asparagus.

The New Flavour Profile

Sour and funky, with shades of heat. This is what happens when you mix the interest in fermenting with the millennial palate. Melina Romero, trend insights manager at CCD Helmsman, a food research and product development firm in California, explained the generation that loves global mash-ups and bold flavours this way: “They grew up with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and while they still want spicy, I think, beyond that, they have grown to become interested in flavours that are acquired - sour flavours and even funky flavours like fermented foods.”

The Thing You Will Try Against Your Better Judgement

Cheese tea, an import from Taiwan, will hit the mainstream this year. Green or black tea is sipped through a cap of cream cheese blended with cream or condensed milk, which can be either sweet or slightly salty.

The big health fix

Anything to do with your gut flora. Expect more ways to ingest probiotics and prebiotics and foods designed to improve the bacterial health of your intestinal tract. Kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled things will work their way into new territory. Smoothies with kefir will be popular, and kombucha will show up in salad dressings.

The Hot Diets

Diets that emphasise fat over carbohydrates will continue to dominate. Instagram says video posts using the hashtag “keto” - the name of a high-fat, low-carb diet - grew fivefold over the past six months. Restaurants will add more low-carb options. The term “pegan” - a cross between a paleo and a vegan diet - will take hold.

The New Sheet-Pan Supper

With barely any clean-up and a deep whiff of nostalgia, cooking dinner in foil packets is poised for popularity.

The Driest Drinks

Lighter wines, natural wines and drinks with less or no alcohol will be popular. People aged 18 to 34 are more interested in spirit-free cocktails than any other demographic group, according to Mintel. 

As a result, bartenders will replace high-alcohol liquors like gin with lower-alcohol wines like prosecco in mixed drinks, and make more use of shrubs, craft vermouths, botanicals and distilled non-alcoholic spirits. Outlier prediction: Forbes magazine is betting the breakfast cocktail will be big.

The Case Against Waste

With the plastic straw and the plastic bag increasingly out of fashion, restaurants, food manufacturers and groceries will face new pressure to reduce other packaging waste. Restaurants that serve food on plastic with disposable cutlery will have an incentive to invest in reusable plates and forks. Cutting waste in the delivery market will get new attention, too.

The Plant-Based Main Course

Substantial vegetable entrées will become a fixture on restaurant menus. Many diners have started to eat less red meat or abandon animal protein altogether, whether for health, environmental or ethical reasons. A few corporations have banned meat consumption on their campuses. In Los Angeles, a member of the city council proposed a law that would require a substantial vegan protein entrée be available at movie theatres.

The Motherless Meat

Laboratory-grown proteins will enter the mainstream. KFC, Tyson Foods and Cargill are investing heavily, and the products are catching on so fast that ranchers have started campaigns to stop the engineered proteins from being called “meat,” Forbes reports. Prepare for the next generation of plant-based alternatives to dairy: substitutes for cheese, butter and ice cream made with nuts, soy or coconut.

The Tech Advancement You’ll Hate Until You Need It

Salad-making robots will show up in hospitals and airports, where freshly made food is not easy to find at all hours. The systems rely on chilled containers of fresh ingredients that are restocked during the course of the day. Push a few buttons on a keypad and the robot makes a custom salad topped with dressing.

The Hope for Dope

Major food and beverage companies are researching ways to get THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, and cannabidiol, a part of the plant that may have therapeutic properties, into more food and drinks.

The New “It” Vegetable

It’s a tie between mushrooms - which have acquired what food marketers call a health halo and are expected to pop up in teas, desserts, jerky and cocktails - and sea vegetables, which most people just call seaweed. Consumption of seaweed is growing 7% annually in the US. It checks all the boxes: healthful, environmentally sound and full of umami. 

The New York Times