The Most Surprising Flavor Trends You'll Be Eating In 2021

The end of the year hath approacheth, and you know the drill: all manner of articles on new holiday products, wacky gift ideas, cookie-baking, and what to do with all that leftover eggnog have arrive. It's also time for those end-of-year wrap-ups and taking a look back over the past year's trends: food-wise, we're talking sourdough, banana bread, and tiny foods revisited. Perhaps the most fun, if least accurate, of all the year-ending traditions, however, is where we channel our inner psychic and gaze into our imaginary crystal balls to predict what everyone's going to be doing in the coming year. (How well did we do last year? Well, okay, even Theresa Caputo couldn't have predicted everything that happened in 2020.)

For next year's predictions, we wanted to do better than enlisting the aide of a medium (be she from Long Island or not). Instead, we sought insight from an industry professional: Marie Wright, the chief global flavorist with the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM). She's a chemist who has created more than 1,500 individual flavors for a number of major food and beverage companies, so she's an expert on analyzing current trends in flavor preferences and predicting future ones.

How people's tastes changed since 2019

Well, as we all know, comfort eating was huge this past year, and many of us kind of ditched healthy eating in favor of what Wright acknowledges are "foods and beverages they find comforting and familiar [such as] mac n' cheese, chicken noodle soup, and potato chips." She says that as we head into 2021, however, we're starting to branch out a bit. Wright thinks we're becoming more adventurous eaters as a way to find a sort of escape, perhaps the only vacation we'll be able to take for a while. Maybe that bucket-list trip to Bali is off, but you can still enjoy nasi goreng since, as Wright says, "food and global cuisine is one way you can still travel in a sense and experience new things."

Yet one more way in which 2020 influenced our future food tastes, that is somewhat contradictory to our affinity for comfort foods, is that suddenly we all became a lot more health-conscious out of necessity. While we're aware that supplements and healthy eating won't protect us from, much less cure, COVID-19, still, we're appreciating our health more than ever and trying to take better care of ourselves. Wright thinks that foods containing both immunity and mood boosters will increase in popularity.

Fermented foods will continue to be big

Speaking of healthy foods, Wright informs us that "fermented flavors like black lime and preserve lemon...are becoming more popular as interest grows in healthy digestion and the microbiome." While she says that adding fermented flavor is "a little more challenging for mainstream products" (what, no sauerkraut potato chips?), she notes that things are starting to change a bit as we become more familiar with products like kombucha and kimchi. She thinks we can expect to start seeing more fermented flavors available in condiments, yogurt, and alcoholic beverages, as well as seeing a wider variety of flavors for pickles and kimchi.

Sweet and spicy will still be a thing

Wright speaks of the popularity of spices such as allspice, cardamom, and smoked cinnamon, which she calls "warming, peppery flavors," saying they can deliver a hint of heat as well as flavor. She also makes mention of garam masala, a spice blend she calls "bold and exotic." These flavors, she says, are especially appealing when paired with brighter fruit flavors such as pear and citrus as they can add some complexity as well as a different taste experience. These flavor combos, she says, work especially well in beverages such as tea as well as in ice cream.

A few other fruity sweet-spicy pairings she anticipates will be big in the months to come are chamoy, a flavor that combines mango with lime and chile; ginger with citrus (particularly lemon), and ginger with pineapple and turmeric. Such combos would although fit into the healthy foods category, as well, since as she notes, ginger is good for the digestion, and turmeric is practically the superfood of the spice family.

Feel-good flavors are and will continue to be popular

While many will be glad to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror, we're not out of the woods yet when it comes to the series of unfortunate events that beset us in the past year. Wright says that "as we move into 2021, comfort will remain attractive," and speaks of "spa flavors" such as calming lavender as well as rose, elderflower, and hibiscus that are slowly making their way from the beverage aisle (teas, flavored waters) to the snack shelves. Perhaps these flavors might eventually become more mainstream in the way that another spa flavor has done. Wright points out that "just a few years ago cucumber was a little niche in terms of flavor [but] it's becoming more common now."

Other comfort flavors Wright says we'll see? "A gravitation toward permissible indulgence," but the indulgences we'll be permitting sound like they'll be pretty tasty ones. "At the top of the list for 2021 comfort flavors, she tells us, "are cookies & cream, peppermint mocha, birthday cake, s'mores, pumpkin spice, and coffee in everything!" Yum! Sounds like it's going to be a good year — for our tastebuds at least.