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September 26, 2019

Functionally Fantastic

Here’s a sneak peek of this month’s trend: it’s all about functional foods. The New Wholesome ladders up to the broader trend, but the interest lies in the benefits that may require a more technical term. Why? Because of the positive effects that the items have on our health, often beyond basic nutritional benefits. “Functional” cuts straight to the chase and gets to the heart of the appeal. Hemp, collagen, pea protein, acai, and turmeric are a few ingredients that come to mind, but there are so many more. So, before we release all the ideas and inspiration of the trend in action, we thought we’d take a minute to share the what’s what of the trend itself.

If you’re searching for a legal definition, it may be hard to find. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates foods labeled as functional, it does not provide a legal definition of the term, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The term originates in the early ‘80s when the Japanese Academic Society created a class of "functional foods" with a list of conventional and modified foods that included additional health benefits. Alas, functional foods, and the study of their effects, were born.


Ingredients like turmeric, hemp oil, or moringa are at the heart of the trend with a long list of rewards and affirmations like “amazing” attached to the mention. Instructions on how to use them, when to use them, and why you should are readily available and offer confirmation that a new age of functional foods has arrived. Sleep better, reduce inflammation, fight ailments, prevent illnesses—all prospects attached to the humble ingredients. And consumers are more than willing to try them in their diet, gain the benefits, and share the good news.

Turmeric is a favorite functional food, to be sure. Growing at an impressive rate of 195.1% over the last 4 years, according to Datassential, turmeric is quickly becoming a spice of choice in the quest toward better health. Often paired with ginger and lemon, this powerhouse is easy to add to drinks and recipes, as can be seen across the marketplace. First Watch, for instance, is offering Carrot Crush, a beverage of carrot, orange, coconut water, turmeric, and lemon. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse is featuring an Enlightened Moroccan Chicken with turmeric-roasted cauliflower.

Ashwaganda, or Indian Ginseng, is building steam as a solution for anxiety, weight loss, and blood sugar management. Try it in your coffee for an anxiety-beating boost, to start, or add to a warm cup of milk for restless slumber. At Café Gratitude, an Adrenal Latte lists restoration benefits with ashwaganda, pine pollen, reishi, cordyceps, cinnamon, and raw honey. Cacao Tree Café offers a version of a daily tonic packed with fresh tai coconut water, coconut meat, cacao powder maca, shilajith, macuna, ashwaganda, cinnamon, and Chaga mushroom.

Bee Pollen is also taking off, boasting a 4-year growth rate of 181.4% and a host of benefits. Not only can this natural elixir help fight allergies, it can also heal wounds, reduce inflammation, and aid in weight loss. Often paired with bananas and found in many smoothies and juices, bee pollen offers an opportunity beyond the usual menu suspects. Café Artscience offers a Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup featuring bee pollen, poached pears, and tarragon oil. Vitality Bowls Superfood Café is taking the broader trend straight to the menu with their Superfood Waffle. Whole grain wheat, pitaya, quinoa, flaxseed, chia seed, whey protein, and milk, with an extensive list of superfood modifications, including bee pollen.

The functional food trend is making its way across the food scene quickly with lots of interest and plenty of proven benefits to match. As with many trends before this one, we are watching the infiltration move from independent restaurants and specialty retail to more mainstream menus, from beverage menus to the center of the plate, and from niche applications to full-on features. Bone Broth, Kava Kava, Activated Charcoal, and Dandelion are all on the list of emerging functional foods, along with a whole list of others, waiting for you to try. Add to your soupsdressings, desserts, and beverages, or offer the ingredients for an upcharge. All possibilities to play with today, and who knows, you might just sleep better tonight as a result.

Bo Chhay
Manager, Insight & Communication
Custom Culinary, Inc.