The Future 50 Foods Report

7 August, 2019

By 2050 the world’s population is predicted to increase to almost ten billion people – who will all need to be fed. It is well documented that the planet has finite resources to do this, and so in the near future we will need to transform our global food system – from the way we farm and fish, to what we choose to eat.

As it currently stands, globally we rely on a very small range of foods to sustain us and this has a negative impact on both our health and the health of the planet. Seventy-five percent of the global food supply comes from only five animal and twelve plant species. Of which just three (rice, maize and wheat) make up nearly 60 percent of calories from plants in the entire human diet. Such a reliance means we exclude many sources of valuable nutrition, so while people may be getting sufficient calories, these narrow diets don’t really provide enough vitamins and minerals.

In order to future-proof ourselves and our planet, it’s obvious that the way we produce food needs to become much more sustainable and the food we eat needs to become much more nutritionally diverse. As a response to this, Knorr and the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) have joined forces with Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director of The Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington to compile a list of foods that meet this criteria – The Future 50 Foods Report.

The list consists of a selection of vegetables, grains, cereals, seeds, legumes and nuts from across the globe (and most interestingly includes no meat or fish), which have been chosen for their high nutritional value, relative environmental impact, flavour, accessibility, acceptability and affordability. It is intended to inspire greater variety in what we cook and eat, and to kickstart three important dietary shifts. Firstly, a greater variety of vegetables to increase intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; secondly, plant-based sources of protein to replace meat, poultry and fish; and thirdly, more nutrient-rich sources of carbohydrates to promote agrobiodiversity and provide more nutrients.

Below is the list in full, followed by some background facts as well as recipe suggestions and tips for a selection of these ingredients:

Algae
1. Laver seaweed
2. Wakame seaweed

Beans and Pulses
3. Adzuki beans
4. Black turtle beans
5. Broad (fava) beans
6. Bambara groundnuts/beans
7. Cowpeas
8. Lentils
9. Marama beans
10. Mung beans
11. Soy beans

Cacti
12. Nopales (prickly pear).

Cereals and Grains
13. Amaranth
14. Buckwheat
15. Finger millet
16. Fonio
17. Khorasan wheat
18. Quinoa
19. Spelt
20. Teff
21. Wild rice

Fruit and Vegetables
22. Pumpkin flowers
23. Okra
24. Orange tomatoes

Leafy Greens
25. Beet greens
26. Broccoli rabe
27. Kale
28. Moringa
29. Pak-choi/Bok-choy
30. Pumpkin leaves
31. Red cabbage
32. Spinach
33. Watercress

Mushrooms
34. Enoki mushrooms
35. Maitake mushrooms
36. Saffron milk cap mushrooms

Nuts and Seeds
37. Flax seeds
38. Hemp seeds
39. Sesame seeds
40. Walnuts

Root Vegetables
41. Black salsify
42. Parsley root
43. White icicle radish (winter radish)

Sprouts
44. Alfalfa sprouts
45. Sprouted kidney beans
46. Sprouted chickpeas

Tubers
47. Lotus root
48. Ube (purple yam)
49. Yam bean root (jicama)
50. Red Indonesian sweet potatoes (cilembu)

 

Laver Seaweed
Edible seaweed is both plentiful and sustainable, as well as being extremely healthy. Kilo for kilo, it contains more fibre than prunes or bananas, more calcium than cheese, and more iron than sirloin steak, and is generally high in protein and low in fat. It’s been a popular food source in Japan and China for years, and now it seems that the Western world is finally starting to wake up to the versatility and benefits too.

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

Laver seaweed is a variety of red algae, it has a very high nutrient content and helps bring out the umami flavour in other foods. It has a distinctive flavour that has been likened to oysters and olives. It is common in many global coastal areas – in Wales it is boiled and puréed to make the traditional Welsh dish laverbread, while in Japan it is dried to make nori, which is used to wrap sushi or onigiri.

London-based Michelin-starred chef, Alyn Williams uses laverbread as a filling for ravioli which he serves in light broth garnished with Welsh beach vegetables – sea beet, rock samphire, sea arrowgrass and stone crop. North Yorkshire butchers Farmison and Co have a recipe for a mutton shortcrust pie with a filling of Swaledale shoulder of mutton, anchovies, globe artichoke, capers and laver seaweed – in which the hay-like aromas of the laver works to accentuate the earthy flavour of the mutton.

On the other side of the globe at Paternoster, South Africa, Chef Kobus van der Merwe forages for many of the ingredients on the menu at his beachside ‘shack’ Wolfgat, which was the winner of ‘Restaurant of the Year’ at the World Restaurant Awards 2019. Seaweeds, including laver, feature in many of his dishes, such as twice cooked laver; abalone and accompaniments kelp, laver, dune celery and samphire; and kelp, smoked snoek with a seaweed-tomato broth, made using kelp, laver, sea lettuce and sea moss.


Smoked snoek with a seaweed-tomato broth at Wolfgat
Image courtesy of @wolfgat via Instagram

For a umami-packed snack, try deep-frying laver in small batches until crisp (making sure you watch for the spitting oil!) then sprinkle with furikake or chilli flakes.

Black Turtle Beans
So-called because of their hard, shell-like appearance, these legumes are high in protein and fibre with a subtle sweet, mushroom-like flavour and a dense, meat-like texture. They are particularly popular in Latin American but are also often used in Cajun and Creole cuisines. In the American south they are commonly eaten with greens on New Year’s Day, as it is believed that by doing so it will bring good luck for the coming year – a tradition that is thought to have been introduced by early Jewish settlers

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

American chef Jeremiah Tower, who worked at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California with Alice Waters in the 1970s has a recipe for black bean cakes in his first cookbook Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics. These crisp, smoky and chilli-infused cakes are one of Tower’s personal favourites and make for a great starter or side dish.

Modern Mexican restaurant Breddos Tacos, in London’s Soho, serves a tostada with scallops and bacon, avocado crema, Serrano chilli and black bean, while the nearby Ella Canta serves them as a topping for a tlayuda along with smoked Oaxaca cheese, mixed leaves and macha sauce.


Pork belly with black bean sauce, pickled chillies and pork crackling
Image courtesy of @ellacantalondon via Instagram

Niki Sagnit, author of The Flavour Thesaurus, has an interesting recipe for a black bean and chipotle soup with salty and a sweet garnish of feta and watermelon and at London’s Santo Remedio you can fill up at brunch on a large plate of huevos motuleños – corn tostadas with black beans, fried eggs, salsa roja, cotija cheese, grilled bacon and plantains.


Image courtesy of @nikisegnit via Instagram

Try them braised with onion, garlic, celery, bay leaves and oregano and served Latin American style with either arepeas or on top of tacos with crumbled queso fresco and salsa Mexicana. Alternatively mix black beans with rice to make the classic Cuban dish moros y cristianos – best served with some garlicky BBQ chicken, fried plantain, mojo sauce and plenty of rum.

They also make a nutritious Indian inspired dhal, tempered with curry leaves and Kashmiri chilli, or for a zingy, healthy, summer salad, tumble in with ancient grains and shaved root vegetables and serve with a citrus, chilli & mint dressing.

Fava Beans
Fava beans (broad beans) have a sweet, grassy flavour and a buttery texture and are high in protein and soluble fibre. These hardy beans are cultivated in numerous countries and play an important role in many global cuisines – from the Mediterranean to the Middle East and Africa to Latin America.


A broad selection of fava beans
Image courtesy of @nikisegnit via Instagram

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

Fava beans can be eaten in many ways be it fresh, boiled, steamed, fried, dried and cooked into curries and stews or made into a flour.

Innovative chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill in New York City serves a summer vegetable lasagne with fava beans, summer squash and farmer’s cheese. At the Michelin-starred restaurant L’air du temps in Liernu, Belgium they serve a starter of fava beans with a kombucha of geranium and savory – using fava beans grown in its onsite vegetable garden.


Overripe broad beans at The Clove Club
From @thecloveclub via Instagram

In London, the modern Indian restaurant Gymkhana’s menu features an asparagus, pea and broad bean pilau, while at Honey & Co fresh broad beans are used to make a version of hummus that is served with marinated asparagus. The Michelin-starred The Clove Club double-peel large overripe broadbeans – of the sort that would normally be sent back for being too chalky – and then gently braise them in a light chicken stock enriched with dried oyster and clams and seasoned with oregano and mint until they become amazingly creamy and soft. Trinity in Clapham have a developed a new dish for its summer menu, which is globe artichokes, broadbeans, Stracciatella and Scottish girolles.


Globe artichoke, broadbeans, stracciatella and Scottish girolles at Trinity, Clapham
From @lalatteriauk via Instagram

Use fava beans to make the popular and delicious Middle Eastern dish fuul – simply boil the beans with onions, celery, garlic, carrot and bay leaves and then purée when cooked, before seasoning and serving topped with sautéed greens, garlic & chilli. For another dish from the same geographical region, try making traditional Egyptian-style falafel. Soak dried fava beans with dried chickpeas and blitz with onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, allspice, nutmeg and chilli. Then roll into balls, coat with sesame seeds and deep fry till crisp. Serve with hummus, chopped salad, grilled flatbread, tahini & yoghurt sauce.

For a more Sicilian steer try toasting fava beans and sprinkling with paprika to make a simple, yet tasty bar snack, or use them to make maccu, a thick and rich fava bean soup that is very popular on the island. This is traditionally served to mark the coming of spring but can be also eaten cold, as when it cools it sets, and can be eaten simply sliced or fried in breadcrumbs

Cowpeas
Also commonly known as black-eyed peas, cowpeas are actually beans, not peas, and although native to Africa they are now grown in many countries around the world. These beans are an energy powerhouse – packed full of minerals, vitamins and protein. As a crop, they are quick-growing and drought and heat tolerant, and although they are usually grown for the bean; the leaves, green seeds and pods are also edible.

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

Sqirl in Los Angeles, USA does an interesting take on the Middle Eastern dish shakshuka it calls Shakpeas, which is a stew of smoked San Marzano tomatoes, deep spices & Koda Farms’ black-eyed peas, two eggs, bearss lime hulba, greens and long toast. Further south, La Petite Grocery in New Orleans, serve an appetiser of tasso & chicken confit gumbo, black-eyed peas & collard greens.

For another American inspired recipe try them sautéed with okra & peppers as an accompaniment to southern fried chicken. They’re also great in salads, for example mix them with roasted peppers and simply dress with lots of fresh parsley, lemon zest & celery and serve with some BBQ peri peri chicken; or for a zingy side dish, blend them into a salsa with fresh tomato, avocado, coriander and lime juice.

Cowpeas make a nutritious, protein-rich curry with coconut milk, cumin, ginger, garlic & garam malsa and can also be used to make an alternate variation of the classic Indian dish dal makhani, caleed Lobia Masaledar.

They can be used to make ful gnaoua, a Moroccan take on the dish fuul, which is usually made with fava beans in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East. Best eaten warm for breakfast with some freshly baked Moroccan bread to scoop them up.


A bowlful of cowpeas
Image courtesy of @arealfamilywoman via Instagram

 

Cacti – Nopales
Nopales are the thick, paddle-like leaves or modified-stems of the cactus and both these and their oil are a rich source of nutrients, dietary fibre and vitamins A, B & C. They are widely cultivated in Central and South America, the Middle East and Africa and are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine.

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

Nopales can be eaten raw, cooked or made into jams, and the sweet and juicy cactus fruit, known as prickly pears, are also edible. In fact they make a particularly tasty juice, with a flavour that has been described as a cross between strawberry and watermelon.


Chicken, pork and prickly pear tacos at Tacos Chukis, Seattle, USA
Image courtesy of @sophia_la_vespa via Instagram

Santo Remedio in London serves a cactus slaw made with grilled cactus and fennel, while at Ella Canta in Mayfair, head chef and patron Martha Ortix has created a grilled nopal salad with halloumi cheese and fresh and roasted tomatillos, and at La Bodega Negra in Soho you can get a nopale negra taco filled with soft shell crab, squid ink tempura, smoked chipotle aioli, cactus and pico de gallo. Over in Mexico, Quintonil in Mexico City (currently number 24 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) has both abalone, house mole, potatoes and nopal, and a cactus sorbet on its summer tasting menu.

California-based chef, forager and herbalist Jess Starwood has a recipe for cactus tacos, in which she makes the actual tortillas from a dough that is mixed with blended nopals, coriander and spinach and then makes a filling of grilled or sautéed nopales, salsa, avocado and cashew cream finished off with a squeeze of lime.


Cactus tortillas
Image courtesy of @jess.starwood via Instagram

 

Black Salsify
This little-known root vegetable is actually a member of the sunflower family and grows well in cool, temperate climates. It is mainly grown in Europe and is particularly popular in Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Germany, and is high in fibre, iron and vitamin E.

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

Black salsify can be boiled, mashed, roasted or baked and has a sweet, slightly musky taste. In fact when cooked its taste has been likened to that of oyster, which gave rise to it also being known as the oyster plant.

Rene Redzepi of Noma, which is currently offering its summer vegetable menu, makes a dish called salsify and milk skin with truffle puree, in which the salsify is blanched and then pan-fried. The Michelin-starred Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth, Wales serves monkfish with salsify, kale and spices, while The Clove Club has a dish of slow cooked Lincolnshire chicken with salsify, spinach and anchovy.


Baked salsify in Parmesan
Image courtesy of @gbchefs

Chef Jeremy Lee (Quo Vadis) simmers salsify until tender, then smothers it in Parmesan and butter and bakes it in feuille de brick pastry – for a sophisticated side dish, while Dan Lepard combines it with Strathearn cheese (hand-crafted and made from cow’s milk) and a sourdough all-butter puff pastry to make an open tart. Salsify goes well with cured meats, try it baked gratin-style with honey, mustard and streaky bacon; roasted and topped with slices of Parma ham and drizzled with hollandaise, or for a different, less meaty take on pigs in blankets – use salsify instead of cocktail sausages.


Roasted salsify with Parma ham and hollandaise
Image courtesy of @gbchefs via Instagram

Parsley Root
This parsnip-like root vegetable is high in vitamin C and has an aromatic taste similar to celeriac, carrot and parsley. Although its leaves are edible and can be used much like conventional parsley, this variety is grown predominantly for its root.

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

It is popular in Central and Eastern European cuisines and is an essential ingredient in an authentic borscht. It has a distinctly earthy flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked, be it mashed, puréed, fried, steamed and it pairs well with fish and shellfish. When eaten raw it makes for a crunchy addition to a slaw, and when cooked can be used in much the same way as any other root vegetable, and apparently it is especially good when made into chips or smoked at a low and slow temperature until tender.


Parsley root
Image courtesy of @chef_sebastian_kumpmann via Instagram

American Michelin-starred chef Matt Lightner has a recipe in which he makes a parsley root milk by blending the parsley root with milk, sugar and salt to give a smooth purée, which he then serves with scallops. As part of Noma’s Saturday Night Project – which sees staff members create and present their own dishes to Rene Redzepi – has previously featured a dish of cured squid, parsley root, radishes, kelp and beech nut paste with a sauce of sorrel and nasturtium, which was so good that it was posted onto the Noma Twitter feed.


Smoked parsley root
Image courtesy of @foodie773 via Instagram

Okra
Okra is a flowering plant with edible green seed pods (often referred to as ladies’ fingers). It is one of the most drought resistant vegetables in the world and is full of useful antioxidants. It is particularly popular in the Caribbean and Asia as well as being a common ingredient in Creole and Cajun cooking.

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

The seed pods be eaten raw, steamed, stir-fried, grilled or pickled and it goes well with strong spicy flavours and seasonings. The okra leaves are also edible, and act mush like a leafy green, while the individual seeds are sometimes roasted and ground to make a coffee-like drink (albeit one without caffeine).


Sautéed okra
Image courtesy of Andrew Colvin / Creative Commons

In London, Lucky Cat do South-East Asian-style skewers of okra with a tamarind tenkatsu sauce, Dishoom do a side dish of Okra fries, Bombay-style and Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen also do crispy okra fries but with a West African twist – marinated in ginger, chilli and garlic before being battered and fried, while Vietnamese restaurant Cay Tre serve a Mekong hot and sour fish soup with taro stem, okra and tamarind.

Over in the USA, Sqirl in Los Angeles have a lacto-cucumber gazpacho, with pickled okra, flame grapes, Calabrian chili oil, raw sumac cream and dill pollen on the menu, while La Petite Grocery in New Orleans serve yellowfin tuna, charred okra, preserved mushroom & yogurt.


Lacto-cucumber gazpacho with pickled okra at Sqirl
Image courtesy of @sqirlla via Instagram

Renowned American chef Edna Lewis had plenty of recipes involving Okra, many of which can be found in her classic cookbook The Gift of Southern Cooking, written with fellow chef Scott Peacock. Some examples include okra sautéed with tomatoes and bacon; okra pancakes; and roasted okra with field peas, tomatoes and mint.


Bhindi masala – a North Indian dish of okra, tomatoes, onion and spices.
Image courtesy of @doon.food.bliss via Instagram

 

Moringa
The fast growing and drought resistant moringa, or drumstick tree, is native to South Asia and these days is widely cultivated in many countries. With many different parts of this highly nutritious tree being edible, it is a particularly versatile and important food source – in fact it is often referred to as the miracle tree because of this.


Moringa seedpods
Image courtesy of @pureblissgarden via Instagram

Recommended Uses, Recipes and Restaurant Dishes

The leaves are packed full of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and when cooked can act as an alternative to other leafy green vegetables. They can also be turned into a powder that can be used in smoothies, soups, sauces, teas and curries. In recent times this powder has been pushed as a ‘superfood’ or dietary supplement and can now be found in many western health food shops. The long seedpods (or drumsticks) are also commonly eaten, often cooked into curries and daal while the seeds themselves can be eaten raw like peas or even roasted like a nut.


Moringa variations
Image courtesy of @javaraindonesia via Instagram

In London’s Soho, Vietnamese restaurant Cay Tre serves crispy chicken noodles with fried drumstick, Asian greens and chicken broth, while at Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers they make a drumstick sambhar (a lentil-based vegetable stew), which has great depth of flavour thanks to the drumstick.

Drumsticks make for a wonderful curry, such as the one we recently tried in downtown Colombo, Sri Lanka, which was fragrant and spicy with coconut milk, chilli and chopped drumstick and tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds. Curries made with the drumsticks and leaves are also very popular in southern India as well as SE Asia, in particular Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia and Thailand where it is often used as a textural ingredient in seafood curries. Moringa leaves are also an integral component of tinola, a soup made with unripe papaya and chicken which is particularly popular in The Philippines.

Moringa is great in drinks. Try blending the leaves with coconut water, kale and dates to make a super-healthy smoothie or steep them in water with a dash of honey and ginger to make a refreshing iced tea – perfect to relax with on a hot afternoon whilst on a tropical south Indian beach.


Moringa curry
Image courtesy of @the.lightwork.experience via Instagram