Ah, the ho-hum pantry shelf. Typically the last place we associate with healthy, vibrant foods that support health. But both Expo West and Fancy Food this year have made it clear that there’s a whole lotta shake up going on in the pantry, and both packaging and ingredients are getting a makeover for sustainability and health. Here’s my take on some of the green trends worth watching for 2014 that will clean up your shelf for the better.
Trend #1: Condiments Get Cleaned Up
Trendsetter: Sir Kensington Mayo and Ketchup The mega trend of eating cleaner food, and reaching for foods made with easy to read ingredients has finally come to the condiment aisle. The time has come for both mayo and ketchup-condiments notoriously filled with many hard to decipher ingredients-to bask in a major makeover. Sir Kensington’s version boasts 50% less sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, 45% less sodium, and whole tomatoes. And their mayo reads refreshingly clean and simple: Sunflower oil, eggs, lemon juice, vinegar, raw sugar, black pepper and mustard seed. That's it. These superlative sauces are also back in glass -the ultimate in recyclability.
Trend #2: Beans, Tomatoes and Soups Go BPA Free
Beans are one of my top lean and green superfoods-as they deliver folate, fiber and protein in a low calorie package. Still, no matter how healthy the contents of the can (be it beans, pumpkin puree, tuna or tomatoes), growing evidence about the potential negative health and environmental effects of BPA has long pitted convenience and speed against possible health drawbacks (Check out this list of all cans that are BPA free).
The new generation of tetra packs sidesteps all of this. BPA-free and recyclable, this packaging is popping up in larger numbers, giving you the same convenience but in a better-for-you package. And I have to be honest-despite the current pouch craze (one of the Top 5 Trends Spotted at Fancy Foods Sumer 2013), I personally prefer to see pouches used for baby food and the occasional camping trip, rather than taking over the shelf. Which they are doing with many, many products, in a trend I call "camping meets carpool".
It’s worth noting that the ultimate “greeness” of tetra packs is still hotly debated. While life cycle analysis shows tetra packs score green points for total carbon emissions and about a 33% greater efficiency in transportation that aluminum cans, currently there many US recycling centers which still don’t accept Tetra, and if they end up in the trash the supposed savings are a mute point. Bottom line: eat all the contents, rinse and recycle.
Trend #3: Microwave Popcorn Gets a Greenover
This trend is long overdue-as the health benefits of whole corn kernels are impressive: an antioxidant-rich whole grain that packs fiber and satisfies our craving for crunch. I blogged about Quinn Popcorn earlier this year, and basically crowned them “the king of pop” on my own shelf. However, I think Quinn highlights many convergent trends: parents on a mission to make better food for their kids, greener packaging to be better for body and planet (the bag is free of all the traditional toxic coatings, and is compostable to boot), high quality ingredients, and the growing interest in non-GMO transparency. It’s exciting to think about how these trends will continue to transform the shelf in the future.
High protein and plant based, I have half a dozen nut butters on my shelf at any time-because they are such a staple of healthy living for my family. Hailed as a Top Trend for 2013 by The Sterling-Rice Group, the new generation of nut butters crafts an appealing blend of healthy, satisfying indulgence, as these nutrient powerhouses pack heart healthy fats, protein and fiber. Featuring a variety of nuts and seeds such as cashew, almond, walnut, hemp and flax- as well as smaller regional brands featuring "raw" or "live" nut butters, they make it easy to eat well on the go. A spoonful swirled into breakfast, slathered on fruit slices, or savored as a snack, for instance. Be sure to choose those free of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. And two caveats-don’t be fooled by smidges of exotic sounding additions such as acai or seaweed, as I’ve blogged about before. And treat those uber indulgent ones-made with chocolate and a variety of added sugars-as dessert. But health from the shelf has never tasted so good!