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Spirit Foods: Good Tasting, Good For You, Good For The Planet

Chef's Notes

Spirit Foods: Good Tasting, Good For You, Good For The Planet

January 2018 | Gabby, Research Chef & Culinary Mixologist

Living a clean, responsible, healthy and natural lifestyle has become more prominent now than ever. According to our 2018 Flavor Forecast, ‘Spirit food’ is more than just a trend – it is a way of life. After decades of daily exposure to processed and convenience foods, today’s consumers want food that doesn’t just taste good but also does good. ‘Spirit Food’ considers the impact of food on our bodies, our communities, and our planet. You don’t just enjoy eating it, you also feel good about it.

As a research chef and mixologist here at McCormick Flavor Solutions, it’s been tremendously fascinating watching how this emerging culinary ethos affects the things we drink. The options in the beverage sector have been pretty much the same for decades, and in some cases, centuries. Beer, wine, spirits, juices, soft drinks etc.; their pedigrees mattered to certain consumers, but for the most part, style always outweighed substance.

Today it is important for consumers to know the origin of their coffee beans, and whether or not the coffee is fair trade. Consumers are shunning soft drinks made with corn syrup and artificial flavorings, leading to massive growth for heritage brands and local producers who use ingredients like pure cane sugar and sustainably harvested extracts. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the microbrewery movement, which has seen double-digit growth year-over-year for the better part of a decade. Not only do drinkers like the options microbreweries provide, they also like knowing that their money is supporting small businesses and helping their local economies thrive.

‘Spirit Food’ doesn’t only affect the way beverages are produced; it’s also influencing menus, and bringing brand new contenders into the market. Fermentation has broken out of trend status to become a staple in the food community. For instance, Kombucha can be found in major supermarkets and highway rest stops, and long-forgotten items like shrubs and switchels are making big moves from behind the bar to specialty grocery stores. Crossover into the mainstream is looking less like an “if” and more like a “when”. These strong sour flavors are a direct result of chefs curing and pickling local, sustainable items, and an increased consumer demand for greater variety in this industry segment.

No matter where you go you’ll find these items with a highly regional spin, like peach vinegar in Georgia or sugar cane vinegar in Louisiana. These acids are beginning to take the place of traditional options like lemons and limes that, due to their highly specific growing region, end up having a negative environmental impact when they’re shipped across continents. And, as people develop tastes for these new acidic flavors, they’re demanding new beverages based on them. These are beverages made consciously in regards to the environment and economy. They have tremendous benefits when it comes to gut health, and most importantly, they just flat out taste good.

In the hot beverage category, who suspected that one day broth would be a popular option? For years it had been seen as the basis for soups, but now that consumers realize that they’re both highly nutritious and tremendously satisfying, broths have gone from bowl to mug. Don’t think that this trend is simply pouring a simple stock into a cup – creative chefs are brewing stocks with complicated, nuanced layers of flavor, using combinations of fresh, natural ingredients. A good broth nourishes the body as well as the spirit.

The key points in crafting a mindful beverage are to remember its relationship to factors outside of just taste. How do the ingredients affect the environment? Does it support a strong economy for small farms and companies? Is its production ethical, with workers treated fairly and responsible business practices rewarded? Will it feed not just the body, but also the mind and spirit? When companies come to the McCormick Flavor Solutions kitchen we are taking the time to ask these questions, collaborating with clients to develop products that consumers feel good about buying and, in the end, make the world around us just a little bit better.

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