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Raw organic walnut butter and fresh nuts / Getty Images

Many of us might have spent New Year's Eve looking back over the past year, but today, it's time to look forward and see what's coming in the food world. And, no surprise, there are some interesting trends on the menu for 2020, according to Whole Foods, which, for the fifth year, has released its predictions. Interestingly, the National Restaurant Association is in wholehearted agreement with many of the predictions, such as the trend toward low-alcohol drinks and regenerative agriculture, as well as plant-based "meats."

Each year, more than 50 Whole Foods team members, including local foragers, regional and global buyers, and culinary experts, compile a report based on decades of experience and expertise in product sourcing, studying consumer preferences and participating in food- and wellness-industry exhibitions worldwide.

Having predicted a rise in foods and other products made with CBD products last year, it appears the team's expertise in forecasting is right on target.

One of the most-interesting predictions is a growth in interest for regenerative agriculture.

While the term "regenerative agriculture" can have many definitions, in general it describes farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity and increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, such as positively impacting climate change. Companies, such as Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, California, maker of award-winning cheeses, and wines from Bonterra winery, another California company, follow the practices of regenerative agriculture. There are some in Tennessee as well.

"It's great to see consciousness around and about the land with a focus on regenerative agriculture in 2020," says Kristin Sherman, Whole Foods' local product coordinator." "Simpson Farms in Athens, Tennessee, is one of our long-standing Tennessee partners who are really doing things right."

And here are more predictions for the coming year.

* Flour power: As seasoned and amateur bakers alike look to scratch a creative itch in the kitchen, an array of interesting flours are entering the market, making baking more inclusive and adventurous. Consumers on the baking bandwagon are seeking out ingredients used in traditional dishes, like teff flour used for Ethiopian injera. It's predicted that the new year will also bring more interesting fruit and vegetable flours, like banana flour, into home pantries, with products like cauliflower flour in bulk and baking aisles, rather than already baked into crusts and snack products. As consumers look for more ways to boost their baking, "super" flours delivering protein and fiber join the trend.

* Foods from West Africa will see a rise in popularity. From indigenous superfoods to rich, earthy dishes, traditional West African flavors are popping up everywhere in food and in beverages. The trio of tomatoes, onions and chili peppers form a base for many West African dishes, and peanuts, ginger and lemongrass are all common additions. Popular brands are looking to West Africa for its superfoods, such as moringa and tamarind, and lesser-known cereal grains, including sorghum, fonio, teff and millet.

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Jars with variety of pickled vegetables / Getty Images

* Fresher snacks: Snack time comes out of the box with fresh options. No longer will we be reaching for granola bars and rice cakes to satisfy between-meal cravings. Refrigerated sections in grocery stores are filling up with the kind of wholesome, fresh snacks typically prepared and portioned in advance at home: hard-boiled eggs with savory toppings, pickled vegetables, drinkable soups and mini dips and dippers of all kinds, all perfectly portioned and in convenient single-serve packaging. Even nutrition bars have made their way from the shelves to the chiller, thanks to the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables. These snacking innovations mean ingredients lists are shrinking and there's a lot less guesswork in picking up a quick snack you can feel better about.

* Changing supplements: In the supplement aisle, brands are swapping soy for mung bean, hemp seed, pumpkin, avocado, watermelon seed and golden chlorella, maintaining the smooth textures in vegan protein powders and bringing a spectrum of plant-based amino acids to the table. As the plant-based movement gains traction with flexitarian eaters and meat eaters are enjoying better meat alternatives, brands are looking to avoid as many of the top allergens as possible. Look for plant-based prepared foods and traditionally soy-based condiments going soy-less.

* Seed butters: Nut butters are nothing new, but butters made from seeds are, and we'll be seeing more of them, such as watermelon seed butter and butter made from roasted pumpkin seeds. We'll be seeing new nut butters, too, including macadamia nut butter and nut butters that do not include palm oil.

* Kiddie options: Thanks to a new interest in cooking and dining brought on by all of the kids' cooking and baking competitions on TV, menus are being restyled for younger, more sophisticated palates. Offerings such as salmon sticks, goat cheese crumbles, colorful pastas in fun shapes and lemon-basil shortbread may become as common as chicken nuggets and pizza.

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Sugar cubes, brown sugar crystals, granulated white sugar, rock sugar, stevia, honey sweeteners / Getty Images

* Sweetener options: For those seeking sweetness outside of the usual suspects like sugar, stevia, honey and maple syrup, there will be lots more to choose from for your cooking, baking and tea- or coffee-stirring needs. Syrupy reductions from fruit sources like monk fruit, pomegranates, coconut and dates will be a healthier way to add concentrated flavors into recipes for desserts, meat glazes and marinades. Sweet syrups made from starches like sorghum and sweet potato can be compared to the deep flavors of molasses or honey and can be used for baking and sweetening beverages.

* Blended meats: Butchers and meat brands won't be left out of the "plant-based" craze in 2020, but they're not going vegetarian. Chefs across the country have been on board with the trend for years through James Beard Foundation's The Blended Burger Project, a movement that strives to make the iconic burger "better for customers and for the planet" by blending in at least 25% fresh mushrooms. Flexitarians looking to strike a tasty balance between meats and plants can expect more blended products in their future.

* Liquor alternatives: With more consumers seeking out alternatives to alcohol, interesting nonalcoholic options are creating a fizz, from menus at the world's most acclaimed bars to specialty stores. Many of these beverages seek to re-create classic cocktail flavors using distilling methods typically reserved for alcohol, creating an alternative to liquor meant to be used with a mixer rather than a drink on its own. Think alt-gin for gin and tonics and botanical-infused faux spirits for a faux martini. "Drinking has become more about the social aspect and taste than the booze content," says Joanne Fantozzi with Nation's Restaurant News.

 

SUGAR CHALLENGE

If kicking the sugar habit is one of your resolutions for 2020, then you'll want to take a sugar challenge presented by Cashew, a vegan cafe on River Street. The challenge kicks off Sunday evening, Jan. 5, with a special dinner from Cashew and coaching from nutritionist Maite Bou. In addition to teaching you about the dangers of sugar, she will also give you some clues on where to find hidden sugar in grocery items.

If you decide to participate in the 10-day challenge, you will receive an ebook that will give you tips and tricks on how to avoid overdoing it on the sugars found in foods.

Your sugar detox will culminate with a wrap-up dinner at Cashew on Wednesday, Jan. 15, to celebrate your 10 days of a new, sugar-free lifestyle.

Cost is $90. For more information, call Cashew at 423-355-5486 or log on to eventbrite.com.

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Anne Braly

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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