Top food trends for 2017

This generation’s great-grandparents would be baffled by the cult-like popularity of culinary curiosities like kale chips or blackened burgers and would shake their heads at the pre-dinner ritual of snapping a photograph instead of saying grace.

But the brave new world of insta-worthy food is always changing, and 2017 has a number of shifts in store for us, including a passion for pulses and a fascination with ancient grains. These table trends will translate into what happens behind and beyond the farm gate.

From hedonic to healthy

Move aside, monster milkshakes: Aussie’s eating habits are shifting away from hedonic preoccupations with taste and heading towards a greater concern with the health properties of foods, says Dr Anthony Saliba, Associate Professor of Perceptual Psychology at Charles Sturt University.

This mirrors a global trend, with UK supermarket chain Waitrose noting in ‘The Waitrose Food and Drink Report 2016’ that “healthy eating is no longer a bolt-on to how we live—it’s an integral part of who we are”.


This has ramped up demand for so-called ‘superfoods’, including ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa, teff, spelt and freekeh. High-protein quinoa, for instance, is one of the few plant foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, according to Australia’s Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council.


A research project funded by the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) has, since 2015, been trialling sowing quinoa seeds in different locations across Australia to better understand where and how this Andean crop grows best.

Teff, originating in Ethiopia, is another one to watch, says Simone Austin, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. Although it’s the world’s smallest known grain, it packs a real nutritional punch.

Australian farmers, including Fraser McNaul in Wakool, NSW, have already begun growing teff and are experimenting with different marketing and packaging, ABC News reports.

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Modern grains are getting a makeover too. Sorghum, for instance, is tipped to make a grand entrance into breakfast cereals, baked chips, protein bars and biscuits, according to US media dietitian Christy Brissette.

And the CSIRO has successfully bred a range of new barley grains featuring beneficial properties. Kebari™ barley, for example, has 10,000 times less hordeins—the type of gluten found in barley—benefiting people with coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, and adding diversity to gluten-free diets, which can often be high in fat and sugar and low in fibre, minerals and vitamins.

Another health-related trend, noted by Innova Market Insights’ ‘Top Ten Food Trends for 2017’, is that of ‘Disruptive Green’—which describes the movement of plant-based milks, meat alternatives and vegan offerings into the mainstream.

Market research firm Euromonitor International estimates Australia’s packaged vegan food market is currently worth close to $136 million, and predicts it will reach $215 million by the year 2020.

The popularity of programs such as Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar have also resulted in a growing interest in alternative sweeteners such as stevia, rapadura and agave nectar.

From paddock to plate

Artisan foods using seasonal produce, local labour and innovative concepts is another major mover, according to Silver Chef’s ‘Hospitality Industry Success Index 2017’—and this extends to native foods too.

“There’s nothing more sustainable than growing native foods which are localised for your region and adapted to the soil,” says Amanda Garner, Chair of Australian Native Food Industry Limited (ANFIL).

While Australian native foods have been on the foodies radar for decades, they’ve only recently shrugged off their ‘bush tucker’ tag and are now emerging as a market force to be reckoned with.

This, combined with consumers’ current focus on health, is very good news for farmers considering growing native foods such as desert limes, lemon myrtle, bush tomato, quandong, pepperberries and Kakadu plum.

As both a chef and a farmer, Garner has long been interested in the potential of the desert’s bounty and agrees that Australians’ interests in eating local, native foods is growing.

“With eight years of severe drought in Central Western NSW, I developed a need for drought-tolerant crops on our property,” she explains. “I researched saltbush plantation, native grain and pasture crops and … discovered a relatively untapped area of expertise.”

Boutique producers and providores are also poised to benefit from this trend by tapping into the growing gastro-tourism market. Coolamon Cheese in NSW, for example, handcrafts mouth-watering wheels of cheese, including a range featuring native flavours.

Coolamon is also a destination in its own right after the owners transformed an historic 1920s co-op building into a cheese kitchen, deli and courtyard, plus a factory and production facility where visitors can view the cheesemaking and maturation process.

Pulses to go nuts


Television shows such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules have spawned cooks keen to experiment in the kitchen, and pulses such as chickpeas, broad beans and lentils may offer them a nutritious new frontier, Saliba says.

“Pulses have been around for a long time, but they haven’t risen to prominence,” he explains. The latest data suggests, however, that their popularity is about to “explode”, with the expected 2016 total pulse crop reaching 3,943,200t—up 163 per cent from 2015.

RIRDC predicts there will also be pockets of strong demand growth in emerging economies for Australian products such as nuts. According to the Almond Board of Australia, this year’s crop will be the largest on record. Now that’s a future to crunch on.

Ancient grains at the table

SORGHUM: A gluten-free grain, sorghum is one of Australia’s most significant summer crops. ABARES predicts that area planted to grain sorghum will fall by 31% in Queensland (to 471,000ha) and by 17% in NSW in 2016–17 due to higher expected returns from cotton.

QUINOA: Australians eat about 5,000t of quinoa per year. Global farm gate prices for quinoa tripled between 2006–14, but commercial production in Australia of this drought- and frost-tolerant crop is currently limited to WA and Tasmania.

TEFF: Originating in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Teff takes pride of place in the region’s traditional sourdough sponge called injera. Teff has more protein than wheat, more calcium than quinoa and up to 15.3g of fibre per 120g of flour. The Australian teff industry is still developing, but there is market potential.

FREEKEH: A Middle Eastern staple, freekeh is tipped to become the newest ancient grain to become hip. Immature wheat grains are harvested and then roasted over a fire to leave behind a chewy centre that is prepared and served like rice.

AMARANTH: While not technically a grain, amaranth’s rising popularity among healthy eaters is due to its high nutritional values. Common ways to consume it include in breads or pastas (as a flour) and in cereals (as puffed seeds).

Words: Denise Cullen

Reproduced from the autumn 2017 edition of Westpac’s Agribusiness publication "Produce"

The articles represent the views of the authors and not necessarily that of the Bank. You should seek independent professional advice before acting on any matters set out in the articles.