More than ever, our food choices tell the story of who we are and what we value most. Food trends over the last decade are showing the permanency of an underlying paradigm shift, with more Canadian consumers and tastemakers seeking out food lifestyle trends over hot new products. People are becoming more thoughtful about their food - what they eat and where it comes from, how its raised and ultimately disposed of.
The notion of food as medicine is not new.
Beyond the obvious pleasures of eating, food has always been understood as fuel and chefs and dieticians have long identified the impact of food choices on nutrition and wellness. The latest frontier in our changing relationship with our plate is adaptogens, herbs that provide not only physical benefits, but have a positive effect on aspects of physical and mental health including stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
The notion of food as medicine is not new. The rise of Instagram has ushered in a new means of peer-to-peer influence without borders. As a consequence, the way — and how we think about — what we eat is evolving at an accelerated pace.
Powdered herbs like the Ayurvedic superstar ashwagandha can be added to smoothies and other meals to improve digestive health and ease stress — if you can get past the bitter taste. Holy basil, known colloquially in India as tulsi, has been used for hundreds of years as an anxiety reliever, helping normalize and balance in times of stress. Cordyceps, a fungus harvested from a Chinese caterpillar (though now more commonly lab-grown), is appropriately rare and mystical, and its fans swear by its use for kidney disorders and as a male sexual health booster. Rhodiola rosea is a root grown in the mountains of Europe and Asia boasting 140+ active ingredients said to reduce stress and fatigue and combat depression.
If you're looking for locally produced adaptogens, lavender is a growing specialty crop in Ontario. Visit Terre Bleu in Campbellville or Steed & Company lavender farm in Central Elgin.
Long enjoyed in Eastern Europe, Kefir is a dairy beverage made by adding kefir grains of yeast bacteria to milk, which is then heated to create a yogurt-like, effervescent drink celebrated for its positive effect on gut health and antibacterial properties. Think of it as a fermented milk and yogurt drink, with a kind of gentle carbonation.
Kefir is super-charged with between 10 and 20 unique probiotics — far more than are found in most yogurt products. Once a specialty product, kefir is now produced and sold by multiple local dairy processors in a wide variety of flavours and with the bubbles — which not every consumer is a fan of — smoothed out for a more traditional-tasting yogurt drink, but with the product's health advantages intact.
Health-conscious Canadian foodies are adding kefir to their morning smoothies, but its use is expanding to frozen treats, salad dressings and even as a strained, spreadable cheese.
Look for a growing variety of mushrooms at the grocery store...and in everything. Celebrated for their texture and flavour, but often overlooked as a nutrient source, Canadians are awakening to the fungus' immune-boosting medicinal and superfood properties. There are over 100 mushroom farms in Canada (50% of which are in Ontario), growing over 200 million pounds of mushrooms each year including the ubiquitous white button, cremini, portobello, shiitake, oyster, king oyster, and enoki varieties.
nutbar superfood snack cafe in Toronto's Summerhill neighbourhood (they now have a second location on Richmond Street in Assembly Chef’s Hall) has made medicinal mushrooms a central part of their menu, serving a matcha + mushroom misto featuring lion's mane, reishi, chaga, and cordyceps, with $1 medicinal mushroom add-ons to any menu item.
While reviews on a growing number of home-brew mushroom coffees are mixed, interest is growing.
Canadians waste an enormous amount of food. According to the CBC, we're among the worst offenders in the world...
Growing focus on food waste and the negative ecological effects of excessive packaging have birthed the zero-waste food movement, which has seen the opening of zero-waste grocery stores like Unboxed Market in Toronto, Nu in Ottawa, and Zero Waste Bulk in Waterloo, offering 'naked' local, fair trade and ethically sourced product on a BYOB (bring your own bag/bottle, etc.) basis.
The Nose to Tail or Whole Animal movement, which teaches the why and how of zero waste animal-based cuisine, is making its way onto the environmentally conscious Canadian plate, while the Trash Tiki movement is literally crafting delicious cocktails from bar garnish waste like spent lemons, limes, herbs, and berries.
The search for sustainable, alternative protein sources has pushed dairy and plant-based proteins to the forefront. Innovations in the dairy sector have produced many high-protein, nutrient dense products like Greek yogurt, quark, cottage cheese, skyr, and labneh, drawing in various cultural dairy traditions for new textures, flavours and benefits.
Local bean and pulse growers are also seeing their products move from the side to the centre of the plate as Canadian palates become more local, sophisticated, and creative.
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