Acai, kale, turmeric, quinoa, coconut oil, kombucha—nothing generates buzz like a superfood. With health and wellness top of mind, Americans continue to use food as medicine. This year’s trending superfoods include an ancient grain, a fruit oil, and a nut that’s actually not a nut at all.
What Makes a Superfood?
While there are no official criteria for defining a superfood, it’s often considered to be a food that provides health benefits through high levels of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, fibers, fatty acids, and even probiotics.
Healthy Foods = Nutrients
In a 2017 International Food Information Council survey, when consumers were asked to define healthy food, the top response was a food “high in healthy components or nutrients.”1 This answer outranked natural, organic, non-GMO, and free from artificial ingredients. This puts superfoods at the head of the pack when it comes to healthy foods.
Move over matcha, there’s a new leaf in town. The moringa tree grows in tropical countries around the world, with India as the largest producer. Although the pods, seeds, and roots are all eaten, the leaves are the most nutritious part, containing beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and a variety of phenolics, including quercetin.
Moringa has been used in traditional South Asian medicine for conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Recent clinical studies have investigated the effects of moringa on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which impact mood and stress. Like matcha, this fine green powder mixes in easily to beverages and foods.
Sorghum is poised to be the next big ancient grain. This highly nutritious, African staple crop has seen increased product development attention in the U.S., most notably in its popped form (which resembles miniature popcorn). It can also be cooked like rice, ground into flour, or even malted for beer making.
Sorghum is gluten-free, with a protein level similar to quinoa, and provides iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamin B6. Red and black varieties of sorghum are also available for a pop of color.
3. Tiger Nuts
The tiger nut is not a nut at all but a root vegetable. Traced back to ancient Egypt, tiger nuts have been cultivated throughout Africa and Southern Europe. When dried, tiger nuts become hard and wrinkled, resembling brown raisins. Tiger nuts are named for the brown “stripes” that remain after shelling due to the wrinkled surface.
Tiger nuts contain high amounts of resistant starch (a prebiotic fiber) and phytosterols, and also provide vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and phosphorous. Tiger nuts taste sweet and nutty, with a chewy texture. Shelled tiger nuts can be roasted and eaten as a snack, ground into flour, or flaked like coconut flakes. In Spain, they’re used to make a tiger nut horchata.
4. Avocado Oil
Hailed as the next (but much healthier) coconut oil, avocado oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and high amounts of vitamin E. It also retains the avocado’s carotenoids and chlorophylls when cold pressed. Avocado oil has a buttery texture, light green color, and slightly nutty flavor.
5. Watermelon Seeds
Did you know that watermelon seeds can be sprouted and stripped of their black shells to reveal a highly nutritious, edible seed? These cream-colored seeds provide magnesium, B-vitamins, monounsaturated fats, and nearly twice the amount of protein as sunflower seeds. They can be roasted and salted for a snack or added anywhere you would add sunflower seeds.
The fruit of the baobab tree (known as Africa’s Tree of Life) is rich in prebiotic fiber, vitamin C, and calcium. Baobab is prized for its antioxidant content, which is higher than that of acai, pomegranates and goji berries. Baobab is slightly sweet and sour, with a mild citrus flavor, and as a white powder, can be easily incorporated into foods and beverages.
Recent attention on cannabis has brought hemp back into the spotlight. Hemp seeds provide protein, vitamin E, potassium, calcium, iron, and zinc, as well as an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp’s gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) is often studied for its role in reducing inflammation.
Superfoods may be just the magic bullet your product needs. But while exotic fruits, ancient grains, and seeds of all types continue to attract consumer interest, the driving force behind it is nutrients. So consider giving your products a nutrient boost—with a trending superfood or even a custom nutrient premix.
1. 2017 Food & Health Survey. (2017). International Food Information Council Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.foodinsight.org/sites/default/files/2017%20Food%20and%20Health%20Survey%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf