While it no longer rides on the sheep’s back, agriculture and farming remain vitally important to Australia’s economy, contributing almost $50 billion a year to our bottom line.
But changing tastes and the rise of new food trends have the potential to change the face of Australian agriculture.
As people become increasingly interested in what they’re eating, they demand information about the origin, ingredients, farming practices, processing, and nutritional value of the food on their plate. Consumers want transparency and will go the distance (and pay the price) for top quality, local ingredients.
Here’s some of the food trends that have the potential to reshape Australian farming and agriculture as we munch our way through 2018 and beyond.
A report by Nielsen found that Australians are buying less meat in 2018 than they did last year and shoppers of all ages are experimenting with vegetarianism, veganism, and/or a flexitarian lifestyle (reducing meat intake on three or more days a week). It’s catching on. The Australian Institute of Food Science & Technology listed rethinking protein at the top of its four top food trends for 2018.
What are people eating in place of flesh? Plants, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and meatless ‘meat’ made using heme, a molecule that gives meat its colour, flavour and makes it bleed. Heme was tipped by BBC Good Food as a trend for the year ahead.
Jackfruit is also rising in popularity due to its stringy consistency and likeness to pulled pork or chicken (once cooked). It is used by the likes of South Australia’s Forage Supply Co and Melbourne’s The Alley to make meat-free dishes that look and taste meaty. In 2017, Wall Street Journal tipped jackfruit as the next top meat alternative. Take note producers, the only way is up for this large, round, spiky fruit.
Non-traditional cuts of meat
Veggies are rising in popularity but meat, particularly beef, is still a popular choice for Australians. We’re buying less of it but what we are purchasing is changing. Non-traditional cuts of meat are growing in popularity. Reality television cooking shows expose the wider community to a range of cuts and techniques they were otherwise unaware of. Spider or oyster steaks, brisket and oxtail are a few cuts championed by Feast! Fine Foods’ Richard Gunner who says people want a challenge. “The spider steak, hanger steak and flank can be challenging as well,” he says. The Vegas strip (from the shoulder area) and the merlot cut are also on consumers’ radars.
Shoppers are also asking more questions about how their meat is raised and the impact it has on the animal’s health and the environment. According to Wall Street Journal, regenerative agriculture (where farming focuses on restoring degraded soil) is on the rise. In Australia, companies such as Soils For Life and Regenerative Australian Farmers promote healthy soil. They are on a mission to help reverse land degradation through regenerative agricultural techniques that ‘build soil carbon, increase water retention, support soil biology and ecosystem biodiversity’.
Restaurant Orana has been raising awareness about native Australian ingredients since opening its doors on Adelaide’s Rundle Street in 2013. It’s working. Orana was twice named Australia’s Restaurant of the Year in the annual Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards. Scottish born owner-chef Jock Zonfrillo and his team use ingredients such as native thyme, finger lime, beach succulents, riberries, wattleseed, quandong, lemon myrtle, Davidson plum, emu bush, lemon iron bark, Geraldton wax, native honey, and green ants. Jock is on a mission to preserve the food heritage of Indigenous peoples. He co-founded The Orana Foundation which assists Indigenous communities by supporting them to research, document, commercialise and promote native Australian foods. They also stimulate the development and demand for native Australian food supplies. The Orana Foundation also formed a Native Australian Foods Database of Australian ingredients, and documents their source, properties, cultural relevance and uses. The world is taking notice and as the use of native ingredients increases, opportunities do, too. Something Wild at Adelaide Central Market supplies Indigenous food and open range game meats to local consumers and restaurants nationwide. This includes kangaroo, emu, wild boar, crocodile and native magpie geese, a major pest for the Northern Territory mango industry. Something Wild uses an Indigenous team to capture their permit of 4000 geese each season (there are 1.3 million magpie geese in the top end). Meanwhile, businesses like Footeside Farm in South Australia’s mid-north specialise in edible Australian plants. The future is native.
For chefs such as Guy Parkinson at Clare Valley’s Seed Kitchen + Winehouse, sourcing produce as locally as possible and minimising waste is a no-brainer. Home cooks are catching on. Consumers want to know where their fruit and veg is grown, the farming practices used, and rest assured that is was produced as locally as possible. This includes dairy. According to a Nielsen Consumer & Media View survey in 2017, Australians want locally made cheese inspired by international varieties. The report says: ‘Weekly cheese buyers are more likely to be young, single and earning an average income of $50 to $95K per annum. They like to keep healthy and fit, but are also passionate foodies – open to trying new products and international foods. They are also more likely to be brand-conscious, look out for Australian-made products, and are willing to spend more on well-known brands.’
If café trends continue, mushroom producers have reason to celebrate. Functional mushrooms in tea and coffee are all the rage. Varieties like reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, and cordyceps were traditionally used to support wellness and are now used in bottled beverages, broths, beauty products, and your favourite hot brew. Fungi coffee is here and health conscious foodies are lapping it up. Finnish company Four Sigmatic led the way with coffee and hot chocolate concoctions made using wild mushrooms. You can buy the mixes online or mushroom shots and mushroom lattes at health-savvy cafes. Melbourne’s Matcha Mylkbar and New South Wales’ The Branches Coffee Roasters are on the bandwagon. Keep your eye on your local barista for mushroom-based additions to the menu.
On the flipside, companies like Fremantle’s Life Cykel collect coffee ground waste from coffee shops in which to grow oyster mushrooms. It’s all about recycling natural waste to grow the good stuff.
When chefs and home cooks get adventurous, our taste buds do, too. Nepalese spice Timut pepper is popular in the UK (it was tipped by Asda as the next big condiment for 2018). It is the brother of sichuan pepper and a great seasoning for shellfish. Australian truffle dealer Gourmet Life hasn’t missed a trick. The company sells Terre Exotique – Timut Peppercorn in 40-gram cans. Closer to home, farmers Leon and Cathy Trembath grow Mountain pepper on their Strzelecki Ranges property and sell it at local markets. Lavender, ginseng, golden saffron, and edible flowers are also growing in popularity and are farmed across Australia at the likes of Coolibah Herbs. Whole Foods named floral flavours as a top trend for 2018. You only need to browse your local farmers’ market to see the array of exotic plants on offer.
According to ABC News, Australians are boarding on the edible insects train. Globally acclaimed restaurants such as Orana and Noma regularly incorporate insects on the menu. The critters are a rich source of protein and insect farms like Rebel Food Tasmania sustainably farm insects, and the Edible Bug Shop ships products like ant seasoning, frozen crickets, roasted crickets, Warndu’s river mint, peppermint and ant loose leaf tea, insect marshmallows, roasted mealworms, VitaBug cricket protein powder, and dehydrated ants nationwide. As our appreciation for the humble bug improves, Australia may well end up like Thailand. National Geographic reports the country boasts 20,000 insect farms and counting.
Hello, hemp. Food lovers adore a new superfood and according to Good Food, hemp is the new kid on the cool block. Queensland’s Hemp Farms Australia specialise in growing the good stuff and encourage the industrial use of hemp – from seed to stalk. According to Hemp Foods Australia, the 2017 legalisation of sales of hemp food products was great news. ‘Australia can be a major global competitor in growing organic hemp and will be growing thousands of hectares in Australia, sustainably and in harmony with nature, working with the soil and plants – the Australian way,’ the organisation says on its website. Local farmers were previously reluctant to grow organic hemp because there was no demand for it but things are changing. ‘We aim to always source local first, however at this stage, local supply of ACO Certified Organic Hemp is not able to keep up with the current demand (everyone wants to try nutritious, organic hemp).’
Keep your eyes peeled for other brain food buzz ingredients like turmeric, ancient grains (spelt, amaranth, kamut, lupin), and dandelion greens.
Whether it’s accurate labelling, clear certification, information about processing, origin, or trustworthy nutritional information – consumers want transparency. A labelling integrity means that producers who lift the certified organic bar, will reap the benefits for their hard work. Wine, Australian extra virgin olive oil, meat, sustainable seafood, vegetables, fruit, and dairy products – consumers want to know they’re buying sustainably. ‘New technologies are giving consumers more information at their fingertips than ever before,’ experts at the Australian Institute of Food Science & Technology say. ‘The developments extend beyond the processing level. The new smart label database allows consumers to search product information for things such as country of origin, allergen information, product claims or traceability.’