2023 gave us trends such as the rise of chicken skin and more experiential and communal dining experiences. As we step into a new year, we gaze into the foodie crystal ball with Jess Tang, senior consultant, APAC, at global consumer trend forecasting company WGSN, who shares insights into trends that are set to dominate the culinary landscape in Asia this year.
1. Have a meal in a cocktail
Think cocktails are just sweet and boozy? Think again. More mixologists across Asia are embracing bitterness, spice, and salinity in their concoctions, drawing inspiration from flavour profiles from savoury dishes to craft drinks. Drinkers in Asia are more adventurous and open to the melting pot of cultures and flavour profiles in the culinary background, so sipping on an umami element in cocktails is something entirely surprising.
This approach will also push the boundaries of what flavours go inside a cocktail and will employ a combination of modern equipment and traditional techniques to craft the cocktails.
Where to try it: Some examples of this bubbling trend include award-winning Malaysian Bar Trigona’s newest cocktail menu, “Foraged Malaysia”, featuring a lineup of 16 truly Malaysian dish-inspired cocktails such as Laksa Licious and Bak Kut Eh?, as well as Hong Kong’s Thai Beef Salad cocktail by The Savory Project (made with a combination of beef, peanut, kaffir lime, chilli, coconut, rum, and Angus biltong).
Closer to home, Singaporean Bitters & Love’s signature Kaya Toast Cocktail is also a long-standing favourite of the bar served with toast — a marriage of honey sweetness and the tang of tea and citrus. (The Peak also called umami cocktails one of 2024’s F&B trends, with more watering holes serving savoury drinks).
2. Embrace the brine
Seafood and marine flavours, which are popular in Asia, will be incorporated into more Western cuisines. The trend started in 2022 when WGSN flagged out the then-trending briny, umami flavour of uni (think rich, creamy orange lobes of sea urchins), which was later harnessed by F&B innovators for fusion dishes.
In Singapore, The Peak observed a more liberal use of uni outside of the turf of omakase restaurants; they have been seen in Japanese hand rolls and tacos.
With seafood as one of the staples in Asian cuisines, Tang expects the trend to reinvent itself in the region as more food and drink innovators experiment with marine brine flavours and unconventional marine ingredients.
Tang adds that food innovators are increasingly driven by a blend of culinary curiosity and sustainability considerations, inspiring them to expand beyond conventional seafood by incorporating lesser-known marine ingredients such as emerging seaweed varieties, urchins, and fish roe to add umami depth of marine brine flavour into their menu creations.
Where to try it: This trend is starting to emerge locally as Singaporean restaurant Small’s is utilising creamy lobes of caviar to transform an egg salad sandwich. The Peak has also seen sea grapes (a type of seaweed that is also known as green caviar due to its small bubble-like appearance) appear more commonly in restaurants as a garnish.
More retailers are also selling kelp noodles, which are made from a combination of brown seaweed, salt extracted from seaweed and water. Kelp noodles have also been touted as the low-carb version of glass noodles, which are widely used in Thai and Korean cuisines.
3. Have a break; have an alt chocolate
Consumers can expect more creative products that taste, smell, melt, and snap like chocolate this year. The APAC chocolate market is projected to reach nearly USD$37 billion ($49.2 billion) in revenue by the end of 2030 — close to double the rate for the global market. With surging demand, chocolate is facing an unsustainable future, and innovators must work out a long-term roadmap to include chocolate alternatives as part of the future food map.
Besides, Asia, which is home to over half of the global population, currently accounts for roughly 25 per cent of cocoa consumption — a promising growth market for chocolate producers, especially as populations and disposable incomes in the region continue to grow.
Where to try it: In Singapore, Finnish food company Fazer has rolled out the world’s first chocolate bar that is made with Solein, a yellow microbe-based protein powder that is made from single-cell organisms and common gases from the air. Solein is produced by Finnish food technology company Solar Foods, which received novel regulatory approval to distribute food products made with Solein in Singapore in 2022. This marks the first time that Solein is used in a FMCG product. The Taste The Future snack bars are made with chocolate, strawberries and hazelnut snack bar, and they also contain oat puffs. The snack bars are available at selected The Cocoa Trees stores across Singapore till February.
Alt chocolate has also started taking shape in Western markets recently. Some examples include Germany-based ChoViva, which uses precision fermentation and treats oats and sunflower seeds like cocoa beans, and UK-based WNWN Food Labs, which harnesses a proprietary fermentation process and sustainable plant-based ingredients, such as carob and barley, to produce chocolate.
Tang adds: “As trends today are fuelled by rapid globalisation, I am confident that alt chocolate will start to emerge in the region as the popularity of chocolate continues to grow. We can expect to see more of such innovators from the West expanding into Asia and the anticipated rise of home-grown innovators driving the landscape.”
The Peak notes that the alt chocolate trend comes hot on the heels of alt milk, which hit shelves in Singapore in late November 2023. One of them is Very Dairy, a lactose-free milk made entirely without animals. It was developed using precision fermentation technology by American biotech start-up Perfect Day.
Other food and drink trends to look out for
4. More hibiscus flavoured drinks
Floral flavors like rose and jasmine have been steadily showing up more frequently in a range of premium food products and this year, they will continue to gain traction, with hibiscus and lavender particular standouts. The US-based Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) predict that such botanical flavors will become more mainstream largely due to the interest of consumers in ingredients that promote wellness and a connection with nature and its benefits. Known for their relaxing properties, consumers will see flavors like lavender and hibiscus paired with citrus fruits and pomegranate, particularly in teas and other beverages.
5. Ube to become more ubiquitous
If you’ve already seen this, it was probably in a grocery store carrying ingredients used in Asian cuisines. The Filipino staple also shows up in ice cream, while pastry chefs who are committed to preparing desserts without artificial coloring are familiar with this purple yam. In 2024, more consumers will have the chance to go beyond its pigment and appreciate its flavor, according to US-based company that manufactures flavors and fragrances for the food and beverage industry. The T.Hasegawa company has spotted a rise in the ingredient’s popularity in recipes and content posted on TikTok, to the point of naming it flavor of the year. Presented in powdered form, the tuberous root, which is grown mainly in Southeast Asia, can be consumed in a latte that is said to improve digestion, relieve anxiety and even help improve memory! Ube powder can also be used as a thickener in sauces or cakes.
Additional reporting by Bérangère Chatelain.