It’s human nature to want to know what’s going to happen, but the future is notoriously difficult to predict. While we await the jetpacks and apartments on the moon prognosticators foresaw decades ago, let’s ponder what we might be eating in the future. Experts have a few thoughts:
Functional foods: Functional foods have been with us for some time: These are foods that provide more than just nutrition, but also offer positive health effects — things like bread with added vitamins. Future advances in biotechnology will help functional foods reach new levels of effectiveness: Food might be tailored to specific population segments and demographic groups. Consumers will be able to choose from foods optimized to meet the nutritional profiles of children, the elderly, women, men, and so on.
Customized food: Going one step beyond functional foods, future food may be optimized down the individual level too. As genetic testing becomes more common and people learn the details of their own genetic makeup, food can be created to meet their individual needs. 3D printing will be key. With a 3D printer in every kitchen, customized ingredients and flavors can be selected according to personal preferences and doctors’ orders too.
Insects: There’s been buzz around bugs, and it only grows louder. In the future we’ll be looking seriously for new sustainable, plentiful sources of protein. With more than 1,900 edible insect species on earth, which are able to convert food to protein more efficiently than any livestock, insects fit that bill. In many parts of the world, people are already eating bugs whole, but in the U.S. we’re more likely to see insect powders disguised as familiar foods such as burgers and pastas.
Algae: Small amounts are already used as filler in some processed products, but algae has potential to play a larger role. In fact, it could be the superfood of the future. It’s one of the most nutritious foods known, offering more vitamins, minerals, protein and iron than any other fruit or vegetable. Algae boasts environmental benefits too: It’s cheap to produce and grows abundantly — it’s 20 times more productive than conventional crops.
In vitro meat: A scientist ate the world’s first lab-grown burger several years ago, but there’s room for improvement. That burger cost some $300,000 to make, and though it was edible, it was not delicious, according the taste tester; the burger was all muscle fiber, missing the fat and connective tissue that contribute to regular meat’s texture and taste. Researchers continue to work to make lab-grown beef (and chicken breasts and fish fillets) cheaper and more tasty.
Meal replacements: The beverage Soylent is said to contain every nutrient the body needs. Its inventor sees it not only as a solution for busy Westerners (no grocery shopping or washing dishes), but a tool to eliminate famine: In the future, Soylent’s ingredients might be produced by a single strain of algae, shared worldwide. A UK competitor, Huel (human + fuel), has come on the market recently, and experts say such products — complete meals in a drink or a bar — are likely to have a larger role in our future diets.
Of course, many previous predictions about future foods — giant vegetables, food in pills — have failed to materialize. But the one thing all experts agree on today is even if these particular predictions don’t come true, some new ideas are needed. The race is on to find a way to bridge the gap between what we produce today and what we’ll need to produce to feed nine billion people when 2050 arrives.