The latest and greatest food trends for 2024

Every year, new food trends wax and wane, and 2024 is no different as those in the hospitality industry try to keep abreast of what's new. Here’s the inside scoop on five consumer-led trends for the year ahead. 

Food trends. They come, they go, and some stick around because they’re just that good. One year we had a spike in steak tartare at venues that weren’t French. The next we got twists on negronis we never knew we needed. And who can forget all those pretty, but way-too-sweet macarons?

Every year something comes back, something falls out of favour, and something entirely new is born. Let’s dive in and see what’s hot for 2024.

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1. The delights of native ingredients

For thousands of years, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have harnessed native ingredients – whether sea creatures, land animals, insects or plants – for both food and medicine. 

It’s strange then, that there aren’t more dishes and drinks that feature native ingredients and flavours - but slowly, we’re using the gifts in our own backyard.

Sweet, refreshing lemon myrtle and nutty wattleseed are becoming more common on food and cocktail menus. And while kangaroo isn't quite mainstream, more chefs are experimenting with one of our most sustainable meats.

Then there’s the abundance of native citrus, including blood limes, outback limes, sunrise limes, and popular finger limes with tiny, tart ‘pearls’ that pop in your mouth.

Some chefs are playing with saltbush leaves which can be used as an ingredient or a seasoning. Or pepperberry, which - not surprisingly - are peppery berries with an intense heat.  

If you’re lucky enough, you might stumble across quandongs, which could be likened to a peach, but are described as “sweet with a slightly sour and salty aftertaste and a mild aroma of dry lentils.”  

If that’s not unique enough, chefs are using green ants to give salads, drinks, and desserts and acute burst of lemony coriander zest that’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted. 

2. Cheers…but with intention

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Dry January, Feb Fast, Dry July, Ocsober: from Bondi to Broome, you can’t ignore the wellness movement preaching discipline over momentary pleasure.

In fact, alcohol consumption is reportedly at its lowest level in more than 50 years, with Australians 18-44 twice as likely to consumer zero and low strength alcohol compared to those over 45.

It’s no secret that the alcohol alternative industry is booming, but many of us still appreciate the pleasure of prosecco or the warmth of a whisky. That's why we’re coming back to the middle, with large cohort of 'intentional drinkers.'

These are the people that aren't tee-totallers, but aren't imbibing the way we once did.  They switch between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks depending on the context, but forget the lemon, lime and bitters. Health-conscious doesn’t mean boring, and venues are answering the call with botanical flavours, fermented teas, and a host of creative mocktails.

Building on intentional drinking is the mini-cocktail, a trend that's spread  across bars in the US and UK.  Instead of a martini, it’s a mar-tiny.  The smaller size drink has been a hit overseas, as it's ideal for weeknight indulgence or those who love the social aspect of drinking, but are also booked in for 6am yoga. 

3. Turn up the heat (unless it’s sriracha)

Some like it hot…especially if those some are Gen Z. According to reports from Nestle USA, the younger generation’s preference for spice has had a global impact on menus around the world.

The diversity of this generation extends to their tastes and chilli isn't your usual red pepper.  No, these days chefs are experimenting with extreme scorpion peppers, Mexican guajillo, fruity Hungarian goathorns, and sweet smoky ancho.

In terms of condiments, hot sauce burns bright - unless it’s Sriracha. The ever-popular red and green bottle has been hard to acquire recently, due to shortages of red jalapenos and a strained business relationship between farmer and producer. This sad state of affairs has turned up the heat on other flavours like yuzu kosho, a fiery fermented paste made from fresh green chillies and citrusy yuzu fruit.

Some chefs are using yuzu kosho for extra tang in meat and seafood marinades, or as an accompaniment to hot pot, sushi, sashimi or yakitori. Look for it in on a creative menu, at least until the sriracha woes are resolved. 

4. Ultra-processed? No thanks.

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Ultra-processed’ will be a dirty phrase in 2024, as consumers amp up their desire for clean food that’s close to its natural state.  We’ll see a rise in natural fermentation, cold-pressed oils, burgers from nuts and legumes, and a return to unadulterated butter and cream.

The lust for all things pure is one of the reasons baristas have seen the demand for quality full-fat milk rise - despite the demand for plant-based milk in the past few years.

It all rests on the growing interest consumers have in the origin story of their food and drink - and this applies across the health spectrum. The story needs to align with personal values, so the more processed or chemically-laden a particular food or ingredient is, the less appealing it will be.

In essence, if it's on a menu but it's something Mama could make, it's on trend. Remember, provenance matters to the discerning (and wealthy) consumer, and  they'll fork out if what they eat is seasoned with virtue.

5. Crumpets, but make it fancy

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We’ve gone macro with the other food trends, but let's go micro for the lucky last.

Think back to childhood, and how you used to enjoy them, dripping with honey and butter, enjoying the contrast of the crunchy base with the chewy, sponge-like top that’s not quite like bread, or a muffin, or anything else.

The crumpet. Once so daggy, but oh-so comforting, they're popping up and out of toasters, and on to plates in cafes and restaurants around the country. It speaks to the rise in comfort food across the dining scene, with fancy mac 'n' cheese, burgers, and even devilled eggs making a comeback in the past few years. 

And while we bless Golden Crumpets for the memories, the new crumpet is a little more glam. This time around, your crumpet is likely to be smaller, jazzed up with buttered lobster or caviar and pate, in brunch dishes with kimchi and creme fraiche, or topped with Sicilian ricotta and artisan honey.

The good news for the health-conscious everywhere is that, depending the report, crumpets may actually be lower calorie and better for you than bread…which means you could have one with your mini cocktail.

So there we have it.

Will sriracha take back the hot-sauce throne? Will we ever ultra-process anything ever again? And importantly, will Golden Crumpets be forced to lift their game to compete with the creativity of Australian chefs?

Only time will reveal the answers to these burning questions, and we’ll be back next year to report on our findings. 'Til then!