Insects deep fried on a skewer

Eating insects is a common practice in the far east. It is now moving into the Western diet as an environmentally healthy alternative protein. © The Tattooed Tentacle/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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Eleven extraordinary foods we'll be eating more in the future

Current farming, fishing and industrial practices are having a negative impact on nature, and the way we eat needs to become much more sustainable.

Discover what could become UK dinnertime staples of the future.

A translucent jellyfish floating in dark water

Jellyfish should only be bought and eaten from reputable retailers, as specialist knowledge is needed to clean and prepare the product © Takashi Kosaka/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

1. Jellyfish

Jellyfish chips and salad could become a regular on British menus in the next couple of decades as an answer to our depleting fish stock and a way to manage this proliferating species.

Low in calories and fat, yet high in protein and antioxidants, fresh jellyfish has a delicate, salty flavour and a slightly chewy body. When dried, jellyfish looks firm but gives away to a soft feel on the tongue, making it a great alternative to crisps.

There are around 25 species of edible jellyfish in the world, and most are consumed in Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Japan. Popular recipes include jellyfish salad - thin strips of jellyfish mixed with vegetables, oils and spices.

Cream paste on an edible biscuit spoon

Edible cutlery will help replace single use plastic cutlery, along with other sustainable material

2. Edible food packaging

Over 4.8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, a large portion of which is food packaging. One solution to this problem is to create edible packaging using natural ingredients such as seaweed, potato starch and milk proteins.

Edible packaging is not new - in fact, it's been a part of our everyday lives for decades. Think ice cream cones and sausage casings.

New York City-based start-up Loliware has created straws out of seaweed - the large, robust plant grows in vast quantities and is a better material for making straws than commonly used corn, which promotes mono plantation, or paper, which is associated with deforestation.

There are many other edible packagings already on the market, including coffee cups made out of hard biscuit and heat-resistant chocolate, candy wrappers made from rice paper and casein films made out of milk proteins to wrap around food. 

Thin strips of seaweed with chopsticks on a rectangular plate

Wakame seaweed salad © Mroach/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

3. Seaweed

As more than a third of the world's soil is moderately to highly degraded, people are turning to marine plants as an important source of food.

Seaweed is a type of algae that usually grows along rocky shorelines around the world. There are around 10,000 different types of seaweeds known, with over 650 growing around British coasts alone, many of which are edible.

This versatile plant offers a range of flavours and textures that are used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, salads, cakes and smoothies.

The most well-known seaweed is nori - thin, dried sheets wrapped around sushi rolls - as well as dulse, a slightly soft and chewy alternative to crisps.

Seaweed provides many health benefits. It contains iodine and tyrosine (which supports thyroid function), fibre (which promotes gut health) and various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

The superfood is mostly eaten in Japan, Korea and China, however it is becoming more common in today's UK households. 

Small cuts of ducks on skewers, served on a white round plate

Cell-cultured duck © Memphis Meats 

4. Cell-cultured meat

Cell-cultured meat is meat grown in a lab from an animal cell. It is fed nutrients and growth factor components to help it develop into a piece of meat over several weeks.

Cultured meat can be cooked the same way as conventional meat, including grilling and frying. It also looks, tastes and smells identical, and offers the same amount of nutrients.

Cultured meat is yet to be available in mainstream markets, but there are about 50 cultured meat start-up companies around the globe, and many have already successfully created beef, chicken and fish.

With conventional agriculture being one of the leading causes of climate change, clean and energy-efficient meat could help to feed a growing global population.

A variety of insects served on large bowls at a market

Insects sold at a Cambodian market © Frank Hukriede/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

5. Insects

Insects are rich in protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins, and are eaten all around the world. Fried crickets are sold by street vendors in Thailand, roasted maguey worms are served in warm tortillas with lime, chilli and salt in Mexico, and colourful caterpillars are served as a meat substitute in soups and stews in Zimbabwe.

Insect farming could one day compete with animal agriculture as it requires significantly less land, water and energy, and it emits fewer greenhouse gases. This could also help us reduce our food waste as insects can be fed unwanted fruits and vegetable.

Insect farms are a great solution for lower-income areas as well as urban areas with little space.

And they're not just for human consumption, either: Britain's first large-scale insect farm - Entocycle - breeds bugs for animal feed, including pets.

Insects have already crept into the Western food industry as an alternative, sustainable source of protein. Food makers are finding clever ways of overcoming any potential initial disgust displayed by consumers by grinding up insects into flour or paste to use in cooking, or selling as snack bars.

With over 1,900 edible insects, snacking on wasps and grasshoppers could become commonplace in the UK.

Fresh, green cacti pads without prickly leaves, in paper-wrapped bowls

Cactus pads with prickly leaves removed being sold in a market in Houston, USA © Patrick Feller/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

6. Cacti

Eating wild plants such as cacti can meet demands for a wider variety of crops and provide an income for farmers in developing countries.

There are over 1,500 species of cacti, many of them edible. Native to America bar one specie, cacti are a staple food in Latin American communities, where the pads are often grilled and served with eggs or in salads and tacos.

The versatile plant can also be eaten raw or used in fruit juices, smoothies, jams and other sweet treats, plus stews, casseroles and even wine. Cacti are rich in fibre, vitamins and micronutrients.

Quinoa in aubergine with corriander sprinkled on top, on a baking dish

Quinoa baked in aubergine © Jules/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

7. Grains and pseudocereals

Thousands of years of selective breeding have led to a diminished variety of wheat, as well as monoculture which has a negative effect on soil and biodiversity. Diversifying or replacing wheat with an alternative in our diet would improve our health and the environment.

Many people are replacing wheat with pseudocereals - plants that produce seeds which are used or eaten as grains, such as amaranth.

There are over 60 species of amaranth, many of which are edible. The perennial plant requires little water and can be grown at almost any elevation, making it an ideal crop for low-income countries. Amaranth is a staple food in Central and South America, Asia and Africa, and is fast becoming mainstream in the rest of the world.

Rich in protein, and gluten-free with a tasty, nutty flavour, amaranth works well in a variety of dishes. It is also highly nutritious, packed with fibre and antioxidants. One cooked cup of amaranth contains more than your daily requirement of manganese, a micronutrient important for brain function.

Quinoa is another popular plant, mostly used as an alternative to rice. It is also gluten-free, high in protein, fibre, iron, minerals and vitamins and contains all nine of the essential amino acids. It contains a bitter-tasting compound that naturally repels insects, diminishing the need for pesticide. This can be removed easily by washing with water.

Other grains gaining popularity include spelt, buckwheat, wild rice, finger millet, fonio and Khorasan wheat

Patches of vegetables in a private garden

Fruits and vegetable that can handle cold winters, such as potatoes and onions, will be grown more than others in future © Christian Guthier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

8. City-farmed seasonal produce

Urban farming could grow in popularity in private gardens, public spaces, community centres and schools. Gardening can even be successful in forgotten spaces such as disused train stations. Those without access to a lot of land or soil will be space-savvy by growing seasonal vegetables in pots of soil or water on balconies, rooftops or windowsills.

This practice brings a multitude of benefits, including establishing food security in low-income groups, bringing communities closer as people work together on public plots, and establishing a positive and healthier connection between people, nature and food.

Growing and consuming fruits and veg locally means food will have a longer shelf life as it travels less, resulting in less waste. This also helps reduce the giant carbon footprint caused by intensive farming. 

Plant-based burgers on a plate

Plant-based burgers, which look and taste very similar to meat, are a popular choice for those who want to reduce their meat consumption © Impossible Foods

9. Plant-based protein

Plant-based meat looks, tastes and even smells like meat but is made from plants.

A common ingredient in plant-based food is soy, a type of legume rich in protein. This comes in many forms such as tofu, edamame beans and tempeh.

Other common ingredients include lentils (which contains a lot of fibre and iron), chickpeas, quinoa, beans, nuts and seeds.

Many people have already moved towards a plant-based diet to reduce their use of animal products, making plant-based proteins a popular option in the mainstream market.

Rings of fish farm on sea

Open-net pens are one of four forms of aquaculture. Wild fish stocks are diminishing rapidly and in danger of collapsing in the next few decades. Most of the fish sold in supermarkets now come from fish farms. © NOAA.

10. Sustainable fish

With cod and salmon populations on the brink of collapsing, people are turning to a variety of whitefish species, such as pangasius and tilapia.

These fish are better adapted to warming sea temperatures and to aquaculture, an increasingly popular system which when done responsibly can be an environmentally-friendly way of farming fish and other marine animals.

Pangasius - a freshwater catfish found in southeast Asia - is already popular in the USA. Basa - the most preferred type of pangasius - offers a mild-to-sweet flavour, white-meat colour and slightly flaky cooked texture.

Tilapia is also a mild-flavoured freshwater fish and is rich in nutrients, protein, vitamins and minerals. It grows quickly and doesn't mind crowded habitats, making it an easy fish to farm, and a cheap product for consumers.

Seafood is generally healthier than terrestrial livestock, offering lean protein and certain macronutrients that cannot be acquired anywhere else. Obtaining food from the sea also has a much lower carbon footprint and will compete with terrestrial animal agriculture.

Green and yellow zuchinnis in a straw basket

Courgettes have been genetically modified to become resistant against the zucchini yellow mosaic virus © nociveglia/wiki (CC BY 2.0)

11. Genetically modified (GM) food

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any living thing that has had its DNA changed in favour of desirable traits such as a larger size, better taste or resistance to diseases.

Farmers have been genetically modifying crops via selective breeding for thousands of years, which has resulted in better yield, nutritional value, and taste. Some common examples of GM foods include sweet corn, rice, potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, salmon and pork.

Modern genetic modification allows organisms to be altered without having to go through years of selective breeding. This is done by inserting DNA from one organism into another, either manually or via a harmless virus in a lab.

GM products have generally been poorly received by the public, mainly as it is not considered natural and could potentially be unsafe. However, the human body cannot tell the difference between GM and non-GM foods, and there has not been any evidence of adverse results.

The Golden Rice project is an example of how genetic modification has helped save lives. Scientists modified ordinary rice to become rich in vitamin A, and the crops were grown in countries where child mortality and blindness were rife due to vitamin A deficiency. This helped boost immunity to fight life-threatening diseases and reduced childhood blindness.

In a future where food and nutrition are not guaranteed, GM products can help sustain populations. Manufacturers will aim to design highly nutritious and flavourful products that are durable, disease- and pest-resistant and kinder to the environment, to feed millions around the world.