Innovation is a leading factor in the rise of functional foods. Consumers looking for alternatives to their favorite foods are becoming increasingly open minded to unconventional ingredients. “Milks” made from soy, nuts and even peas have stormed the market in the past ten years. These alternatives offer a variety of health benefits without the saturated fat and carbohydrates that can be associated with cow milk, and are among a slew of products making it easier to choose more plant-based options. This has helped to create a new platform for alternatives of dietary staples, from milk to meat to pasta.
While pasta is a hugely popular comfort food, its high carbohydrate, sugar and calorie counts are unappealing to modern health conscious audiences. Typically made from refined flour, “pasta is regarded by many as nothing more than a low-in-nutrients-but-high-in-carbs vehicle for tasty sauces” (Simon Baroke, Euromonitor). Whether motivated by food allergies, dietary choices or weight management, consumers are looking to upgrade their favorite foods to better suit their lifestyles – without having to forgo them entirely. Thus, the availability of pasta substitutes is expanding to accommodate this growing demand.
Pasta is most often purchased dry and uncooked, but products made from refined flour are making room in the aisle for a myriad of new vegetable based noodles. Legumes are a highly favored ingredient, with several brands introducing alternative pastas in this space over the past few years. Explore Cuisine offers a wide selection of bean-based pastas varying from black beans, adzuki beans, edamame, and mung beans. Similarly, Pedon’s More Than Pasta line boasts red lentil, green pea and chickpea varieties. While these alternatives may not stand up to traditional pasta in terms of flavor or consistency, the high protein and fiber content have a great appeal. Many of these products are specifically touting protein content per serving on the front of packaging. Ancient Harvest, notable for their quinoa products, has launched a sub brand of protein focused bean pastas. This new product line even offers boxed “Power Protein Complete Meals” for a high protein meal option with a quick preparation time.
While many of pasta alternatives seem focused on imitating pasta as closely as possibly, other vegetables are starting to star as stand ins for noodles in recipes. Seaweed has become a well received ingredient in Western grocery stores, so I Sea Pasta is likely to draw interest on shelf. Some appealing attributes of the brand include being sustainably sourced, organic, and containing higher levels of iodine, iron and omega 3. Peeled or spiraled vegetables like zucchini (affectionately coined “zoodles”) and beets have been popping up as low calorie, nutrient rich pasta alternatives in recipes all over the internet in recent years. While pre-packaged fresh vegetable pasta (and rice) alternatives are sold in the refrigerated sections of health food markets, the presence of these types of vegetables is lacking in the pasta alternative brand space. If demand calls for both convenience and health, we could see zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash and cauliflower rice popping up into frozen meals for health conscious eaters looking for alternatives to their favorite spaghetti, mac n’ cheese, and other comfort food dishes.
With innovative alternatives to meat, milk and pasta, more staples are certain to follow suit. What do you think will be the next trend? Let’s discuss! Email firstname.lastname@example.org