Banana blossom tacos, seafood swaps, and vegan BBQ? We’re listening, Whole Foods.

By Maggie Seaver
May 27, 2021
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If you haven't heard, eating plants is cool—very cool. One, it's astronomically better for the environment. Two, it's another creative challenge to take on at the grocery store and in the kitchen. And three, it's just so darn delicious. And hot off the presses to prove its popularity, is the very first fully plant-based food trends report from Whole Foods Market's—just in time for summer dining and entertaining.

Plant-based foods and alternatives have never been more popular among consumers as they learn more about the myriad benefits of incorporating ground-grown ingredients into their diets, and also cutting back on meat, dairy, and other animal byproducts. And after the year (plus!) of the food monotony we've had, people are craving new flavors, open to trying new things, and have never been more conscious about what they're feeding themselves and their families. In fact, according to Whole Foods, a recent study from The Hartman Group revealed that 48 percent of consumers actively seek out products labeled as "plant-based." 

"Plant-based is the grocery category to watch right now as brands continue to innovate by using new ingredients and processes that make plant-based products exciting for shoppers," said Parker Brody, senior global category merchant for plant-based at Whole Foods Market, in a press release. "And in the laid-back days of summer, we find that customers are breaking out of their routines and are more open to trying something new, whether they're longtime vegans or just starting to experiment with plant-based eating."

Don't worry—it's not all boring salads and steamed broccoli. "Expect to see gourmet plant-based cheese alternative spreads at picnics and fish alternatives made from banana blossoms on the grill this season," Brody said. We're sold. Whole Foods' Trends Council used its extensive trove of consumer and brand data, product-sourcing expertise, and food industry knowledge to find the top five plant based food trends to look out for in 2021 (and beyond).

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1 Deluxe Alternative Cheeses

If there’s one thing a summer table needs it’s a stocked charcuterie board—a typically meat-and-cheese-centered experience, of course, but these days plant-powered alternatives are sophisticated (and scrumptious) enough to occupy a prime spot on your next spread. Dairy-free cheese alternatives have been around for a while—but never like this.

According to Whole Foods, cheesemakers are infusing nut-milk-based cheeses with gourmet ingredients—hello, black garlic truffle, dill Havarti, and chive—and replicating the traditional, dairy cheesemaking methods to create more authentic and irresistible textures and flavors. “You can now pair your sheep’s milk gouda or goat chevre with a cashew-based option or one made from almonds,” Brody says. That way, no one’s excluded from enjoying the spoils of a great charcuterie board.

What to grab for your next “cheese” board:

  1. Miyoko’s Creamery Artisan Vegan Cheese: Semi-Firm Smoked English Farmhouse, Semi-Soft Double Cream Classic Chive
  2. Treeline Sea Salt & Pepper Soft French-Style Nut Cheese
  3. Kite Hill Spreadable Cheese: Garlic & Herb, Cracked Black Pepper
  4. Cheeze & Thank You: Vegan Dill Havarti, Vegan Black Garlic Truffle Fontina (available only in Illinois Whole Foods stores)

2 All-Inclusive BBQ

The typical summer barbecue? Burgers, steaks, and dogs on the grill—with a so-so veggie burger or side option for vegetarians and vegans if they’re lucky. “Vegans and plant-based amateurs don’t want to be left out from the backyard grill party this summer,” Brody says. “Now there are numerous delicious BBQ options to suit pretty much any desire.” Creative takes on classic mains include plant-based hot dogs, Italian-style sausages, and even jackfruit BBQ. Brands are using algae-based casings and hickory smoke concentrate to recreate the flavors of traditional meat options.

Recs for your next BBQ:

  1. Field Roast Signature Stadium Dog
  2. Upton’s Naturals: Updog Vegan Hot Dog, Bar-B-Que Jackfruit
  3. Lightlife Plant-Based Italian Sausages
  4. Or try this Spicy Grilled Tempeh recipe

3 Plant-Powered Kids’ Picks

Thanks to today’s irresistible plant-based options, kids will actually be begging you to feed them more fruits and veggies—not the other way around. It’s never been easier—nor have options ever been so reliably delicious—to find meat- and dairy-free favorites, from nuggets and “cheese” sticks to yogurt tubes and ice pops. Alternatives so good they won’t even know they’re eating produce.

RELATED: These 13 Delicious Plant-Based Products Make Vegan Eating Incredibly Easy

“Once customers move into a plant-based lifestyle, it seems natural that they’d want their little ones to at least experiment in the segment as well—that’s where this trend comes in, a chance for adults to show children that not all ‘meats and cheeses’ have to be derived from animals,” Brody says.

Dairy-free picks your kiddos will devour:

  1. Ripple Kids Non-Dairy Milk
  2. Miyoko’s Creamery Plant Milk Cheddar Sticks
  3. 365 by Whole Foods Market Plant-Based Nuggets
  4. Kite Hill Kids Strawberry Banana Almond & Coconut Milk Yogurt Tubes
  5. Chloe’s Plant-Based Kids Pops: Avengers, Spider-Man

4 Impressive Seafood Swaps

Fish is a fabulous pescatarian option—protein, healthy fat, and obviously tasty—but inventive seafood substitutes are an amazing, trending stand-in for anyone who’s totally vegan or starting to explore vegan options. What’s the secret? Legumes and banana blossoms recreate the flaky texture of freshly caught fish. Nosh on alternative fish sticks, no-tuna sandwiches, and banana blossom “fish” tacos.

“Banana blossoms are a soy-free, gluten-free alternative to fish that literally grows on trees,” says Kylie Bentley, RDN, LDN, CLT, and team leader of nutrition and labeling compliance at Whole Foods Market. “They contain 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, and are also a good source of fiber per serving.”

What exactly is a banana blossom? “The fleshy, purple-skinned flower is shaped like a tear and grows at the end of a banana fruit cluster," says Brody. "Typically, it’s used to emulate [the texture of] shredded fish in fish tacos, fish burgers, or even fried banana blossom filets.”

The tastiest fish-free options:

  1. Upton’s Naturals Banana Blossom
  2. Good Catch Fish-Free Tuna: Mediterranean, Oil & Herbs, Naked in Water
  3. Vegan Tuna in your local Whole Foods Market Chef’s Case
  4. Use Trumpet Mushrooms to make Tabitha Brown’s recipe for Vallops (vegan scallops!)

5 You-Won’t-Believe-It’s-Not Dairy Dips

Oh, dips, how we love thee. We didn’t think there was a way to improve upon our favorite dips—a summertime staple—but these options prove us wrong. There’s no need to pile in the dairy to make a crave-worthy dip for chips, veggies, condiments, and more—promise. Plant-based alternatives are so sophisticated now you can find the creamiest, smoothest, scoop-worthy-est ones for your crudite platter.

“This area has steadily grown over the last few years, as more shoppers look for easy ways to add more plant-based options to their daily routines,” Brody says. Skip the milk, cream, and cheese and still enjoy the flavors you know and love—queso, French onion, cream cheese, tzatziki—without the guilt.

What to dip into this summer:

  1. Kite Hill Dairy-Free Dips: Queso, French Onion, Ranch, Tzatziki
  2. Siete Dairy-Free Cashew Queso: Mild Nacho, Spicy Blanco
  3. Credo Plant-Based Strawberry Cashew Cream Cheese (available only in the Southwest region)
  4. Whole Foods Market Plant-Based Queso
  5. Bitchin’ Sauce: Original, Chipotle, Cilantro Chili