According to the Health/Wellness: food as medicine global survey compiled by Nielsen after studying a sample of 30,000 people from 63 countries, consumers from all over the world are increasingly concerned about how and what they eat and increasingly interested in discovering new healthy foods. Food is seen as a treatment/medicine, and diet is no longer just a nutritional regimen: it is, instead, nothing short of a way of life.
Why are consumers increasingly seeking out healthy foods?
Nielsen’s survey identified four reasons behind this phenomenon:
– The ageing of the world population;
– Growing rates of food allergies/intolerance and chronic illnesses;
– An increase in self-treatment and prevention;
– Consumers who are increasingly informed and online.
What sources do consumers consult when deciding whether a food is healthy or not?
|Packaging health claims (‘high fibre’, ‘low fat’)
|Medical professionals (doctors, dieticians)
|Magazines, newspapers or books
|TV programmes, films or documentaries
|Signs/labels on shop shelves/products
Healthy food in Italy
Italy was ranked the healthiest country in the world in the 2017 Bloomberg Health Index, which analyses the health of 163 countries. Italians are paying more attention to food than ever before, they are increasingly health-conscious and careful about what they eat. According to a report by Coldiretti (the federation of Italian farmers), the consumption of wholemeal foods is growing (up 11%), as is the consumption of gluten-free foods (up 26%), organic foods (up 20%) and vegetable drinks (up 7%). What’s more, Coldiretti has identified a trend linked to so-called ‘superfoods’: foods that combine taste with health benefits. The most popular superfoods include goji berries, adzuki beans, ginger (which has seen an increase in trade of 141% in a single year) and turmeric (with a 93% growth in trade). As well as exotic options (turmeric, adzuki beans and ginger are mostly produced in India and China), Italy also boasts a wealth of products that naturally aid well-being and the environment. Coldiretti has dubbed these products ‘Grandma’s superfoods’.
These extraordinary foods include Polignano purple carrots, considered nothing less than an elixir of long life, thanks also to the high quantities of polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins they contain. Then there’s The barattiere, an old variety of cucumber from the Puglia region; it’s the perfect food for people on a diet, as it provides high levels of potassium whilst containing low levels of sugar and sodium. In the Calabria region, they grow Diamante chili peppers, known as an aphrodisiac. The red onions of Cavasso Nuovo, in the Veneto region, have strong anti-stress benefits and are helpful in the fight against high blood pressure and cholesterol. Last but not least, there’s Piedmont’s white carrot, which is good for the liver because it regulates bile production.
It’s winning over everyone: Michelin-starred chefs, food and wine critics, food bloggers, entrepreneurs and, of course, consumers. We’re talking about gourmet street food: the modern-day reinterpretation of street food that uses top-quality ingredients. It’s still a niche market but it is rapidly growing, particularly in big cities where the number of food trucks offering sophisticated delicacies from all over the world is increasing.
Today, meal times have changed due to busy lifestyles and the lack of spare time. So-called “metro eaters” eat on their way from one appointment to another and they have two priorities: quality and speed. According to food anthropologist Lucia Galasso – who contributed to research commissioned by Sanpellegrino, a leader in the beverage industry –gourmet street food is a vehicle we use to communicate our food values to others. It’s no coincidence that every food preference is catered for in large cities. What we are dealing with is a reaction to standardised food that could end up making us lose the sense of those unmistakable details that reveal the identity of a particular cuisine. As far as this aspect is concerned, street food is a tool that allows us to explore a territory and rediscover recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next at an affordable price. And let’s not forget storytelling. Often street cooks are the repositories of an oral tradition of traditional cuisine: a pleasure that involves all the senses and wins us over through the stories they tell and their gestures.
A number of international cases demonstrate the rise of gourmet street food. The chefs at New York’s Rouge Tomate, a well-known restaurant on the Upper East Side boasting a Michelin star, have created the “Rouge Tomate Cart in the Park”, which offers a street menu at the entrance to Central Park Zoo. Italy, with its rich food tradition, is just as far ahead: Michelin-starred chefs Cristina Bowerman and Mauro Uliassi offer their specialities in the open air from an Ape Romeo three-wheel van and the “Uliassi street good gang”. The Michelin guide has also joined the fray, and in 2016 it ennobled this phenomenon by awarding a star to two landmarks of Singapore’s street food: the Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle food stall and the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles food stall.
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