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The future of Christmas dinner – what is food technology bringing to the table?

Posted on 03/12/2018

We think there is nothing more traditional than the Christmas turkey roast - but have things already changed, and how will they continue to change?

By Simon Baty, Knowledge Transfer Manager, AgriFood

Over recent years, turkeys have been bred to grow bigger and faster whilst rapid freezing and controlled atmospheres have improved upon safety, flavour and “freshness” and now allow more fresh turkeys to be available at the same time.

But will this change for future Christmas dinners?

Food innovators are growing burgers in labs and developing “meat like” plant-based products (although these are not currently available at an affordable price to the consumer), but when it comes to meat the current consumer drivers still seem to focus on welfare standards (where the UK takes a global lead), free range and organic practices producing high quality meat with clear provenance.

In terms of the Christmas turkey, I think the biggest challenge to its place at the Christmas dinner table is the move towards “flexitarian” diets and an overall reduction in meat consumption – but the latter is probably not likely on Christmas day! A turkey has to be roasted in a conventional oven, not microwaved (there is a place for microwave meals but probably not on this occasion). Advances in domestic ovens are driven by improving their energy consumption so I see us roasting turkeys for many years to come, probably in better insulated ovens that reduce the overall heat within the kitchen.

Simon predicts that we will continue to roast our Christmas turkeys in ovens for years to come.

Moving on to the Christmas veg, we have sprouts, carrots, cabbage, potatoes etc that have been bred for productivity triumphing over traditional “flavourful” varieties, although the recent marketing success of the older Chantenay carrot has reversed that somewhat. I don’t think the broad popularity of these veg will change too much, despite climate change and the challenges it brings to food production (drought, bugs, floods….). But I can see the benefits of genetically modified (GM) and gene edited varieties with the potential to reduce inputs, protect the environment and produce more predictable and uniform crops that can be picked by robots. Yes robots! The impact of the living wage and restriction on the availability of labour could mean that the first time your sprout is touched by a human hand it will be by your hand in your kitchen!

Designed foods that meet your individual health needs could be another food technology that finds its way into your diet in the future – how about a perfectly nutritionally balanced carrot matched to your exact needs and 3D printed on the table! Perhaps 3D printing of edible materials could create the crackers and remove the waste generated (including the paper hat) by turning it into part of the meal. You could even go the whole hog and 3D print the cutlery and plates resulting in minimal washing up and an extra course. Now, there’s a balance between a chore and eating for pleasure.

3D printer using liquid dough to print food

For me, the ingredients that make up a delicious Christmas pudding shouldn’t be changed, but the country of origin for the dried fruit may well alter as production areas are forced to move with climate change. Perhaps a more interesting trend is number of people – particularly the younger generations – who are teetotal, meaning that flaming of the pudding and liberal applications of brandy sauce are likely to be the first casualties of change.

So for me, not much is going to immediately change with Christmas dinner, but there is likely to be a lot of change on its way globally and for the UK diet, driven by economics, climate change and a growing global population. In developed countries ageing populations bring further problems and opportunities with their different nutrient and mastication requirements.

And to finish on a positive note, one change that is already happening is the current trend for English sparkling wine to be the drink of choice (for those who still drink) over Champagne and other nations’ best sparkling wines, a positive result from our changing climate.

Now, how we purchase our food and how it will get to our homes in the future, is to be the subject of another blog……..in the meantime enjoy your Christmas dinner.

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