10 Deliciously Nutritious Southeast Asian Food Trends For 2016

10 Deliciously Nutritious Southeast Asian Food Trends For 2016


26 January 2016


Asia has always been renowned for its tasty cuisine. Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian - there’s just so much to choose from! Now the downside is that much of the food is fried or lacks the nutrition we need to fuel our bodies.

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Fortunately, the food landscape is changing. New takes on nasi lemak, the rise of home or office-delivered salads and fresh juices indicate that the healthy eating community is growing, and that businesses are moving to cater to their new and healthier food demands.

In Malaysia where I am based for example, since coming here in 2010, and working in the health and wellness industry ever since, I have watched Malaysia’s nutritional landscape slowly evolve, and with the momentum that has picked up over the past few years, I foresee that things will only improve with the following 10 trends all set to explode in 2016 Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

1. Local produce will be highly sought after

Once upon a time, products from Europe, Australia and others were seen as superior. Although the products may not have been of a higher quality in reality, they were certainly perceived that way. The problem with this is that by looking abroad, we were overlooking all the high quality local and organic products that were right in front of us.

2016 will be a year where many Asians really start to notice the high quality produce that this country already offers. Buying local not only means eating fresher food and supporting the local economy, but will go a long way to decreasing the amount of CO2 that is released from transporting foreign produce all the way to our dinner tables.

2. More natural and clean food

In Southeast Asia, it’s just all too common to eat at a food court filled with unbelievable curries and sweets. And traditionally, this was fine as people made their food choices based on price and taste. However, as people become aware of the benefits of healthy eating, they’ll also start to look for food that is GMO, MSG, sugar and chemical free.

The F&B industry has responded to this trend with new outlets popping up to offer organic and clean food choices. This goes far further than small organic restaurants to include fine dining and “regular” restaurants too. People are even starting to demand MSG-free kurang manis at food courts, so it is exciting to see where this natural and clean food revolution will lead!

3. Less food wastage

When I first arrived in Malaysia in 2010, I ate dinner beside a family at a renowned seafood restaurant. Needless to say, they ordered an immense amount of food, of which half remained on the table when they left! Looking around, I noticed that it wasn’t just our table which over-ordered - every table around us ordered far too much food! Traveling in the region I then realized that this seems to be quite common. While I understand that this is common in regional dining culture, I am glad to say that I have also noticed that many are becoming more aware of waste and are now throwing away less food.

4. Where food comes from will matter

Extending from trends one and two, people will want to know how their food was grown and processed. Chicken should be free-range and fed with GMO-free grains, while beef should be grass-fed. In pursuit of transparency, people will want to see what the farms and packing facilities of which their food came from actually look like. If producers can provide this information, it will go a long way to build trust and work as a mechanism to ensure high quality standards (beyond the quality certifications set by authorities).

5. Everything will be delivered

When Elke and I opened a healthy food delivery business in 2012, we were one of only three in Kuala Lumpur, and we only had three delivery companies to choose from (which is why we ended up creating our own delivery team!).

Four years on, and there are now more than 10 healthy food delivery services in KL and about the same number of delivery companies. Even though people are becoming more health-conscious, they are still just as busy as ever. Food delivery businesses provide a much-needed and convenient service that helps people eat healthy in a time-efficient manner, and we can only expect this section of the food industry to get bigger this year. This in not just in KL the case!

6. Tailor-made food aka “free from everything”

In the past, people just ate whatever was on hand. But with nutrition education on the rise, people are becoming more aware of their bodies and realising that they can’t digest just any foods. Some people’s bodies react better to gluten or lactose free diets, while others find eating vegan, raw vegan or vegetarian works for them.

The increase in dietary preferences will put pressure on restaurants to be flexible and cater to the dietary needs of the individual. While this poses a challenge when it comes to operating a food business, once figured out, it has the potential to become a huge success. Keep an eye out for nut milks, gluten-free bakeries and vegan-based or “free-from” options in particular!

7. Create your own diets

In the past, eating a certain diet meant that you had to strictly keep to it. If you were vegetarian, you never ate meat. If you ate raw-vegan, you weren’t allowed to have a coffee with milk. Sounds pretty strict, huh?

Fortunately, we are now moving away from this caste-like dietary system to a more flexible way of eating. The notion of being a part-time vegetarian, raw till four raw-vegan and liquidarian is becoming more widely accepted. The dietary borders are disappearing as we become “flexitarians” who listen to our bodies to uncover the diet that aligns with ourselves.

8. Dehydrated and raw snacks

As tasty as they are, typical local snacks aren’t all that healthy. They’re either too sweet, too salty or too fried! Obviously, this doesn’t fit well into a healthy diet, so we will be seeing more healthy snack options becoming available on the market. Think dehydrated vegetable chips, fruit chunks and raw, nutritious snacks. Aside from being nutrition-dense, these healthy snacks are much better for keeping energised between meals.

9. The new culture will be a healthy gut culture

“Trust your gut” has found a whole new meaning as your gut health affects both your mood and immune system. People are already becoming aware of the importance of cultivating good gut bacteria with fermented coconuts, kombucha, kefir and kimchi becoming more commonplace in the household.

10. The E-volution of the food industry

Asia, especially Malaysia and Singapore,  are some of the most tech-savvy countries that I have ever been to. Everything is done online - shopping, banking and even entire projects collaborating with older generations. Consequently, it is no wonder that each of the nutrition trends for 2016 have some sort of tie-in with the Internet and the new technologies that are being created to support it.

When it comes to food and nutrition, we can expect that there will be more people ordering via mobile apps, finding nutritional information, recipes and new places to shop on the Internet, participating in fully online nutrition programmes which combine with a healthy food delivery service (like our 21-Day Kickstart to a Healthy Lifestyle and 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge programme), and everything from our food, heart rates, sleep and workouts will be tracked fast and easily.

Other trends to watch around the globe

While these 10 trends are specific to Southeast Asia, there is a lot more that will be happening around the world. Each year, new food items are being discovered and rediscovered. 2016 will see algae creep into everything, souping will become more favourable than juicing (super important for cold countries), as well as the introduction of new items like baobab, moringa and poke from Hawaii, and chokeberry, cannabis fortified drinks, and new protein sources like pea, rice and hemp protein as we move away from the allergenic whey and soy protein.

2016 is an exciting year to be a health-conscious foodie, so which trend are you most excited about?