The Knorr Professional and WWF’s Future 50 Foods report* aims to inspire Chefs to save our planet by changing the ingredients they cook with. The report identifies 50 plant-based, future-facing foods that will benefit our health as well as the health of the planet.
Of these 50 foods chosen for their nutritional value, relative environmental impact, flavour and affordability, 10 of them have special meaning in Africa. These 10 crops are rooted in Africa’s nutritional tradition and, we hope, will make a comeback to feature prominently on the plates of future generations. Even the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has acknowledged the importance of these crops to food security and addressing climate change.
Future 50 Foods traditional to SA:
Description: Lentils are a part of the legume family. They grow in pods (just like beans) and come in dozens of varieties. Originally from North Africa and Asia, this cousin of the pea was one of the world’s first cultivated crops. Requiring little water to grow, lentils have a carbon footprint 43 times lower than that of beef.
Use: The high protein content of lentils means they are the perfect meat substitute! Red and yellow lentils dissolve into a rich purée and are delicious mixed into stews, curries and soups. They are also used to make veggie burgers.
Health Benefits: Lentils are full of fibre, folic acid and potassium – all of which support heart health. Lentils also contain selenium which reduces inflammation and can help prevent cancer.
Description: Despite its name, wild rice is not actually rice (it just looks and cooks like other types of rice). It is a seed of an aquatic grass that grows naturally in freshwater marshes and along the shores of streams and lakes. There are four different species of wild rice.
Use: Like rice, it is boiled in water or stock. It can also be popped like corn for a colourful and more nutritious version of popcorn. Wild rice is great mixed with other grains, added to salads, soups and mixed with other grains and vegetables to make vegetarian burgers.
Health Benefits: Wild rice contains twice as much protein as regular brown or white rice. It contains all nine essential amino acids, which means it is a complete protein. It’s a nutrient-dense food and is an impressive source of minerals.
Description: Although not a commonly known crop in many parts of the world, Bambara groundnuts are the third most important legume in Africa, after peanuts and cowpeas. It is a legume but tastes like, and is eaten like, a nut.
Use: Bambara groundnuts can be boiled, roasted, fried or milled into a fine flour. They are often boiled to make them easier to open and the seeds are eaten as snacks, either plain or with a seasoning. In East Africa, the beans are roasted and puréed to be used as a base for soups.
Health Benefits: A unique combination of carbohydrates, protein, fibre and many vitamins and minerals make this a nutrient-rich dish. They have less fat than peanuts, allowing them to have a higher concentration of nutrients per calorie. Compared with other legumes, they have a high amount of the essential amino acid methionine.
Description: This drought-tolerant crop can be grown in areas where very few other crops would survive. Cowpeas are a large family of legumes, commonly called field peas, black-eyed peas, southern peas and crowder peas.
Use: Cowpeas make a hearty, thick soup while their leaves can be enjoyed in the same ways as other leafy greens. The pods can also be eaten when young and are used in stews. With their outer coating removed, the seeds can also be ground into flour and used to make deep-fried or steamed patties.
Health Benefits: Rich in minerals and vitamins, cowpeas improve digestion, support heart health, manage diabetes, treat insomnia, prevent anemia and more.
Description: Pumpkin leaves are flat, broad leaves that are extremely nutritious. Pick the young ones for cooking: they are smaller and located at the tip of the vine.
Use: It takes a bit of preparation to remove the fuzz and thick, fibrous spine, but once you have, use the sweet-tasting leaves in a variety of dishes. Simmer with tomatoes, include in your pasta sauce and even coconut curries. The combination of mild pumpkin taste and soft texture make them the perfect addition to soups, sauces, salads and pasta dishes.
Health Benefits: Fights cancer, increases fertility, prevents infection, lowers cholesterol and combats disease.
Description: This is a leafy green vegetable that is related to beets and quinoa.
Use: Eaten all over the world, spinach leaves can be steamed, sautéed or stir-fried and added to curries, soups, pasta dishes and stews. They can also be served on their own, as a side or fresh in salads.
Health Benefits: Dense in vitamins and minerals, spinach is great for maintaining healthy skin, hair and strong bones. It also helps with digestion, lowers the risk for heart disease and improves blood glucose levels.
Description: Finger millet is a type of grain that is tiny in size and may be white, grey, yellow or red. It can be creamy like mashed potato or fluffy like rice and can accompany many types of food. Millet has a mild corn flavour and is naturally gluten free.
Use: Finger millet is most commonly eaten and used in the same way as other grains or cereals. It can be eaten as porridge, or milled into flour and used in bread or pancakes. It has a mild flavour that’s slightly nuttier than quinoa and has a similar texture to couscous.
Health Benefits: As a good source of magnesium, millet can reduce the severity of asthma, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack.
Description: Red cabbage is a cabbage with dark red or purple leaves. It belongs to the Brassica group of plants which include other veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale.
Use: Red cabbage can be eaten raw or cooked in salads, stir-fries, in a sandwich or burger, or cooked with onions as a side dish. When cooked, the leaves will turn blue; add vinegar or acidic fruit to help maintain their red colour.
Health Benefits: With its high source of potassium, eating red cabbage is a delicious way to lower high blood pressure.
Description: Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is not a cereal but is a relative of spinach, beets and chard. It is a hardy plant that can tolerate frosts, droughts and high winds, and requires little fertilisation. This means it can grow in diverse climates and terrains, including areas with minimal irrigation or as little as three to four inches of annual rainfall.
Use: It can replace rice in many dishes, such as pilafs, stuffings, salads and even veggie burgers, giving a nutty flavour and enhancing texture. It can also be ground and used in breads and even pastas.
Health Benefits: A great source of fibre, quinoa is also high in protein, vitamins and minerals. It is considered a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Description: Mung beans are small, green beans that belong to the legume family. They have a slightly sweet taste and are sold fresh as sprouts or as fried beans.
Use: Mung beans are great with noodles, rice dishes, curries and stir-fries. They can even be scrambled like eggs or puréed to resemble ice cream. Their sprouts are nutritious too, adding crunch to salads and sandwiches with their sweet but earthy flavour.
Health Benefits: Mung beans are one of the best sources of plant-based protein and are rich in essential amino acids. Its levels of magnesium, potassium and fibre can help to reduce blood pressure.
Keen to find out more about the Future 50 Foods report*, co-authored by Knorr Professional and WWF-UK? Click here to learn about the importance of this report. To find out what the other 50 foods are, check out this article. And if you’re keen to use any of the Future 50 Foods in your dishes, check out this great selection of recipes!
*Co-authored by Knorr Professional and the WWF-UK. Contributors: Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Bioversity International, Crops For the Future, EAT Foundation, Edelman Agency, Food and Land Use Coalition, Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH), GAIN, Global Crop Diversity Trust, Gro Intelligence, Oxfam GB, SDG2 Advocacy Hub, Wageningen University and Yolele Foods.