Fermentation is Cool, but People Prefer Pretty Food

The latest pillar in plant-based 🌿 food may be eclipsed by our tendency to feast with our eyes

Good Monday, fellow nerds! We’re enjoying a stretch of almost summer-like weather here in Modern Health Nerd land 🌞 and deliberately avoiding the societal crazies by focusing on — what else? — food news!

If you prefer to read about what’s going on in the plant-based/alt protein space instead of everywhere else, subscribe for 2x/weekly updates! 👇🏻👇🏻


Fermentation is the New (Old) Foodtech

Now that fermentation has been identified as the latest pillar 💈 in the alt protein category, companies like Motif FoodWorks are leveraging it to create ingredients that improve the taste and texture of plant-based products. It’s a merger of a beloved old-school food preservation technique and the new wave of technology powering the food space. 🧪

Fermentation can create a better balance of tastes to create products consumers see as “craveable.” Making products that are pleasurable to eat is one of the holy grails for plant-based companies, and fermented ingredients have the potential to improve consumer satisfaction by providing the feeling of eating something hearty.

Its’s called “kokumi,” a sort of cousin to umami that has long been missing from many plant-based products. 😋🤤

Fermenting foods also adds health benefits, expands ingredient functionality and enables brands to present cleaner labels. Plus, consumers already view fermenting as natural—a perception that will be key in marketing up-and-coming fermented products.

Photo by Trang Doan from Pexels

Looks May Actually Be the Final Analysis

Kokumi might be the next big thing on the taste frontier, but what about the way food looks?

Apparently, consumers think “pretty“ food is more nutritious and sometimes even lower in calories. It’s a problematic perception that can lead to poor food choices. 🍔🍟 It also has the potential to confound plant-based marketers trying to gain attention and build awareness by focusing on taste, texture and price.

Blame the Instagram food culture for this one, perhaps. 📸 All those foodies posting pictures of stunning smoothie bowls, towering stacks of pancakes 🥞 with maple syrup drizzled just so and perfectly plated dinners blazing with the colors of the rainbow are unwittingly putting pressure on food manufacturers and restaurants to create photo-worthy dishes.

Somehow, beautiful food also commands higher prices. The nicer something looks, the more consumers are willing to pay for it, 🤑 which could mean spending significantly more than is necessary to eat well.

Food Waste is Still a Huge Problem

Getting starry eyed 🤩 over the new, the unusual and the beautiful has another side effect: food waste. A Sodexo survey of students and working adults showed a significant disconnect between how much food people think they waste and how much actually winds up in landfills. 🚛

About 80% of food waste happens at the consumer end, either in grocery stores and restaurants or at home in the kitchen. 🍴 In an attempt to combat this, almost 200 food suppliers around the world have joined an initiative to cut their food waste in half by 2030.

What’s the plan? Proposed approaches differ, but some ideas include looking for new ways to sustainably dispose of inedible items and using small amounts of leftover ingredients to create limited-edition product lines.🍬🍬

Oddly, consumers themselves may need extra help to change wasteful habits. Simply knowing about the problem of food waste doesn’t seem to inspire much action.


I’ll admit to fawning over gorgeous food photos on Instagram 🤤 (don’t we all?), but I’ve also seen people pass by perfectly good “seconds” in favor of “perfect” food at nearly twice the price. As a fan of culled food, I can tell you from experience — it’s just as good, if not better, than “pretty” food. (Perfectly ripe pears, 🍐 anyone?)

So, ask the vendors at your local farmers market if they have any seconds. Offer them a fair price. Rescue discarded greens and less-than-perfect castoffs from their compost bins. And please, only buy what you’re going to use or plan to preserve! In fact, fermentation is great for that…😁


To hear more about some of the movers, shakers and innovators behind these trends, I invite you to check out the new companion podcast to this newsletter! Available on Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Overcast.