A diverse diet is a healthy diet

We all know how important a diverse diet is for our health. However, scientists believe that our current diets are not diverse enough. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 75% of the global food supply comes from twelve plant and five animal species alone. This lack of variety is damaging to our diets, our plants and animals, as well as our planet. A recent report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Knorr attempted to highlight the problems in our food system and our diets by presenting a list of 50 ‘foods of the future’.

The 50 foods mentioned in the report were chosen with the aim of improving diversity in food choices and improving the global food system at the same time. Combined, they present a path for a dietary shift to food that has a greater variety of nutrients, with plant-based sources of protein and nutrient-rich carbohydrates to promote agrobiodiversity. Some of the Future 50 foods are staples we all know and love, so we’ve highlighted some of our favourite entries that may surprise you.


Laver seaweed (Porphyra umbilicalis)

Known as ‘nori’ in Japan, laver seaweed is most commonly used in wrapping sushi. Its high nutritional content and strong umami flavour make it an ideal addition to plant-based dishes. It is also great for the planet as it can be grown throughout the year without the use of pesticides or fertilisers.

Wakame seaweed (Undaria pinnatifida)

Similar to laver, wakame can be chopped and added to soups or salads for a salty, umami flavour. It contains a range of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) found almost exclusively in fish.


Nopales (Opuntia)*

You may know this interesting crop as the prickly pear. Not only is this plant highly nutritious, but it is also one of the most planet-friendly crops as it can be used as an alternative animal feed and renewable energy source.

Several Opuntia species are on the alien invasive list as Category 1b invanders. These plants are prohibited unless controlled and monitored as per the Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.

Beans & Pulses

Black turtle beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

This bean receives the highest honour of all nutrient-dense foods – the ‘superfood’ label. High in fibre and protein, black turtle beans are a great replacement for minced beef, with a sweet, mushroom-like flavour.

Mung beans (Vigna radiata)*

Mung beans offer the gardening trifecta that we all look for in a crop – they are heat tolerant, drought tolerant and easy to grow. Originating from Southeast Asia, they add a crunch to stir-fries and noodle dishes, and soak up all surrounding flavours to round out any dish.

Cereals & Grains

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)*

Buckwheat is an ideal crop – it matures quickly and grows well in under-fertilised soils. It is also, despite the name, not related to wheat at all and can be used as a gluten-free flour substitute in pastas and breads.

Fonio (Digitaria exilis)

With roots back in Ancient Egypt, fonio is one of the oldest crops in Africa. It is nicknamed the ‘lazy farmer’s crop’ because all you need to do is simply scatter a few seeds across any soil type and it will grow to harvest. While it is not yet widely available, the first fonio mill is currently under construction in Senegal and has the potential to make this versatile grain available across the world.

Fruits & Vegetables

Pumpkin flowers (Cucurbita pepo)*

The female flowers of a pumpkin plant eventually form the pumpkin fruit. So what do you do with the male flowers? You can eat those too! These flowers are often discarded, but they are completely edible and quite delicious with their mild pumpkin flavour.

Orange tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)*

The classic red tomato is a staple of every kitchen. But it turns out that its fiery orange cousin is actually sweeter and better for your health than both red and green tomato varieties. They can be used in the same ways as any normal tomato, making them easy to add to your standard kitchen repertoire.

Pumpkin Flowers

Leafy Greens
Beet greens (Beta vulgaris)*

When you chop off the leaves of your beets and discard them, you’reactually throwing away the most nutritious part of the vegetable. Beet greens are full of iron, are rich in vitamins A and K, and are a great source of magnesium – a mineral absent from many modern diets.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress, a member of the brassica family related to mustard, has a slightly bitter, peppery taste that makes it a great topping for soups, salads and omelettes. It is high in beta carotene and vitamin C, as well as vitamins A and K, just like beet greens. For purchase only, it cannot be grown in South Africa without a permit.


Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa)

Known as the ‘king of mushrooms’, maitake mushrooms are massive, with some reaching over 45kg in weight. Despite a stronger earthy taste, they can be used as a replacement for any mushroom in omelettes, stir-fries and stews. Alternatively, fry them with a little olive oil and eat them as a snack.

Saffron milk cap mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus)

Named for their striking orange colour and milky liquid interior, these mushrooms are bound to brighten up any dish. They are common in risottos and pastas across the Northern Hemisphere and are popular for their woody, nutty taste.

Nuts & Seeds

Hemp seeds (Cannabis sativa)

Hemp seeds are one of the most versatile seeds around. In cooking, they can be used as an oil, a milk substitute or ground into flour. Beyond the kitchen, hemp seeds can be spun into fibre, refined into paper, turned into a reusable plastic or used as a biofuel.

Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum)*

A little goes a long way with these flavour-packed seeds. Although they are known as toppings for sushi and freshly baked buns, sesame seeds are also incredibly versatile. They can be used in crackers, baked goods, ground into tahini for hummus, made into an oil or eaten raw.

Root Vegetables

Parsley root (Petroselinum crispum subsp. tuberosum)*

This vegetable, also known as Dutch parsley,first appeared in the 15th century in Dutch vegetable stews. Similar in appearance to a parsnip, the root has a flavour profile reminiscent of celeriac, carrot and its parent species, parsley.

Black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica)*

A vegetable similar in looks to the parsnip, black salsify is not widely known but is a great root vegetable to cook with. Its sweet, musky taste has earned it the name ‘oyster plant’, a name that also alludes to its dark, thick exterior.


Sprouted kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

We all know and love kidney beans, whether canned or dried, as a vital ingredient in stews or bean curries. However, the young sprouts of kidney beans have three times the nutritional value of their unsprouted counterparts. When boiled in water or stock, they make a great topping for stews and salads.

Lotus root (Nelumbo nucifera)*

Lotus flowers are known for their beauty and symbolism, and are one of the most sacred plants in the world. But the roots of this popular plant also have incredible nutritional value. Commonly used in Asian dishes like any vegetable, lotus root has a tangy, sweet flavour and crunchy texture. To find out more about the Future 50 Foods and to take part in a movement for healthier people and a healthier planet, visit www.org.uk

The Gardener