Visual Indulgence

February 23, 2018

Natural ingredients can make a colorful impression on patrons and social feeds.

Social media is fueling an era of visual indulgence when it comes to food trends, as consumers increasingly share images of beautifully crafted dishes on Instagram and other channels.

Instagram alone currently has about 800 million monthly users who load some 95 million photos per day on the site. As of early last year, more than 168 million Instagram posts contain the tag #food and more than 76 million contain the tag #foodporn, according to

Picture This Infographic

While many of the food presentation photos consumers share are of the over-the-top variety — think extreme milk shakes — many are also illustrative of the visual appeal that certain natural ingredients, such as turmeric, spirulina, activated charcoal, and vividly colored fruits and vegetables, can impart to a dish.

At New York City’s Chalk Point Kitchen, the menu was designed to be both healthy, visually appealing, and colorful, with dishes such as Blood Orange Vitamin C Salad specifically designed for their Instagram appeal.

“Social media is an important part of eating out in the millennial generation,” owner Matt Levine recently told Eater New York.

Five colorful food trends operators might expect to see in 2018 include:

1. Expect more colors

“Color is the new sugar,” research firm Packaged Facts recently proclaimed in a prediction of 2018 food trends. “The eye-candy colors of high-antioxidant botanicals signal natural and healthy, even if it's your matcha donut from Brooklyn’s Dough or vegan turmeric ice cream from Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, also in New York,” Packaged Facts says.

Visually appealing vegetables such as beets and purple cauliflower also are often used to provide nutrition-rich visual stimulation, the research firm says. Chefs have increasingly juxtaposed and layered these natural colors, rather than blending them in, to help showcase their healthfulness, according to Packaged Facts.

2. 'Black is the new black'

So what natural color is next for 2018? Some chefs are taking their color palettes in an entirely different direction. According to the Specialty Food Association, “black is the new black.” Activated charcoal, which is being used to blacken such foods as ice cream, pizza crust and lemonade, is poised to take off this year — perhaps a pushback against the ubiquity of the “unicorn” food trend — multi-colored, glittering menu items — of 2017, the association says.

3. Colorful — and healthful — coffees

One food category in which visual appeal and wellness have converged is specialty coffee. So-called “wellness lattes” have been a hit with consumers on social media both because of their brilliant colors and their nutritional properties.

Examples include:

The End Brooklyn in Brooklyn, N.Y., features the Unicorn Latte, made with spirulina, or blue-green algae, which is a best seller, Madeleine Murphy, co-owner, told AM New York.

"It's presented in a playful, colorful, almost childlike way to remove that serious tone that sometimes seeps into the nutritional world," she says. "Maybe we're introducing some weird, funky ingredient you never heard of before, but in an innocuous and super playful way."

Bluestone Lane, the New York-based café chain, offers three wellness drinks, each distinctively colored — the Golden Latte, made with turmeric, the pinkish Beetroot Latte and the green Matcha Latte.

When the chain introduced the Golden Latte in 2016, it touted both its nutritional profile and its social-media-ready visual appeal.

“In addition to the handful of health benefits, this vibrant-colored latte makes the perfect photo every time,” the company says. “We like to call it the perfect Instagram photo — no filter needed.”

4. Fruit and vegetable extracts

Restaurants and packaged food makers are increasingly looking for natural food coloring to replace the artificial dyes that they have long relied upon as consumers gravitate toward clean ingredient labels.

Steve Talcott, professor of food chemistry at the Texas A&M University Department of Nutrition and Food Science, says pigments extracted from vegetables can be an excellent source of color for chefs if they know how to use them. Some natural pigments dissolve in water and others in oil, for example.

When using fruits and vegetables for natural food coloring, chefs need to weigh the flavors they impart against the appearance, Talcott says. Often a little goes a long way when it comes to color, he cautions.

It may take some time for customers to get used to the slightly paler hues that natural food dyes impart, but as Chalk Point Kitchen and others have proven, it is possible to create Instagram-worthy works of art using fruit and vegetable extracts and other natural ingredients.