Earlier this year, the World Wildlife Foundation UK (WWF-UK) and Knorr Professional compiled a list of Future 50 Foods, identifying those ingredients with high nutritional value, low environmental impact and good flavor. These 50 “superfoods” promote sustainability, biodiversity and a more responsible way of eating. Now, foodservice management company Sodexo has committed to this initiative on a large scale, sourcing and serving these superfoods and rolling out new plant-based recipes to its 2,500 healthcare and corporate locations across the U.S. Click through for the entire selection of Future 50 Foods and see why they made the list.
1. Laver seaweed
What: Laver is a variety of red algae used predominantly in Japanese cuisine.
Dish: Laver is commonly used for wrapping sushi, though it can also be dried and flaked as a topping for soups and salads.
Sustainable features: Because it grows in the water, laver seaweed can be harvested all year. It does not need pesticides or fertilizers.
Nutritional value: High in vitamin C and iodine.
2. Wakame seaweed
What: This deep-green seaweed has a savory flavor and satiny texture.
Dish: It’s most commonly sold dry and then rehydrated. It can be chopped and added to soup or stir-fried.
Sustainable features: It grows rapidly without fertilizers or pesticides and supports the water’s biological balance.
Nutritional value: It is one of the few plant-based sources of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA, which is almost exclusively found in fatty fish.
3. Adzuki beans
What: Small brown/red bean with mild and sweet, slightly nutty flavor; commonly eaten in Japan and other parts of Asia.
Dish: Often cooked, pureed and sweetened to make a paste that’s used as a filling in sweet treats.
Sustainable features: These beans require less water than many other crops and can produce high yields even on dry land.
Nutritional value: Full of antioxidants, protein, potassium, B vitamins and fiber.
4. Black turtle beans
What: Often referred to as a superfood, this legume is particularly popular in Latin American cooking. These black beans are small and shiny with a sweet, mushroom-like flavor.
Dish: Their dense, meaty texture makes them ideal for stews and curries, or as a ground beef substitute.
Sustainable features: A great substitute for meat eaters.
Nutritional value: High in protein and fiber.
5. Broad beans (fava beans)
What: Green beans with a sweet, grassy taste and a buttery texture.
Dish: A great addition to risottos, soups and stews. They are also good as a side dish with a simple rosemary, thyme and pepper seasoning.
Sustainable features: When in bloom, the sweet-scented flowers attract honeybees. The broad bean plant can also function as a cover crop, which is a crop that is grown between harvests to protect the land.
Nutritional value: Packed with protein and fiber.
6. Bambara groundnuts/bambara beans
What: The third most important legume in Africa other than peanuts and cowpeas. Bambara beans taste like, and are eaten like, nuts.
Dish: They can be boiled or roasted, fried or milled into a flour. After they’ve been boiled to make them easier to open, the seeds are eaten as snacks, either plain or seasoned. The flavor is similar to peanuts but a bit sweeter and less oily.
Sustainable features: The plant’s roots store nitrogen from the air, which it uses as a fertilizer to produce the bean. Some of the nitrogen is released into the soil, improving fertility and helping boost yields when intercropped with other plants.
Nutritional value: The beans have a unique combination of carbohydrates, protein, fiber and other vitamins and minerals. They also have a high amount of the essential amino acid methionine and are often called a “complete food.”
What: Native to Africa but grown in warm regions around the world. They have a nutty taste.
Dish: Cowpeas make a thick soup, and the leaves can be eaten just as other leafy greens are. The seeds can be ground into flour.
Sustainable features: They are a quick-growing cover crop and are drought hardy and heat tolerant. They, like the bambara bean, are a nitrogen fixer crop. They thrive in poor soil and self-seed.
Nutritional value: They are full of minerals and vitamins including folate and magnesium.
What: One of the world’s first cultivated crops.
Dish: Lentils have endless uses, but they’re notably used to make many varieties of veggie burgers.
Sustainable features: They require little water to grow and have a carbon footprint 43 times smaller than that of beef.
Nutritional value: Lentils are full of protein, fiber and carbohydrates.
9. Marama beans
What: These beans, and their edible tuberous roots, are native to the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.
Dish: Their oil can be used for cooking and dressing. The beans can be boiled or ground into flour. They can also be used to make a milk drink. When roasted, they taste like cashews.
Sustainable features: They are drought-tolerant and adapt well to harsh environments and damaged soils.
Nutritional value: Marama beans are a good source of essential fatty acids.
10. Mung beans
What: First grown in the U.S. as livestock feed, these small, tender beans have a crisp, clean taste and absorb flavors well.
Dish: Mung beans pair well with noodles, rice dishes, curries and stir-fries. They can also be scrambled like eggs or pureed to resemble ice cream.
Sustainable features: Natural nitrogen fixers, mung bean plants grow well in sunny, hot and dry conditions.
Nutritional value: They contain protein, B vitamins and various other minerals.
What: The most widely grown legume on the planet.
Dish: Endless uses: tofu, soy milk, miso, tempeh, edamame and more.
Sustainable features: Diminishing the demand for soy as animal feed is crucial to reducing the negative effects of soy farming worldwide. Shifting to more plant-based foods, soy in particular, will help to reduce the demand for soy as animal feed.
Nutritional value: Raw soybeans have 38 grams of protein per 100 grams, which is similar to pork and 3 times more than an egg. They deliver more protein per hectare than any other crop. Soy also contains vitamins K and B, iron, manganese, phosphorus, copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium and calcium.
What: Also known as prickly pear or cactus pear.
Dish: Nopales are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw, cooked or made into juice or jams.
Sustainable features: Potential uses as an alternative animal feed and a bio-gas renewable energy source.
Nutritional value: Some clinical studies have found that nopales can help with weight loss due to their low calorie and high fiber content.
What: A grain that is prepared in boiling water, like rice, or popped like corn. Its leaves are eaten like a leafy green vegetable in Asia and Africa.
Dish: Has a mild, nutty taste and gelatinous texture good for soups, side dishes and risottos.
Sustainable features: It can be grown without the use of much water and at any elevation.
Nutritional value: The sandy yellow seed is high in magnesium and protein.
What: This gluten-free grain has a nutty flavor and can be ground into flour or used as an alternative to rice.
Dish: It is popular in Russia and Eastern European cuisine and is often eaten in stews such as goulash with potatoes, vegetables and meat.
Sustainable features: It is a short season crop, meaning it matures in eight to 12 weeks. It grows well in both acidic and underfertilized soils. It can also be used as a cover or smother crop to control weeds and reduce soil erosion.
Nutritional value: It is a good high-protein swap for flour in pasta and bread.
15. Finger millet
What: A cereal that is a member of the grass family. It has a similar texture to couscous.
Dish: It is commonly used the same as any other grain or cereal. It can be eaten as a porridge or milled into flour and used in bread or pancakes.
Sustainable features: It grows well in soil with little fertility and can be intercropped with maize, sorghum and legumes. It has a high natural resistance to pests.
Nutritional value: It’s a good source of fiber and vitamin B1 and other minerals.
What: One of Africa’s oldest cultivated cereals. The grain has a nutty, delicate taste.
Dish: Fonio can be used in place of oats to make hot cereal, in place of couscous or rice in a grain bowl or side, and to brew beer.
Sustainable features: Fonio is drought-resistant and can grow in sandy or acidic soil. It’s one of the fastest-maturing grains, ready to harvest in 60 to 70 days.
Nutritional value: Fonio is gluten-free and has iron, zinc, magnesium and phytonutrients.
17. Khorasan wheat
What: Often referred to by its trademarked name of Kamut, Khorasan wheat has kernels twice the size of regular wheat.
Dish: Khorasan wheat can be used in much the same way as regular wheat. It’s available as a whole grain, couscous and flour. The kernels work well in stews, soups, pilafs and salads.
Sustainable features: It can tolerate different climates without artificial pesticides or fertilizers.
Nutritional value: It is high in fiber and is a good source of magnesium and selenium. It also contains antioxidants.
What: There are more than 3,000 types of quinoa. It isn’t a cereal, but a relative of spinach, beets and chard.
Dish: Quinoa is mostly used as a rice replacement, but it can also be used in breads or pastas.
Sustainable features: There are new incentives for farmers to grow the less common types of quinoa—as well as programs designed to encourage consumption of these less popular types in restaurants and schools. The demand for the most popular types of quinoa has caused farmers to cease cultivation of other varieties, resulting in environmental degradation and damaged soil.
Nutritional value: Quinoa is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also gluten-free and contains a balance of protein, fat, minerals and vitamins.
What: An ancient form of wheat that is a hybrid of emmer wheat and goat grass.
Dish: It can be used in place of rice in pilafs, risotto and other side dishes. Spelt flour can be used to make breads and cakes and is sometimes preferred over other types of wheat.
Sustainable features: It has a thick outer husk that protects it from disease and pests, making it easier to grow without the use of fertilizers or pesticides.
Nutritional value: Spelt contains more fiber and higher amounts of minerals, including magnesium, iron and zinc, than similar kinds of wheat.
What: A tiny grass seed that is popular in Ethiopian cuisine.
Dish: Teff can be ground into flour and baked into sourdough flatbread called injera in Ethiopia. It can also be used in paap (South African porridge) instead of cornmeal or as a grain base for bowls.
Sustainable features: It is well-suited to challenging climates and can grow in both dry and waterlogged soil. It is also easy to store and is pest-resistant.
Nutritional value: It is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous.
21. Wild rice
What: Wild rice isn’t rice at all—rather, it’s the seed of a semiaquatic grass that grows wild in North American lakes and rivers.
Dish: It can be popped like corn or used in various side dishes, salads, soups and mixed with other grains and vegetables to make a veggie burger.
Sustainable features: It is not commercially grown, so supply is limited in many parts of the world. But wild rice can be stretched with brown and white rice and used as a blend.
Nutritional value: Compared with white rice, wild rice has more protein, zinc and iron.
22. Pumpkin flowers
What: Both the leaves and flowers of the common pumpkin plant are edible and tasty.
Dish: The center of the flower (the stamen) should be removed prior to preparation. The flower has a mild pumpkin taste and soft texture and is ideally suited for soups, sauces, salads and pasta dishes.
Sustainable features: Pumpkins grow well in rich, well-drained soil in hot, humid climates.
Nutritional value: The flowers are rich in nutrients, including vitamin C.
What: This slim, green seed pod goes by many names, including gumbo, bhindi and lady’s finger.
Dish: The seeds make a sticky, viscous liquid when they are cooked, which makes them good for thickening soups and stews. Okra can be steamed, stir-fried or grilled and pairs well with strong, spicy flavors.
Sustainable features: Okra is well-suited to resist changes in climate and is among the most heat- and drought-resistant vegetables in the world.
Nutritional value: Okra contains antioxidants, including beta carotene, zeaxanthine and lutein.
24. Orange tomatoes
What: A small orange tomato variety that grows wild in Peru and the Galapagos Islands. Orange tomatoes are sweeter and less acidic than red tomatoes.
Dish: Orange tomatoes can be used like the red variety in soups or sauces. They can be roasted to bring out their sweetness.
Sustainable features: Eating less-common varieties of vegetables will increase demand, therefore increasing the variety of crops and making the food system more resilient.
Nutritional value: They contain twice as much vitamin A and folate (B vitamin) than other tomato varieties.
25. Beet greens
What: The leafy part of the beet root.
Dish: Beet greens are tasty sauteed in olive oil and tossed with balsamic vinegar for a side dish. They can also be baked to make “chips.”
Sustainable features: Beet plants grow well in cooler temperatures and are tolerant of frost. They also grow quickly.
Nutritional value: The greens are rich in vitamins K and A. They also contain a high level of magnesium and potassium and as much iron as spinach.
26. Broccoli rabe
What: This green is actually related to turnips and mustard greens—not broccoli. It has a long stem, broccoli-like head and a peppery, bitter taste.
Dish: It can be boiled or sauteed with garlic and chili. Broccoli rabe works well paired with grains, nuts and other veggies—perhaps in a bowl preparation. It is often served alongside fish and potatoes and in Italian dishes.
Sustainable features: It is easy to grow and can be harvested in seven to eight weeks.
Nutritional value: It is higher in folate than mustard greens and turnips and is a great source of vitamins A, C and K.
What: Kale is actually a member of the cabbage family, with dark leaves that can either be curly or smooth with a blue or purple tinge.
Dish: Kale can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, sautéed or grilled. It can also be dried and turned into powder to be added into soups and smoothies or baked into chips for a savory snack.
Sustainable features: It is a hardy plant and can withstand temperatures as low as negative 15 degrees Celsius.
Nutritional value: Kale is packed with vitamins A, K and C and is a good source of manganese and copper.
What: Sometimes called the drumstick or horseradish tree and leaves, the flowers and seed pods are edible.
Dish: When cooked, the leaves have a flavor similar to other leafy green vegetables. The seed pods can be cut into shorter lengths and stewed in curries and soups. And the flowers can be added to salads, fried for a snack or used to make tea. South Indian sambar made with lentils is a common dish that contains Moringa. Thai kaeng som curry and Filipino tinola and udan also use moringa.
Sustainable features: Often referred to as “the miracle tree,” the moringa tree grows fast and is drought-resistant. The trees can create a natural windbreak, which helps prevent soil erosion.
Nutritional value: Moringa has vitamins A, B and C, calcium, iron and amino acids.
29. Bok choy/Pak choi (Chinese cabbage)
What: Crisp, mild-tasting leafy green vegetable very popular in Asian cuisine.
Dish: The stalks can be eaten raw when the plant is young. Bok choy is best blanched in boiling water, stir-fried or steamed. It pairs well with rich, sticky sauces.
Sustainable features: It can grow year-round in East Asia.
Nutritional value: The leaves are high in vitamins K and C.
30. Pumpkin leaves
What: Commonly eaten in Africa and Asia, the leaves are slightly bitter and taste like a cross between asparagus, broccoli and spinach.
Dish: Serve fresh in salads or steam or saute to bring out the sweetness. In West Africa, pumpkin leaves are added to soups and stews.
Sustainable features: A zero-waste root to stem vegetable. Like other plants, pumpkins have multiple edible parts but the leaves are often left behind during harvest.
Nutritional value: Rich in iron, vitamin K and carotenoids.
31. Red cabbage
What: A more colorful and hardier vegetable than green cabbage, with earthy flavor and crisp texture.
Dish: Can be eaten raw or cooked, in salads, stir-fries and on burgers. Cook with onions or other ingredients in slow braises or stuff leaves with grains and bake.
Sustainable features: Grows in cold weather in moist, loamy soil with sun. Changes color based on the pH of the soil in which it’s grown.
Nutritional value: Ten times more vitamin A and double the iron of green cabbage.
What: A versatile leafy green eaten around the world. Flavor is bittersweet and leaves are tender.
Dish: Serve spinach raw in salads and on sandwiches or steam, stir-fry or saute. The leaves can also be added to curries, soups, pasta dishes and stuffings.
Sustainable features: Fast-growing and suitable to cooler climates where it can grow year-round.
Nutritional value: A powerhouse of nutrients, including vitamins A, K and C, folate, iron and other minerals.
What: Characterized by a crisp texture and pungent, slightly bitter and peppery flavor. Related to the mustard plant.
Dish: Both the leaves and stems can be consumed, eaten raw or cooked. Add to soups, salads, omelets and seafood.
Sustainable features: Can grow fully or partially submerged in water or in soil; prefers cool climates.
Nutritional value: High antioxidant content, particularly beta carotene and vitamin C; also contains vitamins A and K.
34. Enoki mushrooms
What: Delicate, golden mushrooms with long, very thin stems and tiny caps.
Dish: Serve raw in salads or cook quickly to retain texture and enhance umami qualities. Flash fry or add to stews or stir-fries at the end of cooking.
Sustainable features: Known as winter mushrooms, but grow year-round in wild clusters. Native to East Asian countries.
Nutritional value: One of the first mushrooms studied for cancer prevention.
35. Maitake mushrooms
What: Meaty, layered mushrooms that can weigh as much as 99 pounds. Flavor is earthy and rich.
Dish: Saute with olive oil or feature maitakes as the “meaty” component in hot pots, stir-fries and stews. Add to other dishes to enrich the flavor.
Sustainable features: Grow wild at the base of oak, elm and maple trees in China, Japan and parts of the U.S.
Nutritional value: Nonanimal source of vitamin D and notable for B vitamin content.
36. Saffron milk cap mushrooms
What: Name comes from saffron color and orange milky liquid that releases from the gills when cut.
Dish: Nutty, woody taste enhances risottos, pasta dishes and braises. These mushrooms can also be sauteed with garlic, added to cream and wine sauces, and marinated, pickled or salted.
Sustainable features: Grow wild in pine forests in Europe and North America
Nutritional value: Thought to have medicinal properties for treating asthma, jaundice and food poisoning, but not scientifically proven.
37. Flax seeds
What: With their subtle, nutty flavor and crunch, flax seeds have multiple functions; generally used to enhance texture and nutrition.
Dish: Used as an ingredient in veggie burgers and other plant-based dishes. Also eaten raw on salads, baked into breads and incorporated in grain bowls.
Sustainable features: Grow in cooler climates with partial sun. Zero-waste ingredient; can also be ground into flour or extracted for oil.
Nutritional value: Functional food rich in alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that benefits the heart.
38. Hemp seeds
What: Small, crunchy seeds with soft, buttery texture. CBD oil is extracted from industrial hemp, but edible hemp seeds boost flavor and texture enhancers.
Dish: Eat raw as a snack, grind into meal or sprout the seeds. Use in baked goods, dips, crackers, salads and bowls.
Sustainable features: Fast-growing and thrives in a variety of soils; doesn’t require fertilizers or pesticides.
Nutritional value: Nutrition dynamos; high in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and rich in protein, fiber and iron. A 30-gram serving provides 1 gram of fiber and 9 grams of protein.
39. Sesame seeds
What: Tiny seeds with a nutty flavor and high oil content.
Dish: Can be eaten raw, toasted and as tahini—a paste traditionally used to make hummus. The versatile seeds add crunch to salads, soups, noodle dishes and more. Toasted sesame oil is frequently added to Asian recipes and stir-fries.
Sustainable features: Highly resilient plants that have been cultivated for thousands of years.
Nutritional value: Excellent source of copper and magnesium.
What: Slightly bittersweet, oily nuts that have a multitude of uses in cooking, baking and snacking. Best toasted when eaten raw. Walnut consumption dates back 10,000 years.
Dish: Use in cakes, cookies, granola, snack bars, Asian stir-fries and as a meat substitute in plant-based preparations. Ground walnuts also can thicken dressings and sauces.
Sustainable features: Grow year-round in sunny climates in countries as diverse as China, Turkey and the U.S. Do best in rich, deep soil.
Nutritional value: Excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E; often referred to as “brain food.”
41. Black salsify
What: A less familiar root vegetable that resembles the parsnip and is sometimes called an oyster plant. It has creamy, pale flesh underneath a thick, dark skin.
Dish: Best eaten cooked; boil or bake and served mashed as an option for mashed potatoes or add to soups and stews. Or roast with other root vegetables, such as carrots and turnips.
Sustainable features: Grows well in temperate climates and can be harvested in winter.
Nutritional value: High in fiber and a good source of vitamin E and iron.
42. Parsley root
What: Also known as Dutch parsley, this plant is prized for its root. Its flavor is a blend of celeriac (celery root), carrots and parsley. Parsley root is slim in shape with beige skin, much like a parsnip.
Dish: Often served fried as fritters or chips or shredded or slivered in salads and slaws.
Sustainable features: Drought-resistant, parsley root can grow year-round in countries as diverse as China, Nigeria and the Philippines. Both the root and leaves are edible.
Nutritional value: High in vitamin C.
43. White icicle radish (winter radish)
What: Tapered roots, about 5 inches long, with a carrot shape. Skin is cream-colored and flesh is white.
Dish: Mild, peppery taste. Can be eaten raw in salads or as snacks, or cooked by grilling, braising or roasting. Tasty addition to curries and braises.
Sustainable features: Seeds germinate and grow to maturity in under a month. Can be used as a cover crop to enrich soil between harvests.
Nutritional value: Contain vitamin C and are used as a digestive aid.
44. Alfalfa sprouts
What: Delicate, pale green shoots with a wide variety of applications. Characterized by mild flavor and slightly crunchy texture.
Dish: Use raw in salads, sandwiches and garnishes. Or briefly cook by adding to stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes and soups.
Sustainable features: Long growing season, adaptability to variable weather conditions and a soil enricher. Seeds germinate in one to two days, yielding edible sprouts.
Nutritional value: Sprouting can multiply the nutrients in the alfalfa plant. These sprouts are rich in vitamin K and also contain vitamin C, fiber, folate, copper and manganese.
45. Sprouted kidney beans
What: The sprouts of kidney beans have 3 times the nutritional value of the beans themselves; the beans are an excellent source of plant protein.
Dish: Mild, slightly bitter flavor. Sprouts require cooking for digestibility; boil in water or stock for 10 minutes. Use in sauces and dressings or as a topping for soups and salads.
Sustainable features: Easy to germinate and grow.
Nutritional value: Contain folate, iron, manganese and vitamins C and K.
46. Sprouted chickpeas
What: Chick peas have a creamy, slightly nutty flavor. The sprouts are crunchier, more flavorful and more nutritious than the chickpeas themselves.
Dish: Blend into hummus for a spread with more crunch and a nuttier flavor than that made with unsprouted chick peas. Add to stews, soups and salads and use as meat substitute.
Sustainable features: One of the easiest beans to sprout.
Nutritional value: Source of calcium, magnesium and zinc. Sprouting neutralizes phytic acid for better absorption of nutrients.
47. Lotus root
What: Edible roots originally grown in China and dating back 1,000 years. Crunchy texture and slightly sweet flavor.
Dish: Commonly used in Asian-style stir-fries. Can also be deep-fried, braised and pickled.
Sustainable features: Grow and thrive in water and can replant their own seeds. The seeds can be stored for decades.
Nutritional value: Prized for medicinal properties; high in vitamin C.
48. Ube (purple yam)
What: A purple sweet potato that is native to the Philippines and used across the menu in that country.
Dish: Boil, bake and cook the same way as sweet potatoes; use as a side dish or in stews and soups. In Filipino cuisine, ube is eaten in desserts, often as a sweetened pudding or ice cream.
Sustainable features: A perennial vine that grows easily and faster than other types of yams.
Nutritional value: Rich in vitamin E and fiber. Purple color comes from anthocyanin, a flavonoid with possible functional benefits.
49. Yam bean root (jicama)
What: Crisp, slightly sweet and refreshing vegetable best eaten raw. Only the root should be eaten, not the leaves.
Dish: Use raw, peeled and cut up as a low-calorie snack, crudite or in fruit or vegetable salads or salsas. Good as a dipper for guacamole or counterpoint to Mexican dishes.
Sustainable features: High-yield plant that can grow in dry climates; promotes soil fertility.
Nutritional value: Good source of vitamin C and fiber, high water content.
50. Red Indonesian (Cilembu) sweet potatoes
What: A variety of sweet potato native to Indonesia; sought after for its unique flavor and nutritional value.
Dish: When baked, this sweet potato has a distinctive aroma and sweet taste and develops a sugary, honey-like glaze.
Sustainable features: Listed on the Slow Food movement’s Ark of Taste catalog of endangered foods to assure that the crop will continue to be cultivated.
Nutritional value: Valuable source of vitamins A, C, E and manganese.