Bowled over: the death of formal dining
Boring plates have been ousted in favour of the Insta-friendly bowl. Just what is it that we find so appealing
Move over kale, avocado and clean eating: 2017 has seen a rush of new foodie trends, among them seaweed spaghetti, goat and even chocolate for breakfast (seriously). But Marks & Spencer has brought another hot trend into the mainstream with the release of its Buddha bowls, a none-too-distant cousin of the 'power bowls' currently sweeping New York.
"With leafy greens, an abundance of vegetables, a protein hit and a sprinkle of seeds, our bowls are perfect for health conscious foodies," says M&S food product developer Erica Molyneux.
That M&S, and others, have hit upon the bowl trend is hardly rocket-science. Food bowls are the ultimate convenience food, beloved of today's workers. Chopped, the Irish food outlet that specialises in salad bowls, has seen exponential growth in Ireland, and now has Britain in its crosshairs (founder Brian Lee has previously stated that there is potential for 'at least' 100 Chopped stores across Ireland and the UK).
This year could see bowls - formerly the preserve of babies, and lovers of peasant fare - crashlanding back into our cupboards. With the advent of tear and share, food has become more relaxed, and fancy plates are the trend's first sign of collateral damage. With the casual eating experience now as aspirational as hygge and Himalayan salt, you may stack away those dining plates.
Even Nigella Lawson has admitted to being a fan of bowl eating, dedicating a chapter of her cookbook Simply Nigella to the humble bowl. "If I could, I'd eat everything out of a bowl," she said.
There's something to this: the rough-hewn quality of bowls are certainly more Insta-friendly than their flatter counterparts (Gwyneth Paltrow has cottoned on to the appeal of the bowl, as evidenced on her Goop website, where she declared "everything tastes better in a bowl"). In fact, Instagram is already replete with #powerbowl posts, and bookshelves are awash with the trend (the most notable title is Lukas Volger's book, Bowl).
"On Pinterest, we're seeing increases in everything from Buddha bowls to smoothie bowls, quinoa bowls, rice bowls," says Larkin Brown, a researcher at Pinterest, the photo-sharing site. "It's really a bigger trend around healthy eating that's contributing to it." Over at Dublin department store, Arnotts, the trend hasn't gone unnoticed, either. "All of our kitchenware brands are seeing an increase in sales on bowls," says kitchenware buyer Liz Matthews. "Previously we would have bought less bowls than plates (for the store) but now we are purchasing the same amount of bowls.
"One of our brands, Churchill's tableware, also became aware of increased bowl sales recently and as a result they have introduced new 22cm bowls into their dinnerware offering.
"Denby are also leading the way in the bowl revolution," she adds. "The tableware brand has 250 new bowls across its ranges due to increased demand from its consumers for new shapes and sizes.
"Many of the more recent bowl shapes were originally intended for their Asian customers, though Denby have found that consumers in the western world are also increasingly favouring all types of bowls."
'Bowl food', consisting of a blend of many ingredients, colours and textures, is as healthy as any meal you'll find. And of course, it's altogether easier to assemble than a traditional meat-and-two-veg number.
There's also something psychologically comforting about returning to the eating utensils of our childhood; a vessel that can warm our hands as well as our hearts. With most of us eating family meals in front of Come Dine With Me or The Great British Bake Off (one UK survey revealed that just 49pc of respondents said they regularly ate at a table), bowls are evidently more spill-proof than plates.
Even more intriguingly, experts reckon that bowls can help those wanting to live more healthily, as they can 'trick' the eater into believing they are full. And as many dietitians have already realised, eating little and often is the key to good health.
The Food and Brain Lab at Cornell University found that large plates can skew your perception of how much food you actually have on your plate. On the contrary, by using smaller bowls and plates, you are more susceptible to reducing the amount of food you put on your plate.
"I certainly believe that the plateware we use to eat from plays a role in what things tastes like," says Charles Spence, an expert in the psychology of taste at the University of Oxford. "Everything from the texture, the temperature or the feel of the plate-ware or bowl can fit into this."
Spence carried out experiments with subjects to find out whether the size of the rim on a plate will impact their perception of how much food is there. Portions of the same size seemed smaller to diners when the size of the plate was increased.
"You could put it the other way and say a bowl without a rim will more often be filled right to the edge, giving the perception of there being more," he suggests.
With grey slates, Mason jars and wooden chopping boards retreating from public favour, even Teen Vogue has documented that 2017's hottest food trends will doff a cap to New York's power-bowl phenomenon and be bowl-shaped.
There is the acai bowl (a smoothie served in a hollowed-out pineapple), the Bimimbap (a Korean medley of barley, rice and veggies served in a bowl) and breakfast bowls (your usual bits served in a stand-up wholegrain taco).
Go bowl-ing or go home, in other words.