As we move closer to a future where instant gratification is expected and waiting is perceived as a waste, the word ‘instant’ should have positive connotations. However, everything we currently associate with the word; coffee, noodles and tea, all conjure images of student digs and a low-quality product. Is the tide turning on the instant prefix? Is it going under a pseudonym? And is instant ever better?
How instant came to its reputation
Instant noodles are the ultimate convenience food - cheap, easily stored and most importantly, quick; they are a life line to students who are poor with no cooking skills, or professionals with little time to commit to cooking. They also come under heavy censure, with high levels of sodium and the ever ominous threat of MSG, this is accompanied with a stereotype of laziness that can be off-putting.
Instant coffee was a maverick at bringing coffee to the masses, what was once a luxury item was aided by freeze drying and vacuum packing became a staple in every kitchen and made its way into the rations of North American soldiers in WWII. However with the second wave of coffee rode Starbucks, offering fresh speciality coffee and condemning instant coffee to the realms of amateurs.
Porridge was another product to get the instant treatment, this filling breakfast leaves behind sticky pans and leaves people sweating over the stove in their time pushed mornings, cue the porridge pots phenomenon. While on the surface these just-add-water miracles are the answer to all breakfast woes, the reality is that there is a lot more than rolled oats in each packet. What should be a delicious and easy breakfast is actually packed full of sugar on par to a pop tart!
In short, if something is quick and cheap, it is almost guaranteed to be a poor product. Convenience is the death of quality and thus there is the assumption that instant is inferior.
What are the current innovations?
Technology has come a long way since but this may not always guarantee a palatable product. The No More Tea Bags sprayable tea technology was met with disgust in the UK, which claimed the product was not tasty, nor that much quicker considering it still required a boiled kettle.
Not all is negative however, Sudden Coffee has taken another look at instant coffee and come up with a viable alternative. Not only does the product start with the highest quality beans, it is then processed with a completely new method and freeze dried in small batches as opposed to the industrial scale of other instant coffee. This produces an instant coffee that has a completely different character to the other choices on the market.
Pre-made cocktail syrups have long been the saviours of busy bars without the access to fresh ingredients, but previously they have been overly sweet, brightly coloured and without an individual fruit flavour profile. Blossoms has created a range of beautifully British syrups with flavours like sloe and elderflower that have consistently won awards since 2012 and show a more craft approach to convenience.
Quoats is a combination of quinoa and oats and does exactly what it suggests. This healthy and convenient breakfast has no added sugar and with two different grains it is a high source of protein. Taking an alternative to the overly sweet choices to the market means Quoats stands apart for more than its unusual name and proves that fast food does not have to be bad for you.
What is the future?
Though instant products are having a major image re-haul at the moment, they are not ready to contend with the market staples. Local coffee chains will not shut down because of innovations in instant coffee, however there are people dedicated to improving our convenience products from a health and taste standpoint, the main area they are lacking.
In the next couple of years I expect to see some major developments in the sector that will cater to those looking for a healthier and more quality conscious product. The long life span should not come at the cost of flavour.