The world’s most beloved succulent plants may be losing out to the flowers, but they’re still here.
A report published Tuesday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that as the number of people who use a succulent for its roots has increased, so too has the demand for the plant for its leaves.
The findings add to growing evidence that plant-based food has been displacing traditional foods in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, said study co-author Michael C. Kline, an ecologist at the University of Texas at Austin.
For instance, the report found that since 2007, more than half of all Americans have used some kind of succulent, a number that jumped from 35 percent to nearly half during that time.
“We think the number [of people] who want to use succulents as their food stems from the fact that the plant is becoming more widely available,” Kline said.
In the study, researchers used data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to identify countries with the highest prevalence of people using succulent roots as their main source of food.
The researchers found that in the three years ending in March 2016, the number rose to 2.8 billion, an increase of more than 30 percent from the year before.
The increase in demand for succulently grown food was particularly pronounced among young people in the developed world.
In countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, the proportion of people under 30 consuming succulency rose from about 4 percent to 15 percent, with a further 10 percent aged 25 to 34 consuming the plant as their primary source of protein.
More recently, the study found that, while more people in developing countries still consume the plant roots as food, that share has grown from just over 6 percent to over 13 percent over the past five years.
The trend is likely driven by the rising popularity of high-protein foods, which include meat, poultry and dairy products, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, the authors wrote.
The study is notable because it comes on the heels of a recent report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization that found that Americans are eating more protein-heavy diets, including a trend toward increasing consumption of red meat.
Kline said that while the findings could be the result of more people adopting the plant-related foods that are gaining popularity, it’s also possible that the rise in demand was caused by a shift in thinking around food choices.
“What is going on with the consumer base is not only that they are eating a more plant-centric diet, but that they also are going through the transition from consuming more meat and dairy to eating less meat and more fruits and less dairy,” Klines said.
This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on September 13, 2018.