International flavor, regional flair

by Donna Berry
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dried chili peppers, Culinary Farms
Demand for ethnic foods will remain strong as long as consumers crave authenticity and flavor fusions.

Gone are the days of dining on simply “Chinese” or “Mexican.” Today’s consumers want specialty cuisines from remote regions of the world.

“People are touring the world one meal at a time through more adventurous cuisine choices,” according to Jennifer Zegler, consumer trends analyst, Mintel, Chicago. Asia and Latin America are the most common destinations, with Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East becoming increasingly popular.

Authenticity is key in both foodservice and retail packaged products. With meat and poultry a centric part of many ethnic dishes, processors can simplify preparation through the use of globally inspired marinades, rubs, sauces and seasonings.

Ethnic fusion

“Whether in their travels abroad or through local exploration, consumers are hungry to experience other cultures through their food,” says Jean Shieh, marketing manager-savory flavors, Sensient, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Today’s consumers, millennials in particular, have an insatiable appetite for adventurous cuisine. Their curious palates have made sushi and sriracha everyday foods. They crave complexity in the form of flavor fusion…the melding of unexpected cuisines and flavors.

To assist processors with adding complex seasonings inspired by diverse culinary traditions to their products, Fuchs North America, Baltimore, Md., markets an ethnically inspired line that includes options such as African barbecue marinade, Kashmiri lamb seasoning and South American black sauce.

According to Howard Cantor, Fuchs North America’s corporate research chef, the seasonings build on the traditional elements of national cuisines while adding some unique twists. “Consider Asian cuisine, there is endless debate over just how many culinary styles there are. Each of them developed over the centuries as a result of many factors like geography, climate and the social history of the various regions. China alone has at least four or five major styles of cuisine.”

Latin cuisine is just as complicated. “It’s a veritable explosion of taste sensations ranging from basic to complex, derived from chiles of all types plus distinctive herbs like cilantro, various spices, and foods like onions, garlic, lemons and limes,” Cantor says.

Hot, hot, hot!

The growing popularity of spicy foods in the United States is largely attributable to the surge in immigrants of Hispanic or Latino origin, which account for about half of all US immigrants. This demographic has introduced a vast assortment of spicy cuisines to American palates.

Ingredient suppliers such as Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., can assist processors with heating up their offerings. The company recently launched a line of sweet to fiery-hot pepper flavors to spice up any taste profile.

Mole Dulce, Culinary Farms
Mole Dulce, also called poblano, is made with chocolate, and ancho and mulato chilis. (Photo courtesy of Culinary Farms)

“With one in four people throughout the world eating chile peppers each day, we see a growing captivation with the range of flavors and heat that chile peppers deliver,” says Kelli Heinz, director of marketing and industry affairs. “In the US, we see many embracing exciting new varieties, such as the aji amarillo from Peru, which has more fruity notes, or the guajillo from Mexico, which has more sweet and smoky notes.”

Chile peppers range in heat levels. The guajillo and aji panca have the least amount of heat, while the Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) is known as the hottest pepper in the world.

Chile peppers are not only associated with Latin American cuisine. “Ghost pepper is from the Assam region of India,” Shieh says. “Peri-peri, with its clean, slightly sweet flavor with undertones of dry hay, is common to Moroccan dishes.”

To add authenticity to chile peppers as well as other ingredients used in many ethnic cuisines, Culinary Farm, Woodland, Calif., uses a smoke roasting process that mimics the cooking techniques native to many regions. “Our products are smoked with a proprietary blend of woods with no added artificial flavors or ingredients,” says Kirk Bewley, president. “The layered complexity of these ingredients creates a complementary interaction with foods that adds to the overall taste experience.”

The chiles come in flake, ground and paste formats and can be used in topical seasonings, marinades and rubs. These chiles can also be infused into sea salts, which provide flavor while they also tenderize meat.

The company believes there is great potential developing authentic regional Mexican cuisine through the use of its moles, which are shelf stable and available in concentrated and ready-to-serve forms. Inherent in Mexican culture, moles are deep, rich sauces whose origins are family recipes passed down from generation to generation.

“Highly complex, each composition is unique and made from a range of chiles, spices, seeds, nuts, even cookies and ingredients indigenous to their region of origin,” Bewley says. “The American consumer hasn’t really had the opportunity to enjoy a great many high-quality, true Mexican moles. This is because they are very time-consuming to make correctly where each ingredient has to be prepped or cooked separately and then added together to bring out the flavor.”

chili paste, Culinary Farms
Chiles come in flake, ground and paste formats and can be used in seasonings, marinades and rubs. (Photo courtesy of Culinary Farms)

One such mole is dulce, also called poblano, which has its origins in Puebla. This popular mole is made with chocolate, and ancho and mulato chiles. It has a sweet aroma and rich taste that complements pork dishes.

Oaxaca mole, traditionally used with chicken, is very flavorful and complex with its combination of pasilla, mulato, guajillo, cascabel, chipotle and mora chiles. Beef pairs well with ranchero mole. The classic recipe includes ancho, pasilla and mora chiles, along with chocolate, and sesame and pumpkin seeds.

Advanced Asian

Heat, not always from chile peppers, is also a common component of Asian cuisine. The sources of this heat vary by region and are the secret to adding authenticity to prepared foods.

“We created a Chinese-style black vinegar sauce that relies on the rich, warm heat of galangal, an herb of the ginger family,” says Julie Clarkson, chef-savory flavors, Sensient. “Combined with shallot and garlic, along with salty soy sauce, sour Chinese black vinegar and sweet brown sugar, you have a sweet-heat marinade that is great for grilling meats.”

According to Boulder, Colo.-based Sterling-Rice Group, one of the top-10 culinary trends for the packaged food and foodservice industries in 2015 will be “advanced Asian.” The foods will be “spicier and funkier” and “true to region,” according to Sterling-Rice.

Taiwanese foods fit this description. Taiwan’s cooking styles and foods have long been overlooked by culinary professionals in the States, with most Americans not understanding that there’s a difference between Chinese and Taiwanese cuisines.

At a culinary event for chefs sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Los Angeles, Anthony Jacquet, executive chef of Caruso Dining Group, Los Angeles, developed the Berkshire Pork Belly Bun.

Berkshire Pork Belly Bun, Chef Anthony Jacquet
Chef Anthony Jacquet's Berkshire Pork Belly Bun

“This Taiwanese hamburger represents the West-meets-East experience to me,” he says. The dish features premium pork in bao (bun) topped with hoisin sauce, pickled Fresno peppers, five-spice candied peanuts and a fried quail egg.

Stuart Cameron, executive chef with Icon Legacy Hospitality Group, Toronto, created Crispy House Tofu, which is made using silken tofu, beef, red bean paste, beef tendon and stock.

Korean cuisine is gaining momentum in the States, with acidic, fermented flavors adding authenticity to the meats used in these dishes. “Gochujang is a savory, pungent condiment made of red chile peppers and fermented soybeans and often used in Korean cuisine,” Shieh says. “With its hearty umami flavor, it makes a great meat marinade.”

Chicago-based foodservice market research firm Technomic agrees that in 2015, there will be “something about Asia.” Americans have become quite familiar with Asian fare, but this next wave of Asian concepts are exposing patrons to Asian cuisine beyond orange chicken and sushi, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. “From my perspective, we will see more concepts specializing in lesser-known Asian cuisines, including Korean and Vietnamese. Many customers, particularly millennials, are more adventurous eaters and will seek out these Asian concepts for new flavors and menu items.

“For the next wave of Asian chains to succeed, establishing authenticity is crucial, but so is creating transparency,” he adds. “Both of these can be accomplished by telling the story. Operators should explain their history and cuisine, making sure to point out ties to Asia. Also include information on sourcing and the quality of their ingredients.” This all holds true for retail packaged foods, too.

In conclusion, demand for authentic ethnic food is expected to remain strong over the next five years as the millennial generation and growing immigrant population drive demand, according to IBIS World USA, Santa Monica, Calif. Convenience will influence purchase decision, while taste and authenticity will determine repurchase.

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