Middle Eastern flavors on the rise

by Jeff Gelski
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Other spicy inspirations may come from Morocco, India, Asia and New Mexico.
 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Distinctive ingredient blends such as skhug and Baharat have inspired food and beverage formulators to investigate Middle Eastern cuisines more often for flavor innovation. Morocco, India, Southeast Asia and New Mexico also should provide spices, sauces and peppers that may catapult new flavor creations into the world’s cuisine this year.

Skhug, a Yemeni sauce, has grown in Greek and Turkish cuisine and “is popping up all over North American menus,” said Guy Meikle, corporate chef for Mizkan America, Inc., Mount Prospect, Illinois. Skhug consists of cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, cardamom, black peppers, cloves, lemon and olive oil.

McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, Maryland, featured skhug in its McCormick Flavor Forecast 2017. The forecast listed a Middle Eastern breakfast hash topped with a skhug sauce.

Eastern Mediterranean ingredients may meld with Western European items as well, according to McCormick & Co. Persian minestrone combines Italian minestrone with Persian Ash-e reshteh, a thick, hearty soup made with beans, herbs, turmeric and flat noodles.

Meikle said Baharat, an Eastern Mediterranean spice blend, combines cumin, cardamom, mint, nutmeg, oregano, black pepper and red jalapeño puree.

“Mizkan’s red jalapeño puree helps to hydrate all the spices and creates a consistent paste to add to your beef, lamb or veggie dishes,” Meikle said.

The National Restaurant Association, Washington, ranked Middle Eastern No. 4 among global flavor trends in its “What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast.” Authentic ethnic cuisine came in No. 1 and was followed by African flavors and ethnic fusion.

Preserved lemon, a regional Moroccan specialty, has surged back onto restaurant menus and on retail shelves, Meikle said.

“It is funky, briny, bright and acidic, yet spicy and soulful,” he said. “Originally used as a flavoring agent in tagine or as a condiment, it now is being used in everything from butter sauces to salad dressings.”

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Malaysian cuisine may feature laska sauce on noodles.
 

Celebrating Asian cuisine

Seafood, soup and sauces may be enhanced with Asian flavors. Fuchs North America, Baltimore, last November introduced its “Celebrate Southeast Asia Collection,” a line of seasonings bases and flavors.

“Foods and flavors from Southeast Asia are on the rise,” said Ken Wuestenfeld, vice president of sales and technical services for Fuchs North America. “They’ve been permeating restaurant menus and grocery store shelves in recent years and will continue to grow in popularity.”

The line features four seasoning blends.

A Malaysian-style curry laska sauce base may be added to side dishes or entrees.

“Enjoy as plain laska by simply serving noodles with the sauce or add chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts and fresh mint for a hearty fall meal,” said Elizabeth Lindemer, corporate executive chef for Fuchs North America.

Spicy Singapore-style chili seafood seasoning may add flavor to such items as shrimp, scallops, salmon and crab. A Thai-style gingered butternut squash soup base was inspired by the perfumed spices and spicy flavors of Thai cuisine, Lindemer said. A Vietnamese-style meatball seasoning features a blend of spices and herbs with garlic and onion.

“Our seasoning creates meatballs that are perfect for snacking right off the grill, in a banh mi, tossed in a soup or served with noodles,” Lindemer said.

Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wisconsin, has noticed a growing interest in Indian and Asian flavors for snacks and crackers, said AnnMarie Kraszewski, lab manager.

“Indian cuisine has a variety of curries and flavorful spices that marry well with some of the more healthful wholesome grains, like ancient grains, that are being used in snack bases,” she said. “Asian flavors that appeal to the American palate have become broader to include Vietnamese (banh mi, pho), Korean (kimchi) and Filipino (adobo).”

Getting tropical in America

Americans are turning to tropical flavors and peppers, too. Symrise, Teterboro, New Jersey, links a rise in tropical flavors to Hispanics.

“There has been a strong, positive growth of Symrise’s tropical flavors in sweet products as they live up to their claim as ‘true to fruit, true to nature and true to life’ ingredients,” said Emmanuel Laroche, vice president of Symrise’s marketing and consumer insights group and global marketing leader. “Hispanics, the nation’s fastest growing demographic group, have been a major influence on the increased acceptance of tropical flavors such as horchata, tangerine, guava, mandarin, ruby red grapefruit, tamarind, guanabana, watermelon and hibiscus.”

Some of the tropical flavors are relatively new to mainstream Americans, he said.

“Symrise has carefully replicated these fruits in flavors, finding them well-suited to a broad range of ice creams, puddings, desserts and confectionery products,” he said. “Our tropical flavors, inspired by Hispanic tropical fruits, are giving pleasure to consumers in every ethnic group. The diverse Latin-type tropical fruit flavors can be found in a host of new and novel specialty applications such as push pops.”

North American consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and showing interest in regionally specific uses of dried chilies and hot peppers, Mr. Meikle said.

“Growing specific types of food in the soil and with intent is part of each region’s culinary identity,” he said. “Mizkan Hatch chilies are specifically only grown in the Hatch valley.”

The Hatch chili, grown only in the Hatch valley in New Mexico, continues to make inroads into North American cuisine.

“The Hatch chili is one of the most popular New Mexico chilies,” said Ralph Krawczyk, meat protein food technologist for Wixon. “Although this is not the hottest pepper, it is noted for the richness and depth of flavor achieved when they are fire roasted. This pepper is being used in everything you can eat from meat applications, sauces and marinades to jams and jellies.”

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