International travel has been shuttered and sit-down restaurant dining limited. What are foodies to do in the midst of a global pandemic with a possible winter quarantine looming?

They are attempting to replicate these experiences in the kitchen, according to the Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel. But it’s not just foodies, most consumers are experiencing food fatigue. They are looking for assistance from the food industry to provide them shortcuts and authentic flavors to take them on a global flavor adventure.

“This trend is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Denise Purcell, director of content at the Specialty Food Association (SFA), New York, during a 2021 trends webinar on Nov. 5. “We’re seeing several trends around experimenting with flavors and ingredients.”

Clara Park, corporate chef of culinary innovation, Chelten House Products, Swedesboro, NJ, and a member of the SFA Trendspotter Panel, said, “It’s our job to increase the culinary knowledge of the customer and help them try new things.”

Chelton House offers a range of international sauces that meat and poultry manufacturers can use to add authentic flavor via marinade to fresh muscle meat and topically on prepared entrees. New offerings include creations based on African, Jamaican, Middle Eastern and Peruvian recipes.

“When I was growing up, when someone said, ‘Asian food’ it meant it was either Chinese or Japanese,” Park said. “But now these terms are growing to include a wider range of cuisines. It gives me hope that people are looking for more authentic flavors.”

Meat and poultry products are simple vehicles to deliver flavor adventure. They are familiar foods with a twist.

“Everyone wants to be innovative, but if something is too far out of a customer’s comfort zone, they won’t want it,” Park said. “Twists on classics provide customers with a familiar product or flavor with an exciting new element.”

Product developers must never forget that authenticity is a key part of the product. A new report from Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands, highlights the different ways to demonstrate authenticity. Direct claims using generic on-pack language such as “authentic” or “traditional” has been a popular approach for some time. However, strategies appear to be moving on, with a growing focus on recipe choices and traceability to help build a truly authentic image.

Korean barbecue or Texan barbecue, for example, have more positive profiles than generic barbecue flavors. Meanwhile, for international cuisines, launches of retail products that reference “street food” inspirations increased fivefold between 2015 and 2019, according to Innova.

“It is no surprise to find retail manufacturers taking cues from the street food environment,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of insights and innovation at Innova. “The category has helped to introduce authentically foreign foods to a much wider audience and many consumers want to recreate these dishes in the home.”

Lizzy Freier, senior research manager, menu, Technomic, Chicago, said during the Technomic “2020 Global Food and Beverage Consumer Trend Report” webinar on Nov. 9, “Travel restrictions from the pandemic are sparking a renewed interest in the top three perennial global favorites – Italian, Mexican and Chinese. These craveable cuisines are more likely than other international fare to survive the veto vote among families ordering food and drink for home consumption.”

At-home options

Soft beef tacos with cilantro and lime

These cuisines present an opportunity for meat and poultry processors to offer products at retail that allow home cooks to replicate the dining out experience. This includes traditional dishes, as well as new twists on classic offerings or international fusions, such as General Tso’s tacos. It also includes more regional flavors.

Mexico, for example, was long considered synonymous with all things Latin, including cuisine. In recent years there has been a shift to focus on the diversity and cultural heritage of the multifaceted nature of Latin America, spurring appreciation for the culinary achievements of nations other than Mexico.

“It feels fair to say that millennials have played an essential part in popularizing Latin-style cuisine,” said Dustin Knox, co-owner, Chicken and Guns, Portland, Ore. “Open-minded, curious and defiant of stereotypes, their generation has driven many positive changes in our society, including an appreciation of the contributions made by immigrant communities in all spheres of life.”

There is also a quantitative factor behind the rising popularity of Latin cuisines, as the country has grown more racially and ethnically diverse. Specifically, the US Hispanic population grew by 20% from 2010 to 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.

Other racial and ethnic groups showing double-digit population growth include Asians (+29.3%), Black/African Americans (+11.6%) and native Hawaiian/other Pacific islanders (+21%). To compare, the white population grew only 4.3% since 2010.

“There is no doubt that Mexican food laid the foundation for the currently growing popularity of Latin cuisines, not least because it became an everyday staple, losing its status as an exotic novelty in the process,” Knox said. “Tacos, burritos and nachos are now familiar menu options in virtually all restaurants and fast-food chains, with hardly any American considering them ethnic food. Nevertheless, these Mexican staples have created an appetite for similar offerings, opening business opportunities for chefs and restaurateurs from Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Brazil and many other countries from South America and the Caribbean.”

Chicken and Guns, an upscale food cart, has a simple menu that celebrates the rich tastes of Central America and the Caribbean. All entrees start with chicken grilled on an open fire over mesquite and white oak, a technique that Knox and his business partner – Todd Radcliffe – witnessed on their travels across the region. They use various spices from Venezuela and the Caribbean to achieve the unique taste, serving the chicken with crispy potatoes and Peruvian aji sauce or green salad and chimichurri.

Flavor alternatives

New types of umami are part of the perennial Chinese trend, according to Technomic research. Much like Latin cuisines, umami can be very regional.

This includes swapping out soy sauce with tamari sauce. Tamari is a type of soy sauce used in Japanese cuisine. It is darker, less salty and has a stronger umami flavor than traditional soy sauce. It melds well with ginger, honey, lemongrass and even maple, for application as a marinade on beef, chicken and pork. It can also be used to season gourmet meatballs and is often the secret umami ingredient in plant-based burgers.

The researchers at McCormick Flavor Solutions, a business segment of McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, Md., said that key African flavors like harissa, peri peri and berbere spice, which had gained attention in recent years, paved the path for suya spice. It is one of several international flavors expected to gain momentum next year, according to the McCormick Flavor Solutions’ Flavor Forecast 2020.

Suya spice, generally made with ginger, hot chili powder and ground roasted peanuts, brings a nuttiness and medium heat level to meat and poultry. In addition to beef skewers, McCormick suggests using the spice on chicken wings.

The forecast also shows XO Sauce from Hong Kong as an up-and-coming umami-rich condiment. This is a unique combination of dried seafood and Chinese aged ham, which is finely chopped and blended with other ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, chilis, brown sugar, soy sauce and other spices. A little goes a long with its amalgamation of salty, savory, smoky, spicy and sweet flavors. It may be used to enhance stir-fried and grilled meats.

Indian gunpowder spice – otherwise known as milagai podi which translates to chili powder – features finely ground roasted dal, sesame seeds, chilis and other spices and can vary in heat levels based on the number and type of chilis. This South Indian dry blend may be used to add kick to beef and chicken.

Aji amarillo, guajillo, Tien Tsin and chili de arbol are chilis to watch for, according to the McCormick research, as they offer a unique level of heat and a distinctive flavor. Chamoy sauce from Mexico and sambal sauce from Southeast Asia could combine to offer heat plus tang.

Simply Fresh, a fresh meal brand from FiveStar Gourmet Foods, Ontario, CaliforniaSimply Fresh, a fresh meal brand from FiveStar Gourmet Foods, Ontario, Calif., is a line of packaged, grab-and-go entrées designed to be prepared at home in five minutes and taste as if they were prepared in the retail store. The brand specializes in authentic international cuisine with offerings such as caprese chicken with pesto marinara, Baja chicken with rojo sauce, Thai beef with sweet chili sauce and mojo pulled beef with chimichurri sauce.

Minneapolis-based Mighty Spark is doing its part to help make meal preparation easier and provide a more authentic flavor adventure. The company offers a range of pre-seasoned poultry products, including fajita ground chicken, which contains red and green peppers, onion, poblano pepper and seasonings, and queso fresco jalapeño turkey patties.

Vermont Wagyu, Springfield, Vt., is differentiating itself in the growing chorizo category by making this traditional spicy Spanish sausage from 100% Wagyu beef descended from Japanese seed stock. The Meat District, Los Angeles, makes its new all-natural chorizo sausage from pork.

Chorizo may contain an endless variety of peppers and spices, also often along with the fermented flavors of red wine or vinegar. Smoked paprika is almost always added, as it contributes a characterizing vibrant red color. However, Mexicans do make a green chorizo, which gets its color from green chilis and cilantro.

“At-home eating will be the name of the game in 2021,” said Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst, Mintel, Chicago, and member of the SFA Trendspotter Panel. “We will see consumers looking to brighten and enliven the monotony of preparing so many meals in a row.”

Internationally flavored meat and poultry products may assist. Prepared authentically, they can transport grounded consumers to a much-needed escape.