TETERBORO, NJ. — Spicy, sweet and bitter flavors from Korean cuisine are showing up in traditional American barbecue dishes. Japanese ingredients like miso are adding a new twist to familiar fare like roasted meats. Indian toppings are appearing on pizzas made with naan bread crust.
This multicultural experimentation is part of the “modern Asian” movement that Symrise identified as a top trend for 2022.
“Asian food has shifted from being very specified by cuisine or country,” said Emmanuel Laroche, vice president of marketing and consumer insights at Symrise, which plans to share its full trend forecast in an upcoming webinar on Feb. 2. “Ingredients are being used across the whole landscape. Everything is blurred now.”
With their proclivity for bold flavors, Gen Z consumers are a driving force behind the modern Asian trend, added Dylan Thompson, senior marketing and consumer insights manager for Symrise’s flavor division.
“This whole idea of multiculturalism is common for Gen Z,” he said. “They don’t see things as ‘this is Asian’ and ‘this is African.’ It’s just, ‘These are the cool flavors that I like.’ They’re not as concerned with where those flavors are from.”
Food and beverage makers are taking note, blending ingredients from one culture with cooking techniques and flavors of others. Achara, a Filipino pickle made from grated unripe papaya, and gochujang, a spicy and sweet fermented condiment popular in Korean cuisine, are among the flavors and ingredients crossing cultural and culinary boundaries.
Sixty-five percent of culinary professionals surveyed by Symrise currently use or plan to use kokuto. Also known as Okinawa brown sugar, the ingredient is prized in Japan for its deep flavor and health halo.
“Calling out kokuto as a healthier alternative is something that’s pretty new,” Mr. Thompson said. “It is less processed than normal sugar, so it’s being used in dessert-like products to make them a little bit better-for-you. It’s also being used in savory where you might use brown sugar to sweeten up a dish.”
Other Japanese ingredients like matcha and sesame are showing up in desserts, with ice cream and frozen novelties emerging as a nexus for Asian flavor exploration.
“We think about ice cream sandwiches as being very American, but now we’re seeing ice cream sandwiches with turmeric or calamansi or pandan,” Mr. Thompson said. “Normal ice cream shops are offering flavors from all over the world.”
Nikkei in the spotlight
The modern Asian trend extends beyond typical American fare. Dishes blending different Asian cuisines with ingredients and flavors from a range of cultures are starting to appear on restaurant menus, according to Symrise.
Mr. Laroche pointed to the rise of Nikkei cuisine, or Japanese-Peruvian food, in the United States. The distinct cuisine was developed over generations by the descendants of Japanese immigrants who arrived in Peru in the late 19th century.
“This was a very strong and important immigration that changed some of the ways Peruvian chefs cooked,” Mr. Laroche said.
Nikkei food blends Peruvian ingredients such as Amazonian fish, quinoa and aji pepper with Japanese cooking techniques. One example is tiradito, which combines elements of the traditional Peruvian seafood dish ceviche with sashimi, a Japanese delicacy consisting of thinly sliced raw meat.
“Ceviche was prepared a certain way by Peruvian people, but with the influence of cutting and seasoning fish from sashimi, it turned into tiradito,” Mr. Laroche said. “There are people that emigrated from Peru to America — many of them first-generation — who have this unique background where their family has both Peruvian and Japanese influences, so now we’re starting to see Nikkei cuisine make its way to the United States.”
Symrise sees Nikkei foods showing up on restaurant menus in the form of leche de tigre, a spicy marinade used to cure raw fish, which also serves as a base for spicy beverages and cocktails. Other examples include spicy potato dishes and entrees combining Peruvian-style protein with ingredients like wakame seaweed.
Flavor exploration accelerates
Startups and digitally native brands also are driving flavor exploration, with chili crisp emerging as an early star in the modern Asian movement.
“Traditionally, everything starts in fine dining,” Mr. Thompson said. “Now, you have all of these small startups that are getting products out to market pretty quickly. Chili crisp was never big in fine dining but quickly made its way into retail.”
The spicy sauce with crunchy bits has been popular in China for decades. Now it is lending heat to dishes from all over the world, thanks to brands like New York-based Momofuku. The company’s Chili Crunch condiment is a spicy-crunchy oil made with three types of Mexican chilis plus garlic, shallots and coconut sugar for a hint of sweetness.
Los Angeles-based Fly By Jing offers Sichuan Chili Crisp, a spicy and savory condiment featuring three kinds of dried chili, Sichuan peppercorn, adaptogenic mushrooms, ginger, seaweed, spices and bits of fermented black beans. The sauce adds a kick to everything from pizza and noodles to dumplings and ice cream, according to the company.
Brands like Momofuku and Fly By Jing are leveraging the digital shelf to help consumers discover new flavors faster than ever before, Mr. Thompson said.
“We saw something similar last year with people searching online for alternative sweeteners, but in this case, it’s different types of sauces,” he said. “People are looking for something different that they can experiment with at home, and they’re not necessarily waiting until they can try it in foodservice.”