For decades, there was a widespread notion that persisted in the food industry—all new ethnic flavor imports needed to be “Americanized” so hesitant palates could warm up to the unfamiliar. Today, although that practice arguably still exists, consumers are flinging open the doors of exploration, as younger generations, comprised of an increasingly diverse melting pot, use more authentic and exotic flavors as boarding passes to adventure. With 75% of adults saying they want to try new foods, 1 food manufacturers and chefs need not hold back.
The Asian food scene is one area we’re watching explode on Flavor Atlas™. It’s not the one-dimensional “Asian-inspired” movement of yore, but a richer proliferation of flavors spanning the Asian continent including the Middle East, South and South East Asia.
Here are five, not-yet-widely-known Asian flavors we see stirring chatter in food circles—and I’d say they’re all safe bets for innovation and grabbing consumers’ interest in the months ahead.
This Japanese seasoning is a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt. It’s traditionally used to season cooked rice, vegetables and fish, and now it’s making blips on the culinary radar with restaurants like BJ’s in dishes like their Soba Noodle Bowl with Shrimp.
Riding the coattails of all things Korean, this red chili paste made from red chili, rice, salt, and fermented soybeans is bringing a savory, spicy and pungent component to dishes at popular fast casuals like Noodles & Company. Their Spicy Korean Beef description: ramen noodles tossed with a sweet and spicy, Korean-style gochujang sauce, marinated steak, napa and red cabbage, Asian sprouts, spinach topped with cucumber, green onions and cilantro.
A popular souvenir at many Japanese tourist destinations, this dry seasoning has likely made its way into many a carry-on bag. Togarashi is made up of ground red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ground sichuan pepper, ground ginger and ground nori seaweed. Chefs are using it as delightful counterpoint to noodles, soups and rice, meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
The exotic name itself transports us to the bustling Indian street markets. Although blends of the seasoning vary, the basic mixture combines dried oregano, sesame seeds, ground sumac and dried thyme. In the Middle East, cooks frequently use it to add brightness and complexity to a variety of items including bread, poultry, seafood, and yogurt.
Your first encounter with this surprising Korean condiment can be a little polarizing. With heat levels from pleasantly mild to a sinus-powerwash, this fermented vegetable blend packs the appeal of two dominant flavor trends with its ethnic mystique and The Little Funky movement of foods that are fermented and brined. They typical components: Napa cabbage and Korean radishes, chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger and jeotgal (salted seafood).
These flavors are just a few of the ethnic ones we’re tracking, but we promise you’ll want to think about how these rising stars can apply to your food business.
1NPD Group, Sept. 2017