KANSAS CITY, MO. – Mexican food gained acceptance in the United States decades ago, and yet not all spices are found in this cuisine. To bring innovation to this category, restaurant chefs and food manufacturers may turn to dishes and flavors from different regions of the country.
American consumers are also fascinated by new flavors from Asia and the Middle East.
Discoveries south of the border
DoorDash Inc., a San Francisco-based grocery delivery company, released its State of Flavor in America report last November, which included order dates from January 1, 2019 through October 31, 2020, and a national consumer survey of 1,000 Americans. The best kitchens ordered in 2020 were Mexicans, Chinese, and Tex-Mex.
According to Technomic, a Chicago food services consultancy, consumers are again showing interest in three global flavor favorites – Italian, Mexican and Chinese – as COVID-19 has restricted their travel. According to Technomic, lesser-known ingredients, dishes and drinks like the Italian Salmoriglio spice, the Mexican Sotol spirit or the Chinese Roujiamo sandwiches could be put in the spotlight.
“Americans have eaten Mexican food since the 1950s and often think of Americanized Mexican cuisines like Tex-Mex or Californian Mexicans as the basis of the cuisine,” said Daniel Espinoza, head chef, Latin American Mixes at Olam Spices, part of Olam International Olam Segment Food Ingredients. “As Mexican foods become more popular, consumers are becoming more adventurous in their food choices. You are now looking for authentic dishes beyond the familiar tacos and burritos. For example, we’re seeing interest in foods like birria (braised lamb or goat with pasilla, guajillo, and ancho chili peppers) and regional tacos that come from certain areas of Mexico. “
He gave the example of Al Pastor Tacos. Lebanese refugees introduced the tacos to Mexico in the Puebla region. The Mexicans used local Puebla ingredients such as pork, chilli, tomatoes and pineapple in the tacos.
“All of them show off the tangy, sour, earthy flavors that are growing in importance in the US,” Espinoza said.
The rate of reviews for Birria, a juicy, flavorful meat stew from the Mexican state of Jalisco, has increased 235%, according to a 2021 trend report by Yelp that enables consumers to engage with businesses. Yelp expects Birria tacos, quesadillas, and pizzas to grow in popularity.
Sweet and spicy both have a place in Mexican cuisine.
“Cocoa has also become a popular addition to Mexican-inspired sauces and stews as it supports and mellows certain flavors such as the roast and bitterness of certain peppers, making it a pleasant and desirable feel,” said Andrew Pingul. Pastry chef at Olam Cocoa.
Chile de árbol is a small but strong Mexican chilli pepper with a heat index between 15,000 and 30,000 Scoville units, said Marie Wright, president of creation, design and development and chief global flavorist at ADM in Chicago.
“Chile de árbol can add cayenne pepper-like flavor and earthiness to salsas and sauces,” she said. “It also goes well with soups, stews, chilli and marinades for meat and fish.”
Asian flavors in American formats
According to the DoorDash report, orders for Taiwanese food were up 807% from January to October 2020 compared to the same period last year. Other big winners were French with 501%, Filipinos with 313%, Australians with 308% and Moroccans with 255%.
New flavors from Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, and Malaysian cuisines are being incorporated into classic comfort foods like tacos, chicken wings, and other fast food or snacks, said Juliet Greene, corporate chef at Mizkan America Inc., Mount Prospect, Ill., A business owned by Mizkan Holdings Co., Ltd.
Americans are familiar with many of the ingredients in Indian cuisine: cumin, coriander, cloves and red chillies, said Roger Lane, senior marketing manager at Sensient Flavors, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
“It’s just that they are used in combination with ingredients that may not be known,” he said. “The best words to describe Indian flavors would be bold and warm.”
Indian flavors could work in some American formats, he said using a dish like buttered chicken burrito as an example.
“Soft flour tortilla tacos really are no different from naan,” Lane said. “So that can be swapped out and then either mixed with the original Mexican ingredients, or the entire dish can be made Indian, depending on how the consumer wants to go. Indian spice mixes are usually fatty, so they can easily season a minced meat and made into a burger. “
The Japanese flavors ascending are tgarashi, persimmon and umeboshi, said Vincent Barcelona, sales director – national accounts and culinary at Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn. To create an umeboshi taste, a ripe yellow Japanese plum is preserved with salt and pickled to create a sour-salty taste. Then it is colored with red shiso leaves.
According to Doug Resh, director of commercial marketing at T. Hasegawa USA, Cerritos, Calif., Korean and Japanese flavors are increasingly on the rise on US menus.
“Specific flavors and ingredients that have seen significant directional growth include miso, ponzu, sambal, shoyu, togarashi, kimchi, lychee, sesame, bulgogi, and tamari,” he said.
Spice mixes from the Middle East
Middle Eastern dishes have their own unique condiments and spice mixes.
“Spice blends and ingredients from the Middle East and Morocco add warm, complex spice profiles and contain plant-based ingredients like lentils, chickpeas and cereals,” Resh said. “In keeping with consumer interest in Middle Eastern and African cuisine, especially Moroccan cuisine, brands are creating fusion products by incorporating spice blends in unconventional locations like empanadas, oatmeal, pasta sauce and bone broth. Contemporary comfort is the core of this type of innovation, in which warm spices are combined with classically warm, often comfortable foods. “
Traditionally used as a spice or spice in the Middle East, amba is made by salting, fermenting, and drying green mango slices in the sun, said Wright of ADM. The slices are cooked with sugar and spices to create a seasoning.
“The spices vary, but often include mustard seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, and chilli, with vinegar often also added,” she said. “The resulting taste profile is a fascinating combination of spicy, sweet, fruity and earthy with a touch of spiciness. Amba is widely used as a condiment for many different dishes, but is inextricably linked to sabich, a sandwich made with fried eggplant, as well as falafel, kebab, and other street foods. In addition, the version with dried spice mixtures is ideal for fruit and grilled meat. “
America continues to be a top landing spot for flavors from around the world.
“As we all know, America is a melting pot of diverse cultures and global foods that finds its way into regional pockets that will eventually become menu trends nationally,” said Stratas’ Barcelona. “As we head into 2021, we continue to see the Middle East influence with flavors like za’atar, pomegranate and berbere, a blend of fenugreek, paprika, ground ginger, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, garlic and onion.”
Resh added, “Consumers are motivated to try new kitchens that are similar to the ones they enjoy. Flavors derived from regional flavors that have the greatest interest are Sicilians, Tuscans, Argentinians, Szechuans, Moroccans, and Oaxacans. “