Asian flavors 2.0

by Keith Nunes
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The next wave of flavors is on the way from Korea, India and Thailand.


The signs that Asian flavors are trending in the United States have been visible for some time, and in 2014 the news all but became undeniable as several Asian-inspired flavor profiles surged into the mainstream.

This past October, for example, the Lay’s potato chip brand, a business unit of PepsiCo, Inc., named wasabi ginger as the winner of its “Do us a flavor” contest. The title was based on votes submitted by consumers and the new variety beat other such unique tastes as mango salsa, cheddar bacon and cheese and cappuccino.

Then there is the story of sriracha, which started as a niche condiment, but has trended into a mainstay flavor on many restaurant menus. Jack in the Box, for example, introduced Jack’s Blazin’ Chicken Sandwich, topped with a ghost pepper-ranch sauce and Swiss-style cheese.

Looking ahead to 2015, it appears the pace of Asian flavors into the marketplace is not going to slow. Fare from the Far East has become a growing trend in fine dining, food trucks and elsewhere. The newest wave of Asian flavors is spicier and more complex, driven by Northern Thai cuisine, Japanese okonomiyaki pancakes and tangy Filipino foods, according to Sterling-Rice Group, Boulder, Colo.

The market research firm Technomic identified Asian inspiration as a restaurant trend to watch in 2015. Asian foods have been trending for years, but the world’s biggest and fastest-moving continent always delivers something new, according to Technomic. In 2015, the company’s researchers say to look for the breakout of Korean, the mainstreaming of Vietnamese and upscaling of spicy ramen noodles, which the company describes as the quintessential Asian street food.

Technomic also recommends watching how matcha evolves in the United States. The antioxidant-rich Japanese green tea powder has bubbled up in convenient formats to meet demand for ready-to-drink beverages with functional benefits. Boasting nutrients with less caffeine than green tea, matcha is being used in Motto Sparkling Matcha Tea from The Verto Co., Boston, featuring ground green tea leaves, honey and organic agave, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. Matcha Love canned green tea from Ito En, New York, is available unsweetened or sweetened with cane sugar.

Getting beyond the basics

“I believe we’ll see what some are calling advanced Asian or Asian 2.0 in the U.S.,” said Barbara Zatto, director of culinary and sales manager west for Mizkan Americas, Mount Prospect, Ill. “American cuisine will move past yakisoba and delve deeper into regional Asian cuisine with a better understanding of how diverse it is.

“The ongoing growth of Asian cuisine, and certainly sriracha’s explosive popularity, has paved the way for Americans to enjoy the authenticity and rituals of Asian cuisine from the Philippines and Malaysia to the Himalayas and Tibet. The challenge in 2015 will be for American chefs to source ingredients differently and to consider diet and health concerns and sustainability in new and responsible ways. Asian rituals may even become part of the trend keeping in line with true authenticity.”

Ms. Zatto added that East will still meet West as product developers explore some lesser-known ingredients and place a twist on staple items, including noodles.

“I expect mainstream grocers will begin to carry tofu noodles and mung bean noodles alongside the conventional yakisoba or rice noodle,” she said. “These noodles will most certainly be coupled with more complex and exciting sauces, including the spicy flavors of habanero, serrano, harissa, shishito, togarashi and sweet chili.

“On the restaurant side, Asian 2.0 may be reflected as an increase of Asian Dim Sum, similar to the growth that tapas, meze, and other small plates experienced. Fermented food and drinks from miso to kimchi, gojuchang, pickle varieties, spirits and beer will continue to rise in popularity, as consumers become more interested in the connection between digestive health and umami.”

Asian flavors play a role in Fuchs North America’s recently released Ethnic Inspirations II collection, which includes a line of 10 seasonings and rubs.

Howard Cantor, Fuchs North America’s corporate research chef, said the collection includes flavor inspirations for grilled meats, prepared foods and other dishes that build on complex and intriguing national cuisines from all over the globe.

“As the world becomes a smaller place, America’s taste palette is becoming more adventuresome,” Mr. Cantor said. “And why not? The U.S. is this marvelous amalgamation of many people and cultures — not to mention Americans traveling and vacationing in all corners of the world. It’s only natural that our tastes in food have become as wide-ranging as well.”

Mr. Cantor noted that the items that make up the Ethnic Inspirations II Collection build on traditional elements of national cuisines — but they are unique new creations. Indian and South Asian cuisine, for example, continues to grow in popularity in America. Fuchs taps into this trend with two new items that offer all sorts of ways to bring the complex flavors of the sub-continent to the table.

“Our Korma Spice Blend and Panaji Pork Rub capture the heady combination of flavors for which this region of the world is so famous,” Mr. Cantor said. “They’re the start of creating some truly memorable dishes.”

Julie Clarkson, senior applications technologist with Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., sees Indian flavors trending in 2015.

“The flavors of India, where you have heat, sweet, sour, hot, bitter and cold, are something I see emerging in the U.S.,” she said. “They are masters at balancing flavor, putting together a combination that allows you to stand the hot Madras curry because it’s combined with the cooling effect of yogurt or cucumber.

“Plus, it can apply to many categories. The snacks category within Indian cuisine is huge. I think that can translate into American culture on popcorn and potato chips as well as sauces, soups and salad dressings.”

There is a long runway of opportunities with Indian flavor profiles, said Ms. Clarkson.

“Like other countries, there are regions within India that have very distinct cuisines,” she said. “We see several opportunities with the flavors.”

Jean Shieh, marketing manager for Sensient Flavors, said one such opportunity is vegetarian cuisine.

“In Asian cuisine, vegetarian is the norm and not a niche,” she said. “Soy- and tofu-based dishes are popular; they provide a lot of flavor and are able to capture the flavor of a meat profile.”

Sensient Flavors also is focusing on Thai flavors in 2015.

“We definitely see lemongrass and coconut, flavors we highlighted in 2014, going forward in 2015,” Ms. Clarkson said. “I think regional differentiation is going to be growing in popularity. As people become more comfortable with the flavors they are going to want to learn more.”

Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y., issued its flavor trend predictions for 2015, and they included a variety of flavor fusions with an Asian theme. For example, the flavor house sees butterscotch curry, cherry yuzu and sriracha maple za’tar all trending during the new year. In many cases, Comax’s flavor profiles fuse the old with the new and chart a course that is becoming familiar for the introduction of new flavors to the mainstream.

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