Take the bread road to ethnic markets

by Jeff Gelski
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The grain-based foods industry has a direct avenue to ethnic markets. From chapati to naan to bolillos, bread is that avenue, as well as a carrier for ethnic sweets, meats and spices.

“Just about every culture has some form of bread that they eat,” said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing for Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass. “It just might be different than what we eat.”

A June 27 session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting in Las Vegas focused on the increasing popularity of ethnic food.

“Very authentic and regional cuisines are becoming very popular,” said Janet Carver, senior culinary leader at Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Not just Chinese, but Thai, Korean and foods from other countries and regions.”

Restaurant patrons seek more ethnic offerings, according to a survey of 1,500 consumers released Aug. 27 by Technomic, Inc., a research and consulting firm in Chicago. According to the survey, 23% are satisfied with the availability of ethnic offerings at limited-service restaurants and 28% are satisfied with the availability at full-service restaurants.

“Authenticity is crucial to the ethnic food and beverage purchasing decision,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “Sixty-five per cent of consumers say food that tastes authentic is one of the most important factors in deciding which establishment to visit for ethnic foods and beverages. Operators have an opportunity to create innovative and globally inspired menu items reflected through preparation, taste and flavor. Consumers also say that dishes prepared by someone from that region are given greater credibility as authentic.”

According to the survey, 77% purchase ethnic foods and flavors away from home at least once a month. Asian respondents, at 90%, and Hispanic respondents, at 88%, lead the way.

Growing Hispanic population

Traditional Hispanic food may continue to appeal to more people in in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic or Latino population grew to 50.5 million, or 16.3% of the entire U.S. population, in 2010, which compared with 35.3 million, or 12.5%, in 2000. A May 17, 2012, report from the U.S. Census Bureau gave the 2011 Hispanic population as 53 million, or 16.7% of the entire U.S. population.

The buying power of Latino consumers in the United States is forecast to reach $1.5 trillion in 2015, up from $1 trillion in 2010, according to the report “State of the Hispanic consumer: The Hispanic market imperative” from The Nielsen Co., New York. Hispanic culture may evolve, but it will not go away because of such factors as borderless social networking and the exchange of goods.

“Hispanics are the largest immigrant group to exhibit significant culture sustainability and are not disappearing into the American melting pot,” Nielsen said. “It has become increasingly important to challenge commonly held misconceptions about the Latino market that undermine the importance of its size, uniqueness and value.”

Several ingredient suppliers are offering options for use in creating Hispanic bread.

Lesaffre Yeast Corp., Milwaukee, now offers Magimix in the United States for use in the traditional process for bolillos, teleras, conchas and danes. It adds volume to the bread and gives the process greater mixing and fermentation tolerance as well as more fermenting strength, according to the company.

Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kas., this year introduced a tortilla grains blend, which has been shown to help produce a multigrain tortilla without voids and tears in the tortilla surface. The blend, because of its softer and finer particulates, provides tortillas and other pressed or sheeted products a multigrain color, appearance and flavor without damaging the integrity and functionality of the product, according to Caravan Ingredients.

Hispanic bread such as bolillos and conchas are not heavily flavored, said Sean Craig, senior executive chef for Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings, Omaha.

“These breads act as the carriers for the marinated meats, salsas and spices we associate with Hispanic cuisine,” he said. “Bolillos could really be enhanced with any type of topical seasoning blend.”

For Mexican tortas, a blend might be based on traditional flavors of onion, garlic, tomato and jalapeño, he said. Conchas might be enhanced with butter, dulce de leche or cinnamon flavors to emphasize sweetness.

Mr. Craig said different types of Hispanic cuisine exist. Mexican dishes offer components to balance spicy with cooling and sweet with savory.

“Spices, herbs and garnishes are the stars of Mexican cooking and include cumin, dried chili, coriander, cilantro, espazote, Mexican oregano and cocoa,” he said.

Puerto Rican foods pull elements from Spanish, Caribbean and African cultures into a cuisine called cocina criolla. The dishes focus on ingredients like tropical fruit, corn and seafood. Coriander, papaya, cacao, nispero, apio, plantains and yampee are common flavors in Puerto Rican dishes.

Arepa, corn-based bread that looks somewhat similar to an English muffin, is common in Venezuela and Colombia, Ms. Zammer said. Ms. Zammer has seen food trucks in the United States selling arepa. The bread may be opened up and filled with meat or cheese.

The National Restaurant Association, Washington, listed ethnic/street food-inspired appetizers in its report “What’s Hot in 2012.” Appetizers mentioned were tempura, taquitos, kabobs and hummus.

Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, a registered dietitian and founder of Hispanic Food Communications, Inc., spoke about Hispanic subgroups in the United States during a presentation March 6 at the American Society of Baking’s “BakingTech” in Chicago.

More Mexicans tend to live in the western part of the United States, she said, while more Hispanics of Caribbean origin live on the East coast. Texas is home to many older immigrants and Mexican descendants.

Mexicans tend to prefer grain-based foods made out of corn and amaranth, Ms. Melendez-Klinger said. South Americans like products with wheat, quinoa and potatoes. People of Caribbean origin may prefer rice.

Ms. Klinger said Hispanics are not as fixated on having thin bodies and may not respond as well to foods promoted for being lower in calories, fat or sugar.

“Latinos, we really do not like those low-calorie foods,” she said.

Grain-based foods marketers may wish to appeal to Hispanics with other messages, such as promoting all-natural products.

“Keep the message positive,” Ms. Klinger said. “Don’t just make them phobic of something.”

Marketing frozen foods to the Hispanic market may be a difficult sell. Only 46% of Hispanics are inclined to rely on frozen foods to create an entire meal, which compares with 59% of non-Hispanics, according to a study that Univision Communications, Inc. did in partnership with SmartRevenue. Hispanics may prepare hybrid meals to bridge the divide between traditional tastes and convenience. Forty-two per cent of Hispanics will incorporate frozen products as part of the meal they are preparing, which is an example of a hybrid meal.

The study consisted of interviewing 1,018 adults, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic. Five retailers across 11 major markets in the United States were used.

Indian health opportunities

East Indian restaurants may continue to familiarize Americans with that type of food. They also may give grain-based foods manufacturers more opportunities to create whole grain products. An Indian bread staple called chapati or roti is naturally whole grain, Ms. Zammer said.

“This product is made from whole wheat and wheat durum flours,” she said. “They are already whole grain.”

Mr. Craig said roti often is seasoned and considered a meal or snack on its own. It may be flavored with grated coconut, chilies or onions.

“Or, it can be stuffed with savory fillings like cooked meats, potatoes, onions and sauce, or sweet fillings like mashed lentils and fruit chutney,” he said.

ConAgra Mills, Omaha, offers Mumbai Gold fresh chakki atta, which is durum wheat milled to traditional Indian specifications for taste, appearance, texture and functionality. It may be used for flatbreads such as chapati, paratha and puri.

Chapati/roti flatbreads are made by rolling dough into discs, which then are cooked on a griddle and held over a flame, according to ConAgra Mills. Steam from the flame causes them to puff.

Paratha is flakier than chapati, according to ConAgra Mills. It is made by folding and re-rolling dough for pastry-like flat bread. Puri is soft flatbread that is finished in hot oil to make it puff. Puri may be used for scooping curies and vegetables.

Mr. Craig said Indian cuisine has a balance between savory, sweet and bitter.

“Mustard oil is uniquely praised in east India and gives many dishes a slightly sweet flavor and intense heat,” Mr. Craig said. “Rice, of course, is the main grain of Indian cuisine and is often prepared with spices and ingredients like saffron, ginger or coconut.”

Other cultural differences may arise in how bread is prepared, Ms. Zammer said. Naan bread, popular in the Middle East, is baked inside a tandoori oven. Chapati is prepared in a flat pan like a frying pan.

Besides whole grains, spices also may add to the healthy aspects of Indian bread.

“Studies increasingly support health benefits of different spices,” said Diego Serrano, director of product development at McCormick & Co., during the I.F.T. session in Las Vegas. “Ethnic recipes can deliver over 2 grams of spices and herbs per serving.”

Indian foods typically contain twice as many spices as the usual American food, he said.

A future for steamed buns

Asians in the United States numbered 18.2 million nationally in 2011 after growing by 3% from 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the Technomic survey, Southeast Asian flavors are moving into the mainstream through the development of familiar offerings with a Thai, Vietnamese or Indonesian twist on sauces, dressings and ingredients.

Steamed buns like those served in dim sum restaurants may have a future in the freezer or refrigerated cases at supermarkets, Ms. Zammer said.

Steamed buns may be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, Mr. Craig said. Savory fillings may include pulled meats, mushroom or egg, and sweet fillings may be Nutella, red bean paste, sesame paste or sweet custard.

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