UP and DOWN The street

The Cuisine of Southeast Asia
This column shows that the pulse of the industry is felt “up and down the street.” This month’s column is based on presentations given at The Asian/Pacific Rim Educational Track at SNAXPO 2004, held March 20-23 in Philadelphia. As always, we welcome your comments and ideas for future “Up and Down the Street” columns. Please send them to SFA’s Vice President of Communications Ann Wilkes at awilkes@sfa.org or call her at 703.836.4500 ext. 204.

The increasing popularity of Asian flavors in the U.S. is providing opportunities for translating these flavors into new snack concepts, suggested Connie Jones, Sr. Culinary Technologist at McCormick and Co., Inc. Speaking at the Asian/Pacific Education Track at SNAXPO 2004, she noted that currently Asian flavors are the third most popular ethnic flavors in the U.S., followed by Mexican and Mediterranean.
The mega-trends underlying consumer trends are: convenience, health and pleasure, explained Jones. These trends, combined with the aging of the baby boomers, are fueling the popularity of Asian flavors and foods. Baby boomers have money, experience and education, but they are also affected by a host of diseases.
In developing new snack and other foods, food companies need to be up-to-date on the current flavor trends, Jones advised. She related findings from The 2003 McCormick Flavor Trends Report as a background for determining potential types of new Asian snack flavors. These include:
-Extreme flavor
-The shrinking globe (discovery of regional ethnic cuisines)
-Food as an occasion
-You can’t take it with you.
-The varying degrees of heat (spicy, yet flavorful combinations)
-The green season (organic, natural foods)
-Home on the Range.

The discovery of regional ethnic cuisines has affected the popularity of Asian flavors in the U.S. by increasing the diversity of these flavors enjoyed by Americans. An increase of the diversity of the Asian population in the U.S. has contributed to the vast range of Asian flavor that are popular in the U.S.
An Asian food philosophy, Jones notes, is Yin and Yang. Yin is cooling, moist, soft and delicate flavors; while Yang contributes hot, spicy, pungent and crisp attributes. Combining these two elements provides some of the currently popular Asian flavors.
Pan Asian Cuisine, a fusion-style that draws in different Asian cuisines, is becoming very trendy in fine dining. An example of this type of cuisine is lime cilantro dipping sauce.
Some advice offered by Jones was that people adopt things if they are somewhat comfortable with them. In other words, some aspect of new flavor introductions should be familiar to the target audience.
Jones discussed several specific spices that are being incorporated into foods more frequently. Five spice is being used in rubs and could easily be incorporated into snacks.
Turmeric is being used more as an ingredient and not just for color. Also popular are ginger, chili and different types of soy.
Some of the recent snack introduction in Asian countries include chili sauce flavored potato snack and fruit flavored ring-shaped snacks in South Korea. Recent introductions in China include beef- flavored rice chips, prawn-flavored crackers, cornballs (100% corn with a cream flavor), dried mushroom chips, and chili and blueberry-flavored potato-based snacks.
The Japanese are very innovative in using familiar flavors, said Jones. As an example, she used a currently available snack in Japan — pretzels with beef flavor.
Americans want fun and excitement in their snacks. This, combined with the popularity of Asian flavors, provides excellent opportunities for snack manufacturers to create successful new snack products.