Exploring ethnic flavors
Consumers longing to take a trip around the world can do so just by stepping into their local grocery store. Numerous options for expanding their palate are right in front of them.
East meets West meets everywhere in between on today’s store shelves. By either creating an ethnic product or experimenting with ethnic flavors, manufacturers are reaching out to a variety of cultures for inspiration.
Interested in Indian? Let’s start the journey in the East with Indian flavors. One company that’s been successful with Indian foods is Tandoor Chef, Union, N.J. According to Mike Ryan, vice president of sales and marketing, Indian cuisine is the fastest-growing ethnic food category in the U.S. The company has been introducing consumers to Indian flavors by way of its naan pizzas.
“The Indian culture is well-known for its robust flavors,” states Ryan. “By offering easy-to-try entrees such as naan pizzas, we reduce the intimidation factor and invite more consumers to our family.”
Tandoor Chef offers five varieties of naan pizzas: Roasted Eggplant; Margherita; Cilantro Pesto; Spinach; Paneer Cheese; and its newest addition, Jalapeno. The Jalapeno option may be a surprise to some, but it was a natural progression for Tandoor Chef.
“Consumers have been using hot and spicy seasonings in their foods for more than 6,000 years,” states Ryan. “Specifically with regard to hot and spicy flavors, Indian cuisine plays well in this category.”
Pizza may be a natural gateway for some consumers interested in exploring Indian flavors, but others are turning to snack products to give these faraway spices a try. Punjabi Popcorn, Old Bridge, N.J., offers a line of Indian-inspired popcorn. “Simply put, the combination of regular-flavored popcorn, which usually consists of butter, cheese or cheesy combinations and caramel, can be boring and has been beat down,” states Deepak Kanda, owner. “This is why I felt it was imperative to break the stigma of what popcorn is to show the unlimited flavors popcorn can have.”
While Kanda’s company does offer a Butter option, it breaks the mold with its Signature Punjabi, Tumeric, Jeera, Spicy Curry, Desi Mirch, Extra Hot Desi Mirch and Indian Caramel options. “We aim to create bold and aromatic flavors sophisticated enough to be deemed gourmet, but palatable enough to be appreciated by everyone,” Kanda explains.
Punjabi Popcorn isn’t content to just introduce consumers to Indian flavors; it will soon begin branching out into other ethnic options. It’s currently developing a Sofrito flavor for the Hispanic market.
“Sofrito is a combination of fragrant herbs, spices and vegetables that act as a foundation to many dishes in Latin America and Caribbean cuisines,” says Kanda. “We are trying to create staple flavors of popular regions and cultures using the exotic spices and flavors from all corners of the globe.”
While companies specializing in Indian flavors are dabbling in Hispanic options, other manufacturers are going all in. One example is Classic Foods with its Risi Papas Caseras brand.
“The Risi Papas Caseras family of brands brings together the heartland of Mexico’s cuisine using a variety of mouth-watering indigenous chiles from Mexico in four unique flavors,” states Roya Rohani, vice president of marketing.
The Irvine, Calif., company’s Kettle Chips come in four hot options: Con Salsa; Habanero; Adobadas; and Serrano. The Con Salsa chips don’t come with the Hispanic flavor already added. Instead, the lightly-salted chips come with a packet of La Guacamaya hot sauce that consumers can add to their snack, customizing the intensity of the hot sauce’s flavor. “These spice combinations of sweet, tangy, zesty or fiery deliver bold and savory tastes in every bag,” says Rohani.
While some companies add Hispanic flavors to their lines of snacks, others use the flavors to embolden already ethnic options. Rudolph Foods, Lima, Ohio, is one of those companies.
“As a brand that caters not only to traditional Southern consumers, but also to Hispanic Americans with chicharrones (pork rinds), studying ethnic flavors and preferences is a daily practice at Rudolph Foods,” states Mark Singleton, vice president of sales and marketing.
Singleton adds that he’s seen pork rinds taking off in the market because they’re high in protein with no carbohydrates. These options give consumers a way to experiment with Hispanic flavors they may never have tried before.
“A common misconception is that Hispanic foods have to be mouth-burningly spicy, but the reality is that Hispanic foods are zesty and flavorful,” says Singleton.
Rudolph Foods also offers Pepe’s brand pork rinds, which add a little something extra beyond its Original, Red Pepper and Chile Picante Chicharrones. “In Pepe’s El Original bags, we are test marketing the inclusion of a packet of hot sauce, which has also become a huge hit,” Singleton explains. “The expansion into the flavor option gives consumers a way to branch out and gives pork rinds an entry into the snack world.”
Hispanic options are a natural fit for beef jerky. Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Minong, Wis., is using this global inspiration to expand its product line.
“Jack Link’s launched Cholula Beef Jerky first to explore the concept of globally-inspired products,” says Mike Gerber, vice president of research and development. “Our Cholula Beef Jerky is a perfect balance of flavor and heat with secret spices and pequin and arbol peppers.”
The company also offers Jalapeno Carne Seca and Sweet and Hot options to round out its spicy south-of-the-border flavors. The addition of its latest Wild Side Burrito Beef Jerky option will certainly compliment the company’s current offerings. “Burrito Beef Jerky has an authentic south-of-the-border flavor creating a satisfying burrito experience,” states Gerber.
While other Jack Link’s flavor options hit a bit closer to home, like A.1. Steak Sauce, Original Smokehouse, KC Masterpiece, Peppered, Original and Steakhouse Recipe Beef Jerky, the company is also getting inspiration from Asian flavors. This includes Teriyaki Beef Jerky and the new Sriracha Beef Jerky, another recent addition to Jack Link’s Wild Side line.
“Sriracha Beef Jerky is packed with an explosion of hot chili peppers and garlic,” explains Gerber.
These flavors may seem like an easy fit for beef jerky, but Kevin Papacek, director of marketing at Jack Link’s, sees it as more. “Creating globally-inspired products is one way Jack Link’s is helping grow the entire meat snacks category,” he explains.
Gerber agrees, stating, “Our category is in its infancy, which gives us the opportunity to grow by feeding global snacking appetites.”
Focusing on Asian-inspired flavors has been a hit for Golden Island Jerky. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., company has seen a growing interest in such options mainly due to the influence of food and travel programs on television today.
“Consumers are more open-minded to multicultural influences on gourmet food and actively seek out ‘authentic’ exotic flavors,” states Mike Kan, director of marketing.
While the company was already offering Teriyaki, Korean Barbecue, Mandarin Orange, Five Spice and Spicy Curry options, it recently added Kettle Cooked Kung Pao Beef to its lineup. “Our proprietary Kettle Cooked process infuses the fiery hotness, with just a hint of sweetness, into each piece of jerky and delivers a bold flavor that will have you reaching for your favorite cold one,” says Kan.
Golden Island also offers options like Grilled Barbecue, Hickory Black Pepper and Chili Lime.
When it comes to ethnic flavors, whether in jerky or any snack product, Kan states that authenticity is the key. “You have to be authentic in who you are, how you do business and in your products,” he says. “Only with a deep understanding of the ethnic culinary culture can you create a flavor that is authentic and well-balanced.”
One last stop on our flavor tour is to sail into the Mediterranean. While most prevalent in the Greek yogurt craze, Mediterranean flavors are really infusing the bakery segment. Grecian Delight Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., isn’t new to this segment, but it is finding new ways to introduce these flavors to consumers.
“This is what we’ve been doing for almost 40 years,” states Amy Fattori, marketing director. “We’re excited to see the rest of the U.S. catching up with what we’ve been touting for a long time.”
The company recently teamed with celebrity chef Cat Cora to create a new line of ready-to-use flatbreads with Greek ethnic flavor profiles. “We chose to partner with Cat because of her Greek heritage, plus she’s a very busy mom of four,” says Fattori.
The new flatbread line consists of Lavash, Oven-Fired Naan, Pre-Sliced Kalamata Olive Focaccia, Pre-Sliced Herbed Focaccia and 100% Whole Wheat Skinny Bun.
“Flatbread is the most universal product in the world, so we’ve really seen that product category crossing borders for years,” says Fattori. “We are opening new doors every day. Mediterranean food is a great category to be in right now—better-for-you products that taste great.”
Desserts are also finding ways to innovate with ethnic flavors. The Eli’s Cheesecake Co., Chicago, has launched a Mediterranean Honey Cheesecake with Pistachio and Almonds to capitalize on the trend. “Wildflower honey cheesecake, enhanced with the subtle addition of ricotta, is topped with a dreamy, crunchy layer of salted honey, toasted pistachios and almonds,” states Debbie Marchok, vice president of marketing.
Eli’s, too, was inspired by the wave of Greek yogurts hitting the market. “We always follow the latest food trends and creating innovative desserts provides customers with new and exciting flavors to serve,” Marchok explains. “We have received rave reviews and a very positive response.”
A culinary trip around the world doesn’t require an expensive plane ticket or even a pricey meal at a fancy restaurant. Consumers just need a shopping cart and a curiosity about new foods to find the ethnic flavors awaiting them in their neighborhood grocery aisles.