Beyond sriracha

by Keith Nunes
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Product concepts featuring Asian flavors are expanding as trends focus on local cuisines.

It may be argued that the introduction of sriracha sauce in the U.S. by Huy Fong Foods has helped expand consumer interest in Thai cuisine. Yet the popularity of sriracha sauce also may have overshadowed the development of other Asian flavors. Now some are beginning to garner greater attention in the marketplace.

The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., for example, identified “authentic Thai” as an emerging trend in its 2016 Culinary TrendScape report.

“While Thai-American cuisine is experiencing mainstream buzz in its own right, we are tracking a second Thai trend on the Culinary TrendScape,” the report said. “Homestyle dishes born of the bustling street food culture found throughout Thailand have become the hottest plates to hit the scene at independent restaurants offering authentic regional foods.”

Campbell Soup defines authentic Thai cuisine by such attributes as tangy minced meat salads, spicy papaya salads, fermented fish and a variety of chile-based recipes.

During the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference, held in late February in Boca Raton, Fla., several consumer packaged goods companies unveiled innovation featuring Thai flavors. Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., will feature a Thai basil boneless chicken breast as an option in the company’s Tyson Tastemakers line, which will launch later this year. McCormick & Co., Sparks, Md., is offering an organic coconut milk under its Thai Kitchen line.

Much like Thai flavors, ingredient manufacturers and food service operators are taking a deeper dive into Korean flavor trends. During Engredea, held March 10-12 in Anaheim, Calif., in conjunction with the Natural Products Expo West, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., exhibited product concepts featuring a yuzu honey glaze and a gochujang glaze. Both flavors were used to coat a popcorn chicken application.

Gochujang in particular has been trending. Data provided by the market research company Datassential, Chicago, show 1% of all restaurants list the sauce on menus and it has grown over 100% on menus since last year.

The fast-casual restaurant chain Noodles & Co., Broomfield, Colo., recently introduced a new menu item featuring meatballs tossed in gochujang sauce. Gochujang is a sweet, spicy condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Food trend experts are identifying it as potentially the next sriracha, according to the restaurant chain.

This past year, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., developed a line of Asian-inspired flavors. The flavors of Southeast Asia have a variety of tastes, including hot, spicy, tangy and sweet, according to the company. While the flavors of Asia have grown in popularity throughout the United States, the trend is far from over. In fact, as the trend continues to grow, consumers will be able to differentiate between different ethnicities such as Malaysian and Vietnamese flavors.

The flavors featured in Bell’s new line come from a variety of countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Some of the flavors include gochujang and green tea, which has an earthy flavor. Green tea may be used in a variety of applications, according to the company, and it has been seen in ice cream, smoothies, baked goods, energy bars, chocolate and lattes.

Consumers also perceive green tea as healthy. In a survey conducted by the market research firm Canadean, Fairport, N.Y., consumers were asked to evaluate 100 ingredients based on whether they had a positive, negative or neutral perception of the items, and green tea ranked third on the list as far as having a perceived positive impact on health. Whole grains and blueberries filled the Nos. 1 and 2 slots while almonds were ranked No. 4.

Thai holy basil, a fresh, savory, sweet and green flavor with notes of licorice, also was included in Bell’s Asian flavor line. The flavor is in a nascent phase, with it appearing on 2.5% of restaurant menus and growing only 5% during the past year, according to Datassential.

Bell said its coconut milk flavor has a subtly sweet and tropical flavor with a rich creamy mouthfeel. While coconut milk is used in various Indian cuisine from curries to sticky rice, it is designed to add depth and slight tropical notes to stews and soups and character to puddings and cakes, according to the company. The flavor is appearing on 5.2% of restaurant menus and has grown 4% on menus since last year, Datassential said.

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