The bao is a yeast-raised dough bun popular in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam.

The next ‘hot’ flavor trends may come from Southeast Asia and the Middle East

What’s next? In the business of product development that is the question du jour. In order to gain a point of differentiation in a competitive market, food service and retail food manufacturers are looking ahead in an effort to capitalize on emerging flavors or concepts.

This time of year is inundated with trend predictions as research companies and industry suppliers attempt to market their expertise. For example, McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, Md., issued its annual Flavor Forecast in early December and pointed out that the flavor pairings included in this year’s forecast reflected the increasing demand for bolder, more intense flavor experiences.

“Many early trending flavors in past reports have become favorites of today,” said Kevan Vetter, executive chef for the flavor and seasoning manufacturer. “Take chipotle chile, for instance. When we first identified this chile pepper as a flavor to watch in 2003, many people couldn’t pronounce it. Today, it’s a household name. Pumpkin pie spice, sea salt, coconut water and cocktail-inspired flavors have seen similar success, taking over restaurant menus and grocery store shelves.”

Flavors included in McCormick’s effort this year include Japanese 7 Spice and Shawarma spice blends, Middle Eastern Mezze, smoked spices and umami vegetables. McCormick describes Japanese 7 Spice as a pungent combination of chilies, sesame, orange zest and nori while Middle Eastern Mezze portends the emergence of more distinct dips and spreads flavored with herbs and seasonings.

Grilled oysters with sriracha, cilantro, and cucumber.

McCormick also forecasts that mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and other umami-rich vegetables will add savory flavor and freshness to such dishes as Mediterranean pasta and Asian steak tacos. Not to mention Asian-style sour beef short ribs to traditional Italian Osso Buco, slow-cooked dishes with ethnic ingredients combine comfort cuisine with global flavors.

The influence of global cuisines on the North American food and beverage sector is undeniable. The publication of the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary forecast drives the point home with the food service chefs participating in the survey pointing to ethnic-inspired breakfast items, fusion cuisine, Peruvian and Southeast Asian dishes all forecast to be on-trend in 2015.

The market research firm Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., sees flavors inspired by ethnic street foods having a greater impact on the food service category.

“Sure, nothing could be more American than street, fair and festival foods such as corn dogs, pretzels, ice cream and cotton candy, but it’s street foods of disparate geographic heritage that are truly moving the culinary meter and exciting restaurateurs and restaurant patrons alike,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

Products and ingredients to watch for include char siu bao and gua bao, simit and llapingacho. The bao is a yeast-raised dough bun popular in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Vietnam. Trending now are char siu bao, credited to the Guangdon province in mainland China and also Hong Kong, and gua bao, which originated in Taiwan and is sold in the United States through food trucks specializing in dumplings. The dumpling’s format makes it a convenient option with the potential to include a variety of flavorful ingredient combinations.

Simit is circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds and is a traditional part of Turkish breakfast. With the functionality of a bagel and a consistence of a soft pretzel, the simit holds promise for restaurants, food service operations, and bakeries, according to Packaged Facts.

Finally, the market research firm highlighted Llapingacho, a street food originating in Ecuador. It is a fried potato mash flavored with white cheese and achiote. The llapingacho and its roasted pork and chorizo sidekicks are well-suited for restaurateurs and retailers who are targeting consumers looking for a more adventurous breakfast experience.

Packaged Facts is not the only researcher seeing the growth in demand for ethnic cuisines continuing. Canadean, the London-based research company, sees a growing desire for hotter and spicier food is set to continue in 2015, as manufacturers will replicate popular heat trends from the catering industry to satisfy growing consumer needs.

Brands will innovate in formulation by including spicier ingredients in meat, dairy, and snacks, as products infused with chilies become more popular, according to Canadean. After the Indian and Mexican food trends, manufacturers should prepare for the next emerging spices and cuisines from across Southeast Asia and the Middle East, the firm recommends.