Ancient Portuguese and Spanish trade routes helped spread new spices and flavors around the globe. In the same way, today’s flavor trends are strongly influenced by native spices, plants and cooking methods that traverse the globe from East to West or from South America to the North.

Chris Stepan, corporate chef for Vegetable Juices Inc., notes that consumers everywhere are both aware of and demanding authentic global cuisine. Savvy food marketers and manufacturers need to stay one step ahead of the flavor trends. Equally as important is finding a source for authentic ingredients to help recreate these exotic dishes.

In a presentation at the 2007 Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminar-CHICAGO, held in Rosemont, Ill., chef Stepan traced the history and elaborated on the current state of ethnic flavor trends. He identified the drivers and pinpointed the best way to capitalize on these flavor trends in prepared foods and restaurant offerings.

Empty-nesters, for example, “can travel around the world simply by trying new downtown restaurants with authentic foreign cuisine,” said chef Stepan. “They help drive the market, because they can and do spend money eating out.” As people age, he points out, they crave stronger flavor sensations. “We don’t have the sensitivities of earlier years, so new or bold flavor combinations can hold this audience’s interest.”

Another driver is the search for healthier fare. “We found out our food pyramid was really upside down,” observed chef Stepan. “While experimenting with other cultures’ cuisines, we’ve discovered the benefits of cooking with olive oil or lighter sauces based on yogurt instead of mayonnaise.”

Immigrants brought their love of regional and local cooking styles with them, creating waves of interest in Mediterranean, Vietnamese, Thai and North African dishes. When Vietnamese restaurants emerged, “all of a sudden, people were eating spring rolls,” observed chef Stepan. This was followed by a wave of Thai and then Ethiopian immigrants, each contributing unique flavors to the American melting pot.

“For this population, native plants, spices and cooking methods signify authenticity,” explained chef Stepan. “Consumers today expect the same level of sophistication in prepared food items from the grocery store that they might find in a restaurant. So, to recreate an authentic Thai or other ethnically inspired dish, authentic ingredients are a must.”

For example, Vegetable Juices Inc. has a processed lemongrass. “Lemongrass has to be shaved before you can even begin the special processing it requires,” informed chef Stepan. “But, when it is done right, it melts like butter in your mouth. Companies can save hours of processing, while still maintaining the quality standards their products require.”

Chef Stepan emphasized that fresh ingredients and quality are inextricably linked. “For example, in a vindaloo, essential seasonings are in the paste. When you mix fresh ginger, onions and garlic with dried herbs, the combination of the fresh with the dry ingredients takes it beyond common curry. It creates top notes that lend it multiple levels of flavor enhancement.”

The chef encouraged the attendees to broaden their creative horizons. “Think Bryani pizza, vindaloo pasta or green Thai curry risotto.” Vegetable Juices provides a creative avenue for food manufacturers or restaurateurs to find their own creative twist on commodity products and then “watch what happens,” he suggested. Vegetable Juices Inc. offers many types of authentic, specialty blends, such as Southeast Asian Mirepoix, Chimichurri, Aji Verde or Oaxacan Mole.

For more information:
Vegetable Juices Inc., Bedford Park, Ill.
Jeff Wells, 888-776-9752
wells@vegetablejuices.com, www.vegetablejuices.com