Not long ago, Asian foods in America consisted mostly of Chinese-style foods. Today, Thai, Japanese and Korean foods have joined the mainstream, and stir-fried dishes containing different types of protein, vegetables and noodles are quite popular.


There are farmer’s markets located all across America that feature vendors selling some type of fruit preserve, jelly or pickled product. For years, sweet fruit sauces have been paired with savory entrées and side dishes. Some classic examples are cranberry sauce with roast turkey and stuffing/dressing, mint jelly with roasted lamb, sweet cherry sauce with roast pork tenderloin and peach chutney with baked ham.

The upscale Chicago-based caterer, Jewell Events Catering (with annual sales of $20M), has been constantly re-inventing itself by exploring more exotic flavors of the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. According to vice president Grey Jenkins and senior catering and event consultant Tamara Goldstein, many signature foods that reflect these regions of the world have a combination of sweet flavors, paired with savory dishes.

Shining Ocean Inc. produces a line of restaurant-quality, frozen, flavored wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, coated in gourmet, sweet-tasting sauces. The product line is called Wild Smart Salmon, which promotes the fish’s high omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin D levels. The salmon is sold in 6oz portions and packaged in a new microwave steaming bag, which cooks in under three minutes. The presentations include Hawaiian huli-huli, Kenyan coffee barbecue sauce and an Asian-inspired ginger flavor.

Sweet with Savory
For years, Americans have been enjoying savory salads with sweet dressings. At the popular Chicago-based Trotters to Go gourmet store (owned and operated by celebrity chef Charlie Trotter), there are some carry-out prepared foods that reflect this trend even further, by adding heat to the sweet and savory flavors. For example, a salad-style entrée consists of spicy chicken salad on romaine lettuce, with a black bean relish and Black Diamond white Cheddar, served with chef Trotter’s organic-chipotle vinaigrette. Another dish is the Thai barbecue beef short ribs. For a meal without the heat, there is a honey and lavender-glazed, split-roasted Amish chicken, one of the restaurant’s most popular items.

Not long ago, the Asian foods eaten in America consisted of mostly Chinese-style dishes, such as sweet and sour chicken, fried rice with a sweet and sour sauce or soy sauce, and egg rolls with a plum sauce or a duck sauce (a thick, sweet and pungent, orange-flavored Chinese condiment). Today, Thai, Japanese and Korean foods have penetrated the palates of Americans. Thai foods are by far the most popular of these newcomers. Dishes such as Pad Thai noodles are not only served in restaurants, but are being manufactured by many mainstream companies, both under national brands and private labels.

Following this trend, grocery retailer Trader Joe’s sells its brand of frozen entrée Pad Thai noodles in all of its stores, nationwide. There is another Asian-inspired frozen main dish called Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken. This kit consists of pre-cooked, breaded chicken pieces ready to be heated in the oven, with orange sauce packets included. It is easy to cook, ready in close to 20 minutes; as a result, for several years, this product has been the company’s number one selling product, even topping the iconic “Two-buck Chuck” (a line of wines, labeled Charles Shaw, priced at $2.00).

Simply Asia foods introduced a line of packaged stir-fry sauces, under its Thai Kitchen brand, at the National Restaurant Show held in Chicago in May. According to the company’s marketing manager, Michael Morse, “These stir-fry sauces appeal to individuals and families wanting well-balanced, flavorful options that are quick and easy to prepare and that deliver a more cost effective and nutritious option than traditional takeout.” One popular flavor is the Mandarin Orange stir-fry sauce (made with sugar, water, soy sauce, plum sauce, rice vinegar, pineapple juice concentrate, salt, modified corn starch, hydrolyzed soy protein, tomato paste, orange juice concentrate, onion, yeast extract and xanthan gum). The other flavors are ginger teriyaki, spicy Kung Pao and General Tsao (a combination of sweet and spicy flavors with a hint of garlic). The sauces are packaged in 4oz aseptic pouches.

Recently, Pace Foods launched a line of upscale Southwestern-inspired, flavored salsa products, which can easily be used for sauces, topped on entrées, side dishes or salads. The flavors include pineapple mango chipotle, tequila lime, triple pepper and verde.

The Heat is On
There is still a trend for spicy flavors in America and also a demand for gourmet-inspired, tasty products. La Panzanella introduced a line of upscale, spicy crackers under its Fieri brand. Flavors include Red Chili Basil (enriched flour, canola and extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, crushed red chili pepper, dried basil, dried garlic, cayenne pepper); Serrano Lime (enriched flour, canola oil and extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, Serrano pepper powder, dried parsley, lime oil); and Chipotle (enriched flour, canola and extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, dried chipotle peppers, dried garlic, dried onion). Some of the other signature flavors include tomato oregano, rosemary, fennel, onion and garlic.

The company 479 Fahrenheit has a line of gourmet-flavored popcorn that stretches beyond the traditional butter, caramel and Cheddar cheese flavors found on grocery store shelves or in food court malls. The company was named by its founder, Jean Arnold, who explained, “I discovered that 479 Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for popping corn.” Some of the popular flavors are ginger sesame caramel, madras coconut curry and cashews, black truffle and white Cheddar, and chipotle caramel and almonds. All of the company’s ingredients are USDA organic-certified.

Further Reading: Nothing More American…or Regional
Grilling foods with barbecue sauces may stand alone as representative of American cooking. Yet, each region of the U.S. has tended to have traditional approaches to both.  (See the “Website References” at the article’s end for more details.)  Additionally, such sauces can be creatively customized through the addition of other food components.

For example, the cookbook, Smothered Southern Foods, by the author of this article, provides a basic, consumer-friendly BBQ recipe consisting of 2 cups ketchup, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh oregano, rosemary and sage, and 1/2 teaspoon each of mustard powder and black pepper. The herbs add earthy background notes. However, it is also suggested that a variety of flavored sauces can be created through the addition of fresh fruit (such as citrus-flavored) or roasted garlic (with the addition of roasted garlic cloves).

As many consumers, restaurants and food processors alike have discovered, the creation of unique and enticing sauces can be crucial to many a dish. pf

Wilbert Jones is the president of Healthy Concepts, a food and beverage company that provides menu, recipe and product development consulting services. He has authored four cookbooks, most recently Smothered Southern Foods. He attended Paris’ Ecole de Gastronomique Francaise Ritz-Escoffier and was a food scientist for Kraft General Foods. For more more information, call 312-335-0031 or e-mail: wjhealthyconcept@aol.com.

Website References and Other Resources:
www.kensingtonbooks.com -- In the upper right hand side of the page, change the drop down menu to “author” and type in Wilbert Jones in the search field below it to see cookbooks authored by Jones, including Smothered Southern Foods
www.PreparedFoods.com -- Type (with quotation marks) “Barbecue’s Regional Roots” into the search field, for a discussion of barbecuing and regional American cuisines
www.PreparedFoods.com -- On the left hand side of the home page, click R&D Application Videos to access a webpage with a secondary link for videos on “Sauces, Marinades, Dressings, & Spreads” application information