Prepared Foods talks Latin food trends, tastes and ingredients with Anna Cheely, chef and senior scientist at Kalsec Inc. Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich., is an international leading supplier of natural spice and herb extracts, colors, antioxidants, advanced hop products, dry products and nutritional ingredients for the manufactured food, beverage, nutritional and pharmaceutical markets.

Prepared Foods: Last year certainly was a difficult one for restaurant, which contribute so much to food and flavor trends. Even so, let’s talk about new Latin-inspired foods and drinks. Looking back on the year, were you able to observe any shifts—either involving finished products or trending ingredients-flavors? 

Anna Cheely: A lot has changed around the world since January 2020, when we predicted five industry trends for the year. The ongoing pandemic has forced companies and individuals to repeatedly adjust to changing circumstances, and unfortunately, it’s not over yet.

Even so, many of the culinary trends we anticipated in early 2020 pair well with Latin-inspired flavors. For example, we saw a growing desire for authentic global flavors, both at restaurants and in packaged convenience products. Additionally, a resurgence of interest in classic, familiar flavors has increased demand for regional cuisine and more premium formats of old favorites. Specifically, the proliferation of Mexican flavors increased significantly in the U.S., from hot and spicy peppers to fresh, bright citrus notes.

We also foretold a rise in savory snacking and plant-based proteins, with greater consumer interest in clean label products. Hybrid plant- and animal-based protein blends, as well as alternatives for chicken, seafood, sausage and deli meats are being introduced into new markets. 

Consumers want fewer processed products and more “free-from” options, and they expect brands to communicate where their food originated, how it was grown or raised, and whether the product and company are sustainable. These trends all align with the desire for more savory snacks made with global flavors.

PF: Any thoughts or predictions for trending Latin foods and flavors in this coming year, 2021? What factors continue to influence these shifts? 

Cheely: In our recently released 2021 Food Trends report, we anticipated growing interest in Latin American foods and flavors following the 2020 global trend for Mexican flavors. We see that many consumers crave new and adventurous foods and are more open to experimentation in the kitchen. Therefore, we predict flavors such as horchata, tepache, coquito, and salsa macha will become more sought-after around the world.

Currently, many beers, ciders, and non-alcoholic beverages are beginning to feature flavor profiles and ingredients from horchata, tepache and coquito in their recipes. From horchata cold brews, coquito-labeled liquors and tepache-style hard ciders, these products build on an already familiar base profile and allow the customer to venture out of the ordinary with little risk.

Another flavor we expect to see more from is chimichurri sauce, which will likely take off as we get closer to grilling season. Personally, I am very excited for the growth of salsa macha. With all of the excitement for chili crisp and Szechuan chile oils, salsa macha is adjacent to these already popular flavored oils. The dried peppers and ground nuts of salsa macha create a deep, complex flavor and have more versatility than what we typically think of in a Mexican salsa, but the flavors are still familiar enough for much of the population to explore. 

PF: What Kalsec ingredients would best fit some of these emerging new foods / flavor profiles? Can you share an example of perhaps a prototype or two that you’ve created? 

Cheely: Kalsec is well-positioned to build the flavor profile a wide range of Latin-inspired foods and beverages. For example, coquito is very similar to eggnog but uses mostly coconut milk and a few additional spices. We can supply the spice and flavor of coquito in a more convenient-to-manufacture product that is comparable to the gold standard.

We also supply a variety of Mexican peppers that are expeller pressed, which creates clean-label flavors for salsa macha and other roasted pepper flavors. Our peppers include ancho, guajillo, chipotle and more.

PF: As you consider retail packaged products—and what’s available on shelf—what might be one or two ways you’d suggest for adding either a more authentic or cutting-edge “street-style” flavor or product format? 

Cheely: Many of the products and dishes that are expected to become popular in the next year or so use bases or applications that are already familiar to us. So, without many new ingredients to procure, we are merely taking a new approach or combining flavors in new ways.

For example, rather than launching an eggnog milkshake, cold brew coffee, or bottled mixed drink from scratch, manufacturers can simply swap a few ingredients to create coquito-flavored products. Similarly, salsa macha, chimichurri and other Latin American sauces and salsas can be introduced into new markets as “mash-up” or hybrid condiments.

For example, a QSR could use salsa macha-inspired salsa or chimichurri sauce for limited-release products, like a Latin American-style burger—made with beef, turkey, bean, buffalo, chicken, walnut, or any other protein. With only a few novel ingredients or substitutions, an already successful product becomes unique, elevated and more global.

PF: Consumers and our manufacturer readers are more aware of supply chain, sustainability, transparency and other issues. Anything you can tell us about Kalsec in this regard?  

Cheely: Consumers increasingly demand more from companies than products – they want business to be a force for good. We see this expectation for transparency, sustainability and higher purpose expanding beyond premium options to mainstream offerings. Additionally, with global economies down and many consumers forced to stay and eat local, we anticipate an increase in support for local businesses and local supply chains. 

Kalsec recently had the honor of earning B Corporation certification. The B Corp audit measured and graded us on multiple categories including our mission, employee benefits, customer commitment, community ties and environmental practices. This third-party validation ensures that our customers have a business partner that is committed to ethical and sustainable decisions. From our supply chain to our support for the communities where our ingredients are sourced, we are responsible global citizens.

PF: Anything left to discuss about trends?

Cheely: As noted in our 2020 trends, consumers are now connecting with brands on a deeper level. People are looking for the story behind the foods they eat—from new twists on traditional flavors to an awareness of the cooking techniques that add depth and complexity. A few popular examples include roasted jalapeno chips, hard cider made with tepache-inspired pineapple and cinnamon, and kombucha positioned as a functional fermented beverage.

Another trend from 2020 that’s going strong is innovation within prepared and takeout foods. We expect to see this continue in the form of premiumization, such as specialty to-go cocktails and meal kits from your favorite restaurants to make at home. As professional chefs experiment with global flavors and techniques, more consumers will be exposed to new ingredients and applications. We also foresee these exciting flavors crossing over into convenience snacks and beverages.