The culinary landscape is rife with all manner of food and beverage trends centered on everything from ingredients that promote a healthier lifestyle to the authentic flavors of palate-pleasing ethnic cuisines from lands far outside U.S. borders. However, the trend toward multicultural wellness ingredients manages to marry two leading industry developments into one megatrend that speaks to both American consumers’ escalating demands for healthier eating and our increasing international palates. Savvy restaurant operators and food manufacturers should use these multicultural wellness ingredients as demographic equalizers, offering culinary innovation and a strong shot of nutrition for everyone, advises food research experts at Packaged Facts in the all-new report, Multicultural Wellness Ingredients: Culinary Trend Tracking Series.
The report profiles five such multicultural wellness ingredients that are gaining traction on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves—either foreign fare being introduced to a widening range of American consumers, or as more integrated ingredients being reintroduced in tempting new dishes and guises.
“It’s not hard to make the case for multicultural wellness ingredients as compelling starting points for culinary innovation. In the first place, most American consumers are trying, however waywardly and with however much backsliding, to eat more healthily,” says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.
The five multicultural wellness ingredients profiled are:
- Teff stretches out. Familiar to some Americans through injera, the spongy Ethiopian flat bread, teff is the smallest grain in the world, but carries a hefty dose of nutrients. Teff also is high in fiber, low in fat and sodium, and ideal for wheat- and gluten-avoiding consumers. Upscale gluten-free bakeries use teff to create breads and pastries with an artisanal flair, and this diminutive grain has started popping up in grocery aisles in the form of cereal bars and chips, joining the “ancient grains” wave of novel but nutritious ingredients.
- Avocado in desserts and drinks. While avocados are most often associated in the U.S. with savory foods such as guacamole or sandwiches, in many other cultures, from Brazil to Sri Lanka, the avocado is treated as the fruit it actually is, most often incorporated into desserts and sweet drinks. The nutritional benefits of avocados are substantial, and avocado’s mild flavor and creamy texture of make it a remarkably adaptable culinary ingredient. Bringing avocado into desserts and drinks is therefore a prime opportunity to combine tradition, innovation, nutrition and good taste.
- The matcha difference. Painstakingly cultivated in Japan’s Shimoyama region, matcha is identified by its vibrant color and a rich grassy flavor, and is at the heart of the Japanese tea ceremony, a tradition dating back nearly a millennium. While green tea generally is regarded as a superfood, matcha is a special case because of the extra dose of antioxidants generated by its distinctive growing method, which are then retained because the tea leaves are pulverized and blended into water rather than being steeped. Bringing tradition, special nutrition and brilliant color under the umbrella beverage craftsmanship, matcha is the new un-soda.
- Pepitas power. Pumpkin seeds, particularly their hulled kernels, are gaining in culinary presence. Pumpkin seeds are especially associated with Mexico, and pepitas is the Spanish term. Several drivers account for pepitas power. One is nutrition: pepitas are high in various minerals and moderately high in protein and fiber. Another is their authentic Mexican food appeal and invitation to taste adventure. Finally, pepitas are versatile in that they can be used whole, ground up into foods, or as a garnish—and as garnishes, their green hues give them a visual leg up over most of their nut and seed rivals.
- Lentils as souped-up nutrition. The tiny seed known as a lentil was possibly the world’s first cultivated crop. Lentils now span dozens of cultures; this versatile food crop features in Indian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, European, and South American traditional recipes. As a pulse crop, lentils contribute to soil conditioning by fixing nitrogen into the soil, thereby mitigating the need for chemical fertilizers and providing an environmental benefit to boot. Associated in the U.S. with the health food movement of the 1960s and 70s, lentils are most commonly used in soup or paired with rice. However, commercial kitchens are now exploring the use of lentils—in whole, dissolved, and flour form—in salads, veggie-based burgers, sauces and gravies, breads and pasta, chips and other savory snacks, and even sweet baked goods and desserts.