1. Arabian bites
Forget Italy, Spain and Greece. The real growth area is the Middle Eastern part of the Mediterranean, according to Mintel, with around two-thirds of Americans expressing interest in the cuisine.
Since the end of 2015, there’s been a 32% increase in Middle Eastern items on US menus. In conjunction with this, dates, pistachios and mint have risen as ingredients by 19%, 15% and 48% respectively.
This is being reflected in the UK. Food Spark’s sister brand, MCA, recently reported that the branded Middle Eastern market in the UK is set to grow by 9% this year to reach £143m in value.
Turkish brand Simit Sarayi is hoping to substantially increase its presence in London from 11 sites to 107 in the near future. Meanwhile, Paramount Lebanese Kitchen has just opened in the British capital, launching three sites simultaneously, setting itself against Middle Eastern leader Comptoir Libanais, which currently makes up a quarter of the sector and has locations across the country.
Then there’s the growth in restaurants featuring Israeli eats, which derive many influences from Arab neighbours along the Mediterranean coast.
2. Sour with the sweet
Some more vinegar with your pie? That’s the prediction on the dessert front, with Mintel noting the desire for less sweet options to end a meal.
“Chefs are increasingly creating house-made vinegars from fruit and vegetable scraps, turning food waste into tart, flavourful elixirs they add to salads, mains, and even desserts,” according to Mintel. While Food Spark has previously noted the vogue for vinegar, it’s surprising to see it being used to complement fruit pies, with some of the most popular vinegars being lemon and passion fruit.
Olive oil as a dessert flavouring is also on the rise in the US, with a 16% increase since 2015.
Sticking with the diminished appeal of sweetness – no doubt in part to the demonisation of sugar – vegetable desserts have been identified as having global potential for growth [link], while ice creams in Britain have been getting some unusual Asian infusions.
3. Gaudy goodness
Ube, black garlic, algae [links galore] – all are spotlighted as examples of the desire for ingredients that both add bright colours to food, while at the same time boosting health. In fact, 51% of US consumers would step out of their comfort zone to try a new foodstuff if it had a functional benefit.
We’ve talked about Asian flavourings pandan and moringa before as fitting this bill, but tangy, lemony Middle Eastern spice sumac has shown particular growth over the pond, with a rise of 34% in less than three years.
4. Getting spicy
“Spice blends in particular are an area of opportunity for brands as they can take some of the guesswork out of cooking,” said Caleb Bryant, a senior foodservice analyst at Mintel. Almost a third of consumers in America are interested in seeing more African seasonings in retail foods, but Asia also provides plenty of inspiration – including ingredient of the moment shio koji, a mix of salt, water and rice koji used in Japan and the key ingredient in such things as soy sauce, miso and rice vinegar.
Some of the blends being used around the States include berbere, an Ethiopian mix that features ginger, basil, chilli peppers, garlic and fenugreek, and Moroccan ras el hanout, with typical components like cardamom, cumin and ginger – as well as a host of others.
While Middle Eastern harissa is becoming commonplace in the UK – you can even find it in chocolate – Japanese togarashi is still limited to a handful of spots. Over in the States, however, the spice blend has grown by 9% as an ingredient since 2015.
5. Some saucy numbers
49% of Americans want to see more Indian sauces and condiments, 33% want the same for Middle Eastern, while 25% are ready to leap on African flavours.
As Mintel notes, sauces and condiments are low risk points of entry to cuisines because consumers can dip into them without having to stake a whole meal on the taste. They also tend to be shared and thereby form a topic of conversation with fellow diners.
Three to try: Indian achaar (pickled veg with spices and oil); Lebanese toum (lemony garlic dip); and muhammara (hot pepper dip).
6. Don’t have a cow, man
Have we mentioned that cutting back on meat is one of the top rising trends? A million times, you say? Well then, we’ll keep this short.
Consumers may want to increase their veggie intake, but that doesn’t mean they won’t miss a succulent steak or barbecued pork. To combat that, restaurants Stateside are employing curing, grilling and smoking when cooking greens.
That can be extended to the spices that typically season meats – just use them on plant-based alternatives instead. Simple.