Special Report: Bowls & Asian Flavors Trending in the Foodsector

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09 May 2017 --- From grabbing a quick snack to sitting down for a multicourse meal, the options for dining out are seemingly endless. FoodIngredientsFirst looks at some standout dining-out trends from the past months, including bowls, fusion flavors and plant-based offerings.

Bowls
On trend for some months now are the very “Instagrammable” bowls. Although bowls have been the crockery item of choice in many countries for centuries, these dishes have become particularly popular in the US and Europe for serving on-trend meals such as ramen and poke – a traditional Hawaiian raw fish dish served with rice. Versatility is an important driver behind the elevation of the humble bowl to the status of culinary darling. 

“The bowl is king, for different meal types, in restaurants of all kinds; not just in the fast-casual space, but also at restaurants that are more about take-out or sit down,” says Kara Nielsen, Sales & Engagement Manager at Innova Market Insights. “These bowls can have as a base greens, or lettuce, or grains, such as quinoa or different kinds of rice. Very often we see rice in combination with some kind of pulse that offers a source of protein. And then you can put whatever you want on it.” Click to Enlarge

Popular restaurant and on-the-go dishes served in a bowl include savory options such as Vietnamese Pho, Japanese ramen, Hawaiian Poke, as well as sweet options such as overnight oats and fruit bowls with chia seeds and other toppings. These dishes are not just gaining popularity because of their convenient format, but also because they are easily adjusted to different, healthful diets. 

A savory bowl can contain different combinations of rice, grains or noodles, broth, vegetables, protein and garnish. “With these components the options are limitless,” Executive Chef Charlie Baggs says. “Some common noodles that are on trend are ramen, vermicelli, soba, glass and rice noodles. The broth can be vegetarian, with miso or vegetables, or there is the carnivore option of beef, lamb, chicken, duck, shellfish, venison or seafood (bonito, shaved fish flakes). The variety of vegetables is limitless, too.” 

Since meat features mainly as a garnish instead of as the main component, the bowl format allows for a reduction in animal protein, making it particularly appealing to consumers looking for nutritious and tasty meals that are still in line with their values regarding sustainability and animal welfare. 

Global Inspiration, Fused for Appeal
“When it comes to taste profiles, consumers really do have an appetite for authenticity,” says Sascha Thaens, Director Sales Management & Strategy, RAPS GmbH & Co. KG. “Asia, America, Africa – globalization in every area of life has made today’s consumers connoisseurs and experts in all kinds of international cuisines. Because they themselves travel the world, it’s not really surprising that demand for authentic products and special ingredients from other culinary cultures has become a recognizable trend.” 

Popular Asian ingredients pushing innovation within the restaurant sector include chilies, sake and fermented products, such as kimchi and fish sauce. 

“Today you will see kimchi made with a selection of vegetables such as radishes, Napa cabbage, carrots, celery, bok choy, chayote and various types of cabbage. The amount of fermentation can be controlled to customize the level of intensity in the effort to deliver a product that will be acceptable to the general mass population,” Baggs notes. 

According to Gary Augustine Executive Director at Kalsec, pockets of South East Asia are influencing some pretty popular, flavor profiles. 

“Fermented flavor profiles are certainly rising in popularity,” he explains. “And Gochujang is a good example of that, it is an Asian fermented product which is spicy but it’s not like kimchi. These South East Asian notes are one to watch.” Click to Enlarge

Taking flavor inspiration from different cultures is nothing new. In most cultures, eating is an inherently social occasion and many people enjoy trying foreign cuisines and ingredients for their cultural and historical aspects. Although Italian, Asian and Latin American cuisines have consistently been popular savory flavor trends, what is interesting now is that various (micro) regions of each of these cuisines are also gaining interest and are more commonly marketed in foodservice and retail. 

Moreover, there is an ongoing trend in the savory sector toward fusing different cuisines or remixing and combining of disparate cuisines, techniques and ingredients. New and interesting fusion cuisines include “East Meets East,” e.g. combining Korean and Polish cuisines, and “East Meets West,” e.g. fusing Italian and Chinese cuisines, according to Simone Ehbrecht, Director Marketing Category Culinary EAME, Symrise Flavors Division.

Plant-Based Potential
Consumers have not just wizened up in terms of flavor authenticity, but also in terms of the sourcing of products, with sustainability remaining an important topic. 

Although many restaurant chains have already added plant-based options to their menus, Nielsen notes that the main challenge for food suppliers is getting more consumers on board by creating alternatives with more “crave able” flavors and presenting these in interesting packaging, while at the same time ensuring that the product does not feel niche. This would allow for a larger audience to (feel compelled to) consider plant-based alternatives.Click to Enlarge

Nielsen mentions that there is a lot of innovation coming from the CPG side, with an increasing number of food producers using new technologies to create alternatives to, for example, animal proteins, which could create interesting options for the foodservice sector. An example is Impossible Foods, a company that has created an entirely plant-based burger, the Impossible Burger, which mimics the texture of a conventional burger and “bleeds” like real meat. 

Despite the increasing number of plant-based options (think soy, pea or wheat proteins) there is still a lot of room for improvement. Current plant-based options still tend to be unsuitable for certain groups (those with an allergy to soy, for example) and food manufacturers have yet to come up with a plant-based meat alternative suitable for every consumer. 

Additionally, Nielsen adds, there is a large part of the population that has yet to try plant-based alternatives, so this is perhaps a good opportunity for ingredient suppliers to partner up and organize more taste tests and target different kinds of audiences.

Stars of the Show
Restaurants catering to a very specific audience or offering a specific food item are nothing new -- just think of the many restaurant chains focused on offering tacos, pizzas or burgers. However, there are a number of new restaurants in the US and Europe that stand out for their focus on just one ingredient or dish. An example would be the avocado; following the hype surrounding avocado toast and other avocado based recipes on social media such as Instagram and Pinterest, a number of avocado-based restaurants has popped in both the US and Europe, including The Avocado Show, which opened up in Amsterdam in March, the Avo-Brunch Pop-Up restaurant in London and Avocaderia in Brooklyn, New York.

“Today’s healthful ingredients like quinoa, avocados, nut milks, fruits and vegetables can be the stars here but more indulgent foods can also be featured, like macaroni and cheese. Food lovers today also have more respect for many specialty producers. Think about the respect for excellent ramen. In Japan, most restaurants are specialty focused, and now we have more places like that for items such as noodles, Vietnamese sandwiches and tacos,” Nielsen finalizes. 

by Lucy Gunn

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