Special Report: Middle Eastern Trends - Meat and Authentic Spices Still on the Menu

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10 Jul 2017 --- Fresh, wholesome, healthy, rich, aromatic - it's no wonder that the past decade has seen Middle Eastern cuisines global profile skyrocketing. With today's consumers being more adventurous than ever, there are certain pockets of the world that have sparked interest particularly when it comes to food and flavors. Are the flavors and eating habits of the Middle East consumers changing and how is this influencing the rest of the world? FoodIngredientsFirst investigates. 

The Middle East is well known for kebabs, koftas, tabbouleh and fatoush, however, there are certain spice blends that are only associated with Middle Eastern cuisines. Spices and herbs are the star of the show when it comes to the Middle East regions. Zatar (Za'atar) is a generic name for a group of herbs including oregano, basil thyme, thyme, and satureja, a savory spice mix which is very traditional and people use it throughout every meal of the day. Baharat is another spice mix and cinnamon is also very widely used, as it is in Western Europe, but for the Middle East it is a staple spice. Floral flavor tones are also widely used such as coriander and rose water. 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Patrick Schmidt, Marketing Director of Taste Europe and Middle East at Frutarom notes Click to Enlargethat the spice heat from much of Middle Eastern cuisines are subtly influenced by Asia and regions of Africa. “Middle Eastern flavor are very area specific,” he notes. “When you talk about authenticity, spice heat is one major part that we can say is integral for this area of the world. Spice and heat is quite specific and many locals eat spicy foods at any time of the day. Harrissa is a good example of this spicy heat and authenticity.” 

“The Middle East is well known for spices and herbs, not only is this part of the culture, it represents the prosperity of the region – much if this originates from India,” he adds. 

Karim Hany Marketing & Business Development Manager Flavors, Middle East & North Africa at IFF notes that the Gulf area is influenced by Asian cuisines incorporates a lot spicy ingredients in their meals such as black pepper, red chili and ginger. “These are typical traditional ingredients with historic influences coming mainly from the fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cultures,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst

The level of complexity is usually high in Middle Eastern meals, with lots of herb and spice combinations inspired by the convergence of Eastern and Western influences to shape the food landscape. According to Schmidt: “It’s quite authentic and traditional when it comes to food and drink in the Middle East. In terms of globalization, regions are influencing other regions, however, I think the heart of authenticity is specific and has not changed so much over the past few years in this region.”

Frans Struiwig, General Manager for Taste at Frutarom, always emphasizes strongly on the passion the company have for taste and health and this can be combined with the topic of premium. “Frutarom provide a broad portfolio of spices, spice blends, flavors and other ingredients that fit to this trend also in this region,” he says. 

Flavor and fragrance specialists Frutarom and IFF both noted a trend towards natural ingredients. As consumers are becoming savvier and taking an interest in the ingredient list on food packaging, they are demanding changes to those ingredients, such as the inclusion of natural flavors as opposed to artificial,” explains Hany, IFF. 

Click to EnlargeThere is a clear trend towards healthier and balanced diets which are coming into the countries, claims Schmidt. “I would say that the provenance is a trend, but also naturalness and the need for natural flavors, is certainly a big trend.”

There is a strong direction to reduce or remove ingredients considered as bad for you, and a lot is being done to curb the high sugar levels in drinks and to reduce salt and remove MSG in savory food across the Middle East. 

According to Schmidt, Frutarom, sugar and sodium reduction are becoming more and more of a priority. “People are becoming aware of how they eat and what they eat. They are also becoming aware of the fact that obesity leads to sooner death,” he says. “A sugar tax is being implemented in the region, so the market and producers also need to react to that. Reduced sugar beverages are becoming more popular and adding functional ingredients such as vitamins and minerals becomes more interesting,” he adds.

Hany, IFF also believes that health awareness is rising fast: “Millennials and younger generations are pushing for healthier diets and raising awareness to the effect of lifestyle as a precursor for different health issues such as diabetes and obesity,” he states. 

Having mentioned the raising awareness of health – sweet baked goods and desserts are very much a staple and integral part of Middle Eastern diets. “Sweets and bakery are also typically sweeter in the Middle East than in other part of the world,” claims Hany.

For Schmidt at Frutarom, premium and premiumization is also a big trend. “Indulgence and experiencing new flavors is something we are seeing a lot of at the moment. Using substitutes for sugar such as stevia can be useful, especially in beverages as typically consumers opt for high sugar and juice content for drinks. In sweet goods, indulgence and rich tasting products are driven by the taste preferences of the consumers.”

The use of nuts is also quite prominent in this cuisine, such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts, which are equally used in savory and sweet preparations. Dates and provenance fruits are also widely used in the region. 

Middle East VS the Rest of the World Click to Enlarge
Flexitarians consumers and meat free innovation has swept across the US and Europe in the past few years but the Middle East are continuing their much more traditional approach when it comes to meat consumption and aren’t following suit to the rest of the world. 

“Meat is a key component in Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s a constant ingredient in the main meals; typically lamb or chicken,” explains Hany, IFF. “Typical Western trends such as “Meat-Free Mondays” are not common around the Middle East consumers.

Schmidt, Frutarom also agrees with this notion. He says: “It does depend on which state but generally flexitarian trends have not hit the Middle Eastern markets. The Middle East as a region quite heavily uses meat. A standard main meal is usually full of meat, I would say that we haven’t seen less meat on menus, it’s still the same if not even more.”

“Meat clearly is a big part of the tradition and culture,” he adds.

One key theme of Middle Eastern trends is eating together. In the Western world there are new snacking concepts, convenience trends and on-the-go foods – designed to fit with that particular lifestyle. 

Schmidt, Frutarom notes that mainly families focus on traditional mealtimes, where they sit together casually or at home. “On the go foods are a topic but not as significant in the Middle East as other food trends,” he says. 

For Hany, IFF, snacks are popular around the Middle East especially among younger more dynamic generations facing the fast-paced everyday life. However, he says eating together is what the Middle East is about: “The sense of sharing a typical Middle Eastern meal is the key ingredient,” he finalizes. 

by Elizabeth Green

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