Foreign flavours find a home on Canadian menus
Canadians are enamoured with bold flavours from abroad. Operators can incorporate exciting new tastes on restaurant menus to add value to the customer experience.
Each year, Canada’s food scene becomes more influenced by ethnic flavours and ingredients. With increased competition in the fight for food dollars, menu innovation is critical.
“What we’re seeing as a trend here at McCormick is that consumers are looking for bolder and more exciting global flavours,” said Juriaan Snellen, executive corporate chef for McCormick Canada.
As consumers are being exposed to ethnic-inspired cuisine through travel and food television, Snellen explained the Canadian palate is becoming more adventurous.
Developed over the course of 12 to 14 months, the Flavour Forecast is intended to inspire both home cooks and chefs.
“They can take elements as they see fit into their own menus by adding LTOs (limited time offers), where they can essentially try one of those new flavours and see if it sticks with their core customers,” Snellen suggested.
For 2017, there is a strong focus on Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, but Snellen noted McCormick isn’t necessarily identifying Mediterranean or Middle Eastern as a trend in itself.
“What we’re referring to is modern Mediterranean, modern Middle Eastern, which is essentially a melding of two different cuisines — the classic European infused with Eastern Mediterranean flavours,” he said. For example, baharat seasoning can be used in familiar dishes.
Through its forecast, McCormick highlights specific flavours and dishes as inspiration. With global breakfast bowls, skhug hot sauce is incorporated to create a meal with ground meat, chickpeas and roasted veggies.
Plancha cooking — using a cast iron slab on a barbecue — is inspired by methods from Spain and the Basque region of France. An accompanying flavour includes espelette pepper, which is smoky, sweet and mildly hot, as well as bold sauces: mojo verde, adobo negro and romesco.
“[With plancha] you’re going to get the best of both worlds. You have a lot more surface area versus a traditional barbecue, this allows you to really sear and lock in the flavours, but it also gives you the benefit of a traditional barbecue,” Snellen said.
Eggs are moving beyond breakfast with Mediterranean vegetable shakshuka, sunny-side-up egg yolks simmered in a tomato and vegetable sauce, infused with a spice blend of smoked paprika, cumin, pepper, cayenne, turmeric and caraway.
“Eggs are no longer just served in a traditional way, but they’re actually deconstructing the egg and using the egg yolk, for example, curing it and using that as a garnish,” Snellen said.
For the last couple years, McCormick’s forecast has focused on heat, specifically chilies.
“For 2017, there is going to be a refocus on the peppercorn and it’s going to be used in a bit more of an unconventional way,” said Snellen.
“We are going to see a lot of pepper being incorporated into sweet desserts, pastries, smoothies, just to kind of give that little pepper burn and heat in the back and add a bit of a savoury element to a normally sweet or dessert pastry.”
He said the trend is twofold, as it includes the use of natural sweeteners, such as exotic fruits or ube, a purple yam often used in Filipino cuisine.
“Pepper adds a surprising element to any kind of dish or drink and that is what consumers are looking for nowadays; more excitement, more layers of flavour,” Snellen said.
Evolution of ethnic
SIAL Canada expert and consultant B.K. Sethi has witnessed the evolution of the ethnic food business.
He started a food distribution business in 1982 selling products from countries such as China, Mexico, Jamaica, India and Pakistan, to mainstream grocers and foodservice businesses.
He saw opportunity in the growing market as people immigrated to Canada. He uses the term ethnic to refer to visible minorities, those people who hail from countries outside of Europe.
“They were really visible; they were not coming from the same culture. It was a little bit difficult and awkward for them to feel comfortable immediately,” Sethi explained.
He convinced major grocers to stock items familiar to ethnic populations in Canada in an effort to bring the growing cohort in the door.
About 20 per cent of Canada’s population was born in another country, the highest proportion among the G8, according to Statistics Canada. The ethnic population in Canada is projected to reach more than 30 per cent by 2030.
“This is a growing segment of your consumer and you cannot ignore it,” said Sethi, noting the second generation should be taken into account as well.
In addition to flavours being introduced to Canadian menus by way of newcomers, Sethi noted people are travelling overseas more often.
“When they travel, they bring back the taste, they bring back the culture,” he said.
“Canadians by nature are now demanding more variety in their food and their palates are changing — they are more accepting of hot food,” Sethi said, noting the proliferation of hot sauce in North America.
Hot sauce is one of the fastest growing segments in food and foodservice with sales growing 150 per cent between 2000 and 2014, according to a growth in condiments report from Quartz.
Sethi said the millennial population is especially demanding more variety and flavour experiences from restaurants, and about 40 per cent of this age group is multicultural.
“Non-ethnic are trending toward ethnic, ethnic are trending toward mixing with the mainstream,” Sethi said.
Opportunity for operators
Sethi sees an opportunity for foodservice operators to incorporate ethnic ingredients on menus. He particularly sees opportunity in the pizza category, where he feels there are better ways to steal share than discounting.
“Add some poblanos, add some Sriracha,” he suggests.
Sriracha — which McCain North America culinary director Brooke Brantley calls “a 20-year, overnight success” — has enjoyed mainstream popularity for years.
“Whether it’s consumers or restaurant operators — everyone wants to know what’s the new Sriracha going to be?” said Brantley.
While he doesn’t have a crystal ball, Brantley has a few ideas. Perhaps it will be one of the staples in his kitchen, gochujang, a Korean table condiment made from chili peppers, glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice), fermented soybeans and salt.
“I like sweet things, so it’s kind of like a ketchup with a kick and some texture to it,” said Brantley. “There are a lot of people who say this is going to be the next Sriracha replacement, because it’s got some of the same notes. It’s got kind of a well-rounded flavour, it can be a condiment or it can be an ingredient.”
Offering a dipping sauce with a new flavour is less intimidating to guests than an unfamiliar entrée.
“It’s adventurous, but it’s kind of cautious adventure. I’m putting one toe in the water and if I like it, I’ll put my whole foot in,” Brantley said.
Graham Hayes, director of culinary for McCormack Bourrie Sales & Marketing/French’s Food Company, corporate chef Canada, said Canadians are receptive to the appropriate use of bold flavours. He said the key to introducing new bold flavours to guests requires finding the right platform, one guests will accept.
“If I wanted to try a bold, unique flavour in my [Jack Astor’s] days, I’d put it on a burger. People will try new things as long as it’s on a platform they understand,” Hayes said, noting this logic applies to restaurants on the chain level. “When I’m creating dishes, I’m trying to create layers of flavour and some of it’s bold, some of it’s crunch.”
Hayes noted that while LTOs are a prime way to play with new flavours, it’s important to maintain focus on the restaurant’s core menu.
“People will try the LTOs, but the kitchen won’t execute their normal food right because they’re focused on these LTOs,” he explained.
Hayes suggests limiting the number of items depending on frequency. If it’s once every three months, focus on three items, for example.
Brantley said it is important to recognize what sets a restaurant apart from its competition when determining how to bring in new flavours.
“How do you bring in those influences and blend it with what you have staked your claim against? It’s finding what you have equity in and bringing those flavours in,” he said.
Brantley suggests sampling new creations to regular customers.
“People feel like they are on the inside of the tent, they’re getting a peak under the tent and they’re helping with menu R&D,” he said.
The spectrum of bold
Traditionally, when new or trendy ingredients made their way through the foodservice chain, there would be an acceptance curve, explained Brantley, starting in fine dining in the form of identification. He said the proliferation of pop-ups and food trucks have interrupted the traditional path of acceptance.
“We’re getting those global flavours right out to the person on the street,” he said. “It’s not this trickle down from fine dining anymore, it’s now also coming from upscale supermarkets, they’re bring those flavours in and making them very accessible to consumers.”
When Brantley worked in New England in the mid-‘90s, the chipotle pepper was the hot ingredient. Rather than getting hung up on authenticity, chefs in the area realized customers weren’t ready for the naming convention.
“New England cuisine wasn’t ready for chipotle, so we used to call it spicy red pepper sauce,” he said. “Give it to them in a way they understand, educate them on where it comes from and let them see if they like it or not.”
For Hayes, bold flavours needn’t be spicy or exotic.
“People often confuse bold with spice,” he said. “Bold is totally in the eye of the beholder. For some people, bold can be ketchup.”
He views bold flavours in categories: aromatic, such as lemongrass or ginger; earthy, for example rosemary and truffle; and spicy.
When it comes to flavours from around the world, Hayes is keeping his eye on Peruvian, Malaysian and Filipino cuisine.
“I really like that Pacific Rim area, anything around Malaysia, Hawaii,” he said. “They take a combination of sort of everything — they use smoke, they use Asian flavours, they use marinades to create all these bold flavours.”
Hayes noted today’s parents have grown up trying new things.
“They’re letting their kids try even more than their parents let them try,” he said.
“I think the younger generation are the ones who really embrace this globalization of food, globalization of bold flavour.”
A legend of bold flavours
Baharat seasoning: fragrant Middle Eastern spice blend, which typically contains black pepper, cumin, cardamom, cloves, coriander, nutmeg and paprika. Each region puts its unique stamp on the seasoning.
Skhug sauce: also spelled schug or zhug, contains cumin, cardamom, coriander, Thai bird chilies, garlic, parsley, cilantro, olive oil and lemon juice.
Mojo verde: Spanish green sauce with cumin, cilantro, parsley and green chilies.
Adobo negro: hybrid Mexican sauce that borrows from spicy adobo and complexly flavoured mole negro sauces, made with stout beer, black sesame and chili pepper.
Romesco: mildly spicy, nutty Spanish sauce made with roasted red pepper, smoked paprika and almonds.
Gochujang: a Korean table condiment made from chili peppers, glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice), fermented soybeans and salt.