No matter what your cultural background is or where your culinary tastes lie, you’ve probably eaten Italian, Mexican and Chinese cuisine. So you’ve met the original ethnic flavours, the first flavours to tempt consumers away from more familiar dishes. Today, consumers’ taste buds are being tempted again.
In the past five years or so newer ethnic flavours, such as Thai, South Asian and other regional dishes, have increasingly become the choice of consumers looking for something different. They might not have been so well represented five years ago – perhaps a curry sauce or two and maybe a chutney were found on grocery store shelves – but today all that has changed. Curries, for instance, are huge, says Bill Ruderman, president of National Starch ULC in Brampton, Ont. “You’ll see 20 different types of curry on the store shelves now. Five years ago you wouldn’t have seen that.” Hamid Aliee, technical service specialist at National Starch, adds that today consumers are likely to find a curry sauce for each different dish, and he says, it’s the “same thing with Thai dishes, you’ll see each specific sauce.”
Clearly consumers have developed more sophisticated and open-minded palates, and have welcomed a multitude of ethnic products on store shelves and an unlimited number of flavours, spices and combinations – not just from each country, but even different regions. There are myriad reasons for this change, from immigrants bringing new flavours with them, to the slew of food shows on television, international travel and media coverage. Consumers who try something new while on holiday or at a restaurant are now searching for those flavours in their local supermarket. And so far there’s no end to consumers’ hunger for new taste experiences that add complexity to their everyday dishes or that whisk them away to faraway places. As a result, exotic ethnic products are becoming the norm in most Canadian kitchens.
There are a few ethnic trends that have taken hold recently. One is the growth of South Asian flavours, which are now even crossing over into other cultures. For instance, a Toronto-based Italian pasta manufacturer was asked just this past spring by at least six different companies to incorporate South Asian flavours in her pasta. “Everybody wanted an Indian-flavoured pasta,” says Elena Quistini, president of Pasta Quistini. The company was also approached this year to make Mexican salsas, and Asian and Thai sauces, which she’ll be launching in Canada and the U.S.