When it comes to Latin American flavors in U.S. dining, culinary styles from all over Mexico dominate the category, with flavors from the rest of Central America, South America and the Caribbean gaining share Steps. Latin America is huge. Comprised of 33 countries and home to approximately 659 million people, Latin American cuisine is wonderfully diverse. This varies greatly by country (and native ingredients) as well as specific regions within each country. While food in Central America tends to be bland and staples like ripe plantains are served at every meal, Caribbean cuisine gets its bold flavor from ingredients like garlic, ginger, cinnamon and all the spices instead of peppers. Mexican cuisine is what people are most familiar with in our country, but it’s really just one slice of the big Latin American pie.
Hispanic Heritage Month, which ran from September 15 to October 15, is a great opportunity to bring customers to experience and appreciate the breadth of Latin and Latin-influenced cuisine. The reality is that American consumers, including approximately 19% of the American population who identify as Hispanic or Latino, are increasingly enjoying the more adventurous flavors of these regions throughout the year. One of the main drivers of the rise in popularity of Latin flavors in the United States is the category’s inherent and unique ability to integrate well with a wide range of ingredients and cooking methods from other cuisines. world. It inspires restaurant chefs, especially in the fast-food space, to innovate menus with recipes that create combinations and mashups that infuse Latin American flavors with ingredients and dishes from all over the world. international cuisines, including Asian and Middle Eastern.
Think of the taco, a simple menu item with roots as a street food from Mexico. For Operators, the taco is a near-perfect vehicle for a Latin-flavored mashup. Popular versions in the restaurant industry include Korean, Filipino, and Middle Eastern variants. In fact, the beloved style of “al pastor” tacos originated in the 1930s in Puebla, Mexico by Lebanese immigrants to the area. Even France, the birthplace of haute cuisine, offers a version of the taco, usually found in snack bars and fast food restaurants, the French taco uses halal meat with various fillings, usually fries, cheese sauce, vegetables, and often includes eggs, bacon and ham, all wrapped in a flour tortilla and grilled, panini style.
While the kudos and media attention around menu innovation and non-traditional recipes are nice, quick service restaurants are for-profit organizations, and menu innovation must help drive growth, with long-term economic benefits for the restaurant organization and brand. Menu creativity should be subject to constant analysis of menu margins in order to identify the most dynamic elements that generate high profits – and toss and winnow the elements that do not weigh their weight. Infusing Latin flavors can be an effective way to improve menus in a time when costs continue to be a concern and diners are looking for new options.
A basic ingredient of many Latin recipes is pepper. Technically a berry fruit, the deliciously flavorful pepper offers flavor exploration and versatility. Because of this versatility, it’s no surprise that all peppers have seen double-digit growth in menu penetration over the past few years and are becoming easier to use. For example, instead of using back-of-the-house staff to hull, seed, grill, soak and puree dried peppers, they can be delivered as a paste, addressing labor challenges. work and staff, without losing any of their vibrant flavor. Take Guajillo from Mexico, a highly accessible pepper widely used in foodservice for marinades, salsas, batters, butters, with the dried and powdered powder used as a spice to flavor proteins, fats and oils with other ingredients. An example of a potent combination of Latin and global cuisine flavors is pork and pineapple, a popular protein-based sweet and savory pairing with roots in Hawaiian cuisine, served with guajillo chili sauce. The ancho pepper (the dried version of the poblano pepper known for its mild to medium heat) is extremely popular as a marinade for various chicken recipes as well as a main ingredient in many salsas and hot sauces, and Ancho peppers are also used to enhance chocolate-based desserts like cakes and brownies.
Beyond peppers is the growing popularity of menu items that include another fruit, avocado. The average American now eats nearly 8 pounds of avocado a year, and although the Mexican state of Michoacán is the avocado capital of the world, avocados have established themselves as a staple ingredient in the kitchen landscape. Asian, including Korean-style guacamole, as a dessert ingredient in Filipino recipes, and of course, a staple on any menu that includes sushi, for example, the ubiquitous California Roll. Most fast-food restaurants with menus rich in sandwiches and burgers offer avocado as a topping, and with breakfast burritos featuring more and more avocados and avocado toast taking particular the coat as the breakfast of choice for Millennials and Gen Z, avocado really pulls its weight as a menu item that can be spread across all slices of the day as well as demographics. age.
Good quality, great tasting foods are table stakes and when it comes to Latin flavors, it’s all about incorporating flavors that are bold, adventurous, new and more because in today’s environment, operators depend on easy-to-use products they can use to consistently execute great food and service, no matter what the staffing and labor challenges on any given day.
Ryan Michaelis is president of MegaMex Foods. MegaMex Foods, a joint venture between Hormel Foods and Herdez del Fuerte, is a leading full-line supplier of Mexican foods in the retail, foodservice and convenience store channels with brands such as HERDEZ, WHOLLY products avocado and guacamole solutions, TRES COCINAS Authentic Pepper Pasta, LA VICTORIA salsas and sauces, EMBASA brand and DON MIGUEL brand products. Michaelis began his career with Hormel Foods in 1997 as a meat products sales representative in Denver, Colorado. He assumed his current role in 2018.