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Flavor Outlook: Melting Pot Predictions

Posted: January 10, 2007

Hispanic flavors in the United States have been evolving and diversifying for years—what other immigrant influences are shaping the American palette?

While India has 1 billion-plus people, Indian immigrants in the United States make up less than 1% of the population. Yet Indian cuisine has penetrated deep into the American flavor palette. “South Asians—people coming from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh—[have arrived in the United States in] small numbers, but have been influential in introducing a lot of foods,” says Anton Angelich, Virginia Dare marketing vice president. “Often immigrants can succeed by being entrepreneurs and opening up small business and restaurants and takeout places.” In this way, cuisines migrate from one population to the larger one.

“Certainly,” continues Angelich, “if you look at how many American people have eaten Indian food compared to the percentage of people in this country of that ancestry, you’d have a ratio of a lot of people experiencing it and the [cuisine] contribution coming from a very small number of people.” In a world in which chai tea is ubiquitous—from lattes to quirky cocktails, this phenomenon has proven that it has legs. Indeed, South Asian accents continue to proliferate on US menus and store shelves. And the trend is likely to escalate, with the National Cancer Institute’s findings that some of the region’s key herbs (anise, coriander and cumin) possess anti-cancer activities.

Angelich explains that “experimental environments” tend to be the incubators of many US flavor trends. No surprise, these include college towns, large urban centers and “artsy” neighborhoods. In particularly diverse areas such as Queens, New York, even smaller populations are beginning to have an influence on the flavor landscape, including Caribbean immigrants. Angelich explains that the Caribbean influence is “probably not as national as it is local because most Caribbean immigrants are located in the northeast and to a certain extent in Florida.”

But who knows where these flavors will turn up in the future?