Operators embrace snacks with flavors and ingredients from around the world, in creative formulations.
The myriad cuisines of Latin America, Asia and Africa are finding their way into the international snack food offerings of American operators through their influence on both flavor and form.
Among the trends are the convergence of spices from around the world with familiar sweet snack offerings, a combination appearing on an increasing number of noncommercial foodservice menus.
5 Global Snacks to Watch
From savory to sweet, these snacks from street carts around the world are worth a closer look. Each has achieved rampant popularity in their country of origin, and some have begun to gain traction in the U.S.
Bing Tang Hu Lu
This popular Chinese snack can be quite simply described as “candied fruit on a stick.” It was originally made from hawthorn berries but is now commonly available all over China using a variety of fruits coated with a hardened sugar glaze.
Arancini and Supplí
These Italian cousins are made with rice balls stuffed with various fillings, such as mozzarella cheese, then breaded and deep fried.
Popular in El Salvador and Honduras, these street snacks are made with corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans or meat, or some combination of those ingredients.
Reportedly the most popular street food in Mumbai, the Vada Pav is made from deep-fried potato fritters served on a toasted bun with spicy chutneys.
This Filipino version of the shaved ice sundae is made from a blend of shaved ice and evaporated milk and is served with such toppings as boiled sweet beans, coconut and fruits.
At Cafe 1000 at the Unidine headquarters in Boston, for example, the offerings have included a Mexican-influenced chocolate mousse, which contains avocado and is seasoned with either chipotle or cayenne pepper.
“That is a great play on a spicy chocolate mousse,” says James Connolly, senior director of culinary at Unidine. “Spice is big right now. People are dabbling with new world-inspired flavors, and it seems like the spicier, the better. We have been experimenting to see just how far outside the box we can go with our herbs and spices.”
Tropical fruit flavors such as passion fruit and mango also add variety to the snack and dessert menu at Cafe 1000, which serves as a testing ground for items that are then rolled out to the company’s health care, senior living and business dining accounts.
Adding to the international food mix at the venue are the pop-up stations inspired by cuisines from around the world, which have included Mexican and Asian concepts. A Korean barbecue pop-up offering snack-sized items such as bao buns was “super popular,” says Connolly.
Flavors of the Himalayas
At Café Serai, operated by Starr Catering Group in New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, the menu celebrates Indian flavors and the cuisine of the Himalayas.
Julian Alonzo, regional executive chef in New York, and Morgan Bedore, vice president of sales and creative development at Starr, say they see a desire for familiar presentations, such as samosas, spring rolls and dumplings, but recreated with unique, modern flavors.
Some creative snack ideas include zucchini blossom samosa, which contains the ingredients of a classic samosa — paneer and creamy spinach — stuffed into a locally grown squash blossom, lightly tempura battered and fried; a nori cigar with salmon belly tartare; a curried duck confit spring roll, and a liquid foie gras momo.
Alonzo also offers a take on the sweet-and-spicy trend at Serai with what he describes as “childhood throwback” — a mango fruit roll-up seasoned with chili powder and lime. This can be a packaged snack for any daypart, he says.
Among the other unique, grab-and-go style global snack offerings at the café are Alonzo’s crispy salt and pepper squid crackers, which are a spin on the classic Vietnamese shrimp cracker. The baked snack is crafted from tapioca and squid ink, dehydrated and seasoned with a sprinkle of lemon salt.
Starr also provides refreshment service before and after many of the museum’s programs, including snacks and cocktails. For this fall season Alonzo has been working on a new Curried Buckwheat Popcorn to package for these events.
For operators offering prepackaged snacks, manufacturers have been rolling out an array of options that are influenced by global cuisines.
“Manufacturers, especially emerging food and beverage brands, are playing to consumers’ changing tastes, enabling them to try new flavors and ingredients that are a break from the past,” says Laurie Demeritt, chief executive of research and consulting firm The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Washington. “As examples, in salted snacks we see puffed ancient grains with ethnic spices and flavorings, and in beverages we see global flavors or botanicals used in unexpected formulations.”
In fact, beverages are one of the areas where the global influence on snacking ideas is most evident, says Maeve Webster, president of food industry consulting firm Menu Matters.
“Beverages have been most successful in leveraging snacking behavior, and we're certainly seeing a lot of international impact in this category, from kombuchas and drinkable yogurts to international soda brands and flavors becoming more common,” she says.
“International cuisine is impacting snacking for the same reason it's impacting nearly every other aspect of menu ideation and development,” says Webster. “Overall, U.S. consumers are increasingly aware of and interested in world cuisine and a broader array of world cuisines than the ‘big three’ — Mexican, Italian and Chinese.”
In addition, younger consumers “have a far broader comfort zone when it comes to experimenting with world cuisines,” she says, as they have been exposed to these products from an early age.
“Furthermore, colleges and universities — at least at the top tier — are becoming some of the most innovative operators in the industry,” says Webster. “They are on the front lines of dealing with changing demands and needs as younger consumers leave home and exercise their own wills in selecting food.”