Internationally-Inspired Foods Embrace New Flavors

October 6, 2017

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

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 It was originally made from hawthorn berries but is now commonly available all over China using a variety of fruits coated with a hardened sugar glaze.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.

Vada Pav

Vada Pav

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.

Once considered exotic, global cuisines have become mainstream and have insinuated themselves into every daypart, including snacking.

The appeal of these international flavor experiences among consumers lies not only in the new taste sensations that the items convey, but also in the fact that they can provide the kind of “authentic” food experience many consumers crave.

“I believe the desire for ‘real’ food — authentic, ingredient-driven, seasonal — is driving these trends,” says Andrew Freeman, president of foodservice consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co., San Francisco.

In addition, the lower cost and commitment required to try new flavors in snack form, compared with entrées, is appealing to consumers, he says. The rising interest in street foods and food trucks has also helped drive interest in snacks from around the world, says Freeman.

“This is a trend that is here to stay for sure,” he says.

Examples of international street foods gaining popularity in the U.S. include arancini, a Sicilian street food made from rice balls that are filled with various ingredients and deep-fried. Arancini Bros. in New York City menus more than 30 varieties, with fillings ranging from chicken to shrimp to broccoli rabe, along with some sweet options. Another example of an international street food snack is halo-halo, a Filipino version of shaved ice topped with fruits and other ingredients. They can be found on the menu of Jollibee, the Philippines-based quickservice chain with about three dozen locations in the U.S.

Consumer interest in globally influenced food and snack items is not only visible across dayparts, but also across operator segments, from fine-dining restaurants to quick-service formats and bakery-café operations.

“We've seen some operators experiment with snack wraps and similar options,” says Maeve Webster, president of foodservice consulting firm Menu Matters. “In those categories, you are absolutely seeing international flavors appear from seasonings, condiments and other international influences.”

Czech it out

While spicy flavors and ingredients from Latin America, Africa and Asia might be grabbing a lot of attention, some operators are finding snack food inspiration in niche European cuisines as well.

Boston-based bakery-café chain Au Bon Pain, for example, has enjoyed success this year with a new food product that has its roots in the Czech Republic and had gained a regional following in the U.S. among Czech immigrants in Texas.

The Bacon & Cheddar Kolache, introduced in February, “is a modern, savory twist on a traditional Czech pastry,” says Ray Blanchette, president and chief executive of Au Bon Pain.

Au Bon Pain’s updated version of the original kolache — which was first served in the 18th century as a fruit-topped wedding dessert, according to the chain — is a warm, slightly sweet and savory dough filled with bacon and melted cheddar cheese.

“We’re thrilled to be the first brand in our category to introduce the kolache to new regions of the U.S.,” says Katherine See, Au Bon Pain’s executive chef.

Churro takeover

Meanwhile, from south of the border, churros have successfully conquered America as a new favorite snack. According to Datassential MenuTrends, churros have grown 37 percent on menus in the last four years.

At Buena Park, California-based Knott’s Berry Farm, for example, the theme park celebrated its Knott’s Boysenberry Festival in April with a boysenberry-filled churro. Los Angeles-based Churro Borough offers churros three different ways — as discs that form the outside of an ice cream sandwich; as traditional sticks or “Churro Fries” served with toffee, chocolate or guava dipping sauce, and as chopped “Churro Bits” tossed in spiced sugar.

Meanwhile, one of the best-selling world-inspired snack items at Boiler Nine Bar & Grill in Austin, Texas, has been a shareable dessert made with bite-sized churro pieces — called “churritos” dusted with cinnamon and sugar and served with a side of sweet tea caramel, according to chef Emily Maddy.

The ability for customers to share creative snack items such as the churritos at Boiler Nine is an important element for operators to consider, says Freeman of Andrew Freeman & Co.

“Younger consumers are demanding more nontraditional snack items and love the chance to taste snack foods from many countries,” he says. “The sharing culture and the opportunity for taste adventures are influencing these choices. With the rise of interest in a variety of cuisines, snacks are a great way to experience these cultures.”

Packaged snacks

Customer hands a card to a cashier

For operators who offer 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 international 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 Webster of 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.