Ethnic food, often called world food, is one of the most exciting growth areas, particularly in sales to affluent western consumers. But the definition of ethnic food varies according to where and who you are.
Defining ethnic food is difficult. "Ethnic foods represent a complex, dynamic category," according to the National Restaurant Association, "In a multi-cultural society like the U.S., one tends to perceive more and more cuisines as ethnic." Also, over time, items that used to be distinctly ethnic, like tacos and pizza, have become part of the mainstream American diet.
While an exact definition of ethnic food may be difficult, three trends are clearly emerging. First, traditionally popular ethnic foods such as Mexican, Italian and Chinese are becoming more sophisticated through the use of regional-type cooking and ingredients. Second, new ethnic cuisines, such as Indian, Moroccan and Thai cuisines, are experiencing "hot" growth because they are rich in aromas and have strong taste profiles that are unique and varied. Third, ethnic fusion foods, which combine the flavors of different regions and cultures, are growing in popularity because they satisfy the American demand for variety and taste.
Within this area of ethnic fusion cuisine several further trends have been developing. First, traditional fusion cuisines, such as Creole or Southern cooking, have been becoming more complex and diverse. Second, traditional fusion cuisines are being joined by newly popular ones such as Mediterranean and Caribbean foods.
Third, as the popularity of fusion and regional ethnic flavors grows, new complex flavors will emerge. Ingredients or cooking styles of various ethnic groups will be combined to provide a unique flavor or dish, thus creating newer versions of mainstream products such as pizzas, salsas, pastas, stir fries or fried chicken. We may see a Thai lasagna, Mexican pizza, Japanese enchilada or Cajun dumpling.
More complex growth of these fusion flavors will continue into the 21st century. Americans will be eating ethnic foods that will have more sophisticated ethnic flavor profiles than previous generations. We will see unique combination flavors such as Java enetia, CreoMex or CubanThai. We also will see new regional cooking, based on the various ethnic populations living in each region of the United States.