Are You Catering to the Asian Food & Beverage Demand?

Are You Catering to the Asian Food & Beverage Demand?

We’ve been hearing for years about the “global palate”, a growing consumer desire for international tastes and experiences, driven by the ethnically-diverse, boundary-breaking and digitally-savvy younger generations. These culinary adventurers are said to be “the most willing to explore global cuisines and try different types of food products.”1 For millennials and Gen Z, ethnic food is not only intriguing (and sometimes native), but often perceived as a healthier option to American fare.2 Recent interest has only intensified with pandemic-era travel restrictions,3 and TikTok videos showcasing at-home cooking around the world.4 Today, food and flavor trends are “travelling faster than ever in a connected world”.5

But the world is a big place. So, where do you focus? We recommend Asian cuisine.

At present, Asia has an undeniable and growing influence in the world. According to McKinsey, “Asia is increasingly the center of the world economy… with patterns of globalization shifting here faster than anywhere else.”6 This pivotal, eastern region has increased its share of everything from the global flow of goods to patents filed to global box-office revenue, cementing it as a “rising cultural force”.7 In addition, the popularity and growth of Asian cuisine is significant. Consider the last 10 years of Google search trends, where Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine garnered the top 3 positions, followed by Thai at #7, Japanese at #8, and Indian at #12… and all with double-to-triple digit growth.8

But we know that Asia is diverse. There are many regional cuisines as well as a cross-pollination of ingredients, techniques and offerings that result in a fusion of cultures — some of which have reached ubiquity in the U.S., and others that are still emerging. So, we’re offering a snapshot of trends amongst our most prevalent Asian cuisines.


Aside from the more recent kimchi, gochujang, bulgogi and tornado omelette craze, here are other delicacies riding the K-Wave:

  • Buldak Spicy Chicken Noodle, a super spicy CPG-offering that has become a social media challenge9
  • Doenjang-jjigae, a stew made from fermented soybean paste10
  • Banchan, small tapas-like side dishes that accompany Korean meals11
  • Makgeolli, a Korean wine made from steamed and fermented rice12
  • Soju, the world’s best-selling liquor and the national drink of South Korea13
  • Banana milk, considered by some as “the gem of Korean snacks”14
  • Korean snack brands, like KPOP Foods, entering U.S. retail locations15


While Chinese food is entirely mainstream — including kombucha — there’s new excitement surrounding a variety of other items, formats and techniques:

  • Mala, a pungent, “numbing spice” is popping up across Asia, regardless of region16
  • Bing, a savory Chinese crepe17
  • Rice rolls, a Cantonese street food recognized by 5 in 10 U.S. consumers and sampled by 3 in 10 U.S. millennials18
  • XO Sauce, a Cantonese condiment with “an umami wallop”19
  • Congee, a porridge regarded as “the ultimate Chinese comfort food” and appearing on menus from New York to Los Angeles and parts in between20
  • Mooncakes, a filled pastry popular during the harvest festival and attracting attention via Kristina Cho’s recently published “Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet & Savoury Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries”
  • New Chinese QSR and Fast-Casual concepts, e.g., MOGU, known for its healthier dishes that reduce oil, sugar and sodium below the levels of national chains,21 and Lazy Susan, Lucky Danger, Nice Day and Rice Box aimed at bringing more authentic, less Americanized dishes to the table.22
  • Minnesota’s own “Saturday Dumpling Club”, a local Instagram event, routinely selling out of fresh, frozen, ready-to-heat dumplings made by husband-and-wife team, Peter Bian and Linda Cao23
  • Velveting, a cooking technique involving marinating protein in cornstarch, and a quick pass through hot oil or water before incorporating into stir fries24
  • Red-Cooking, a braising technique using soy sauce, sugar and wine to produce “chopstick tender” proteins25


According to recent data, Japanese was the fourth most eaten global cuisine in 2020, and along with Mediterranean, is ranked the healthiest cuisine by consumers.26 Some 4 in 10 U.S. consumers report eating Japanese cuisine at home or away from home, and nearly 5 in 10 are interested in eating it from a restaurant or retail store.27 This cuisine is so hot right now that “ramen noodles, mochi and boba” are ranked among Gen Z’s favorite foods.28 While egg salad “sandos”, fluffy Japanese pancakes and milk bread rose to consciousness during the pandemic, there are other items arousing curiosity:

  • Taiyaki fish-shaped waffle cones29
  • Yuzu, a tart citrus fruit showing up in vinaigrettes, hard seltzers, soups and other dishes30
  • Sudachi, considered a Yuzo 2.0, and flavoring everything from cocktails to meat dishes31
  • Murasaki sweet potatoes, with a magenta skin and white flesh32
  • Chirashi, a sauceless, poke-type bowl featuring several types of fish33
  • Onigiri, handheld rice balls, often wrapped in seaweed, filled and seasoned34
  • Sushi for breakfast35
  • The Culinary Institute of America’s spotlight on shabu-shabu (a hotpot dish of paper-thin slices of meat and vegetables) at Worlds of Flavor 202036
  • Bokksu, a Japanese snack subscription service with sizeable investor support37


America’s insatiable desire for heat and spice, as well as a new focus on immunity-boosting ingredients have driven Indian cuisine further into the spotlight. Though only 1 in 5 U.S. consumers report having had Indian food at home or away from home in 2021,38 affinity is expanding beyond chai, curry, turmeric and cardamom:

  • Milagai podi, aka “gunpowder”, a spice-blend-turned-condiment included in McCormick’s 2020 Flavor Forecast39
  • Garam masala, a spice blend named to 2021 Spice Flavor Trend lists40
  • Hing, the fennel plant resin that is ground and mixed with wheat to add umami and trending at +100% in social41
  • Indian puddings like gajar ka halwa and kheer, growing on menus42
  • Chocolate and strawberry versions of samosas43
  • Kande pohe, a hot breakfast dish made from rice44

Thai & Vietnamese

Much of the recent buzz in these cuisines has been around beverages:

  • Butterfly Pea Flower tea, a color-changing drink experience popular on TikTok45
  • Thai iced tea46 and Vietnamese iced coffee47

When we examine the above, we spot 5 key opportunities for innovation:

  1. Expand your definition of comfort food to include global staples. There’s plenty of inspiration from belly-warming, carb-loaded dishes across cultures, as well as Asian-inspired riffs on American classics, e.g., kimchi-topped hot dogs or toasted nori French fries.48
  2. Consider introducing rice at breakfast. Take your cues from oatmeal-like congee and kande pohe, as well as portable, handheld protein plus starch fixtures like sushi and onigiri.
  3. Facilitate snack. Not only is Asia famous for their “street food” — items developed to “grab and go” — but also for their small plates. In addition, their packaged snacks and desserts are increasingly “hopping the pond” to the surprise and delight of adventurous palates.
  4. Experiment with new spice blends, sauces and condiments. There are plenty of Asian flavor profiles yet untapped.
  5. Add emerging Asian restaurant concepts to your list of foodservice prospects. If this year is any indication of the potential, Mo’Bettahs Hawaiian Style, Island Fin Poke, RASA, Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, Marugame Udon USA, and NaanStop were among the Top 40 “Hottest Fast Casual Startups” in America in 2021.49

[1] “Millennial Trendsetters: Crafting Their Own Food Culture”, Hartman Group, 4/26/16
[2] “I’ve Got Tekka Maki in My Lunchbox”, WSJ, 9/09/15
[3] “5 trends fueling food and beverage innovation in 2021”, FoodDive, 1/04/21
[4] “The 15 Food Trends You’re Going To See Everywhere In 2021”, delish, 12/23/20
[5] “Series: How to deliver on what today’s adventurous food consumers want”, SmartBrief, 7/13/20
[6] “Globalization in Asia: Flows and networks shaping the Asian Century”, McKinsey & Company, 2019
[7] “Globalization in Asia: Flows and networks shaping the Asian Century”, McKinsey & Company, 2019
[8] “From superfoods to exotic cuisines: Google search data reveals 10 years of food trends”, Food Navigator, 7/10/19
[9] “How Korean food is rising to capture the world’s palate”, The Korea Herald, 2/12/21
[10] “Beyond Kimchi: A Flavor Expert Picks The Next Hot Food Trends”, Forbes, 9/22/20
[11] “A Spread Worthy of Royalty”, The New York Times, 9/28/20
[12] “Korean Makgeolli: The Next Alcohol Trend To Watch”, Forbes, 5/15/20
[13] “Why Westeners are raising a glass of soju”, Black Swan, 5/31/19
[14] “There’s A Reason People Are Obsessed With Korean Banana Milk”, BuzzFeed, 2/14/18
[15] “Rise of Korean Flavors: KPOP Foods Brings Korean Flavors to More Than 1,300 Retail Locations Across the U.S.”, KPOP Foods, 8/19/21
[16] “Top Food Trend Predictions for 2021”, Kalsec, 2021
[17] “2019 Top 10 Flavor Trends”, Flavor & the Menu, 2019
[18] “Trend Watch”, Datassential, Volume 85
[19] “2019 Top 10 Flavor Trends”, Flavor & the Menu, 2019
[20] “More Porridge, Please”, Bon Appetit, 4/20
[21] “Transforming Chinese Takeout”, Eating Well, 4/21
[22] “Where to Order the Next Big Thing in Takeout, Today”, WSJ, 6/11/21
[23] “MN’s Hottest Club? Saturday Dumpling Club”, Mpls St. Paul Magazine, 9/07/21
[24] “Velveting Is the Chinese Technique That Takes Stir-Fries to the Next Level”, Bon Appetit, 9/09/20
[25] “Red-Cooking Is the Simple Braising Method I Can’t Live Without”, Epicurious, 11/07/21
[26] “Top 10 Food Trends of 2021”, IFT, 4/01/21
[27] “Wixon offers new Japanese-inspired flavor systems”, Bake Magazine, 10/13/21
[28] “Top 10 Food Trends of 2021”, IFT, 4/01/21
[29] “Which sweet trends are predicted to stick in 2021?”, Food Navigator, 2/01/21
[30] “The Next Big Things: Our Top 10 Food Trends for 2022”, Whole Foods, 2021
[31] “Datassential’s 10 food trends to know in 2021”, SmartBrief, 12/14/20
[32] “Japanese Sweet Potatoes are the Best Sweet Potates – And I Don’t Want to Hear Otherwise”, Healthyish, 3/06/19
[33] “If You Love Poke, Chirashi Is Another Rice Bowl You Should Know”, Chowhound, 7/09/20
[34] “We Can’t Stop Craving This Hand-Held Japanese Comfort Food”, delish, 4/26/21
[35] “Sushi For Breakfast, Anyone?”, WSJ, 3/20/17
[36], 11/19/20
[37] “Bokksu poised for exponential growth as consumer demand for snacks, Japanese culture booms”, Food Navigator, 2/20/20
[38] “US Menu Trendspotting” Indian-Inspired Beverages, Mintel, 10/08/21
[39] “Spice It Up: What’s Hot in Seasoning Ingredients”, IFT, 8/01/20
[40] “Experts Weighed In On 2021’s Spice Flavor Trends, And The Predictions Are Mind-Blowing”, The Travel, 12/19/20
[41] “Top 10 trends 2021”, Tastewise, 2021
[42] “From mochi to matcha, Asian influences are expanding on dessert menus”, Nation’s Restaurant News, 3/24/21
[43] “Chocolate & Strawberry Samosa Is The Latest Food Trend & Foodies Call It A Sin!”, Curlytales, 10/05/21
[44] “There’s No Need to Ask Me What’s for Breakfast – It’s Always Kande Pohe”, Bon Appetit, 9/02/20
[45] “Butterfly Pea Flower Tea Is the Color-Changing Drink That TikTok Users Love”, Yahoo!News, 6/10/21
[46] “Everything You Wanted to Know About Thai Iced Tea: San Francisco’s Snapchat-Famous Drink”, Chowhound, 2019
[47] “Vietnamese Iced Coffee Is the Drink of Summer – and Beyond”, Sunset, 8/17/21
[48] “Top 10 Trends of 2021”, Griffith Foods, 2021
[49] “The 40/40 List for 2020: America’s Hottest Startup Fast Casuals”, QSR, 2/21