Demand for ethnic cuisines will remain strong in 2020, but expect more regional twists on current ethnic favorites — and on one that’s an old industry standard.

Maeve Webster, president of consultancy Menu Matters, says she’ll be interested to see how Israeli and other Middle Eastern cuisine will evolve in 2020.

“I think that while it’s certainly not new — we’ve been talking about it for the last year or two — it still has momentum behind it, and I think we’ll see a broader array of flavors, ingredients and formats move into the mainstream.”

Hummus has been around forever, but consumers can expect to see more mashups featuring hummus and other variations on the popular item, Webster predicts. 

Middle Eastern spices in general also should see an uptick going forward, she says. One in particular that’s expected to pop in 2020 is sumac.

“I think there’s a lot to be done with sumac and spices in general,” she says. “They’re so versatile and can be applied in so many different ways.”

Also look for continued growth in the use of dukkah, which Webster loves for its versatility, ranging from savory to sweet to traditional Middle Eastern dishes to regional adaptations.

Expect to see that word “regional” a lot again in 2020, says Suzy Badaracco, president of consultancy Culinary Tides Inc.

“Absolutely stick to regional specialties,” Badaracco recommends. “You can get a little more experimental with cuisines we are familiar with such as Italy or Mexico. When you’re promoting cuisines that are less familiar you should look to that country’s national dishes or comfort dishes so they are more approachable.”

Look in particular, Badaracco says, for regional takes on South American and Central American cuisine in the New Year.

“It can be very authentic or reflect whatever ingredients are used in a certain region,” she says. “For instance, you could have a dish in the American South that includes dukkah but uses pecans instead of pistachios. Dukkah is really easy to apply, it’s visually appealing and it has great texture.”

Another Middle Eastern flavor, cardamom, is hardly new on the scene. But it will make a big splash in new ways in 2020, Webster predicts.

“Cardamom, for a very long time, has been an underleveraged flavor, particularly in the U.S. It’s far more familiar in not only Middle Eastern but also Nordic cuisine.”

It’s a flavor, Webster says, that people are familiar with without knowing they’re familiar with it. Its broad appeal covers a wide range of savory and sweet applications, including indulgent baked goods.

The continued popularity of Middle Eastern foods is somewhat of a paradox, Webster says. Typically, Americans are interested in the cuisines of countries they want to visit. With the volatility in the Middle East, that is not the case for the majority of Americans today.

“It’s a little bit of an aberration,” she says. “I think it’s interesting that it is growing despite all that.”

One reason for the growth is likely an increasing number of Middle Easterners moving to the U.S., Webster says.

What Amy Marks-McGee, founder of consultancy Trendincite LLC, calls “modern Israeli cuisine” is big now. Pioneered by Michael Solomonov of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, which opened in 2008, as well as by chefs like Eyal Shani, Meir Adoni and Assaf Granit, it’s making a big splash, she says.

In addition, Marks-McGee says, hummus and tahini are slowly making inroads on store shelves, and she thinks falafel may be next.

“Falafels (which are made with chickpeas) fit well with the plant-based trend, and they are a popular Israeli street food, which also fits well with the trend to portable street food,” she says.


Other points east

Flavor and cuisine trends for San Diego-based Barons Market often begin in the chain’s highly curated frozen foods section, says Rachel Shemirani, Barons’ senior vice president.

In the second half of 2019, Barons has seen increased demand for Korean, Moroccan and Middle Eastern flavors, Shemirani says.

“We bring in a lot of spices just to see what will fly,” she says. “To my pleasant surprise, spices like sumac and za’atar are selling very well. We’ve found that our customers are looking for more ethnic spices.”

While Mexican, Chinese and Italian cuisines may have dominated the ethnic retail market 20 years ago, consumers today, Shemirani adds, are “going a little deeper.”

“Moroccan, Turkish, Vietnamese. Bone broth is a big seller for us. What we’re excited to see is what vendors are starting to do with (the different trends.”

Varietal fruits, heirlooms, hybrids, butter and cream and dark chocolate will be among the trending flavors heading into 2020, Badaracco says.

Retailers would also be wise to keep their eyes on global historical blends and spices like sumac, tahini and za atar; fermented and pickled foods; global cheeses, florals and botanicals; and pandan, tamarind and alcohol-infused foods.

When it comes to the cuisines, meanwhile, Badaracco expects Eastern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Russian foods to be in high demand.

Many trending foods come with health claims, Badaracco says, but for them to work, they have to be organic to the product, rather than superimposed just to cash in on a fad.

“(Health claims) only have a place with emerging flavors and cuisines if they can play the role of the best friend to the leading lady — flavor, cuisine,” she says. “You can’t just slap a health claim on a product, it must come from a sincere place.  It can’t be a marriage of convenience.”

Recently, there seems to also have been an influx of Australian food and beverages with new bakeries and restaurants opening, particularly in New York City, Marks-McGee says. The Flat White (coffee) and Aussie sausage rolls are two examples.

“Perhaps Australian flavors will trickle into supermarkets and appear in the deli and prepared food sections,” she says.


Cannabis madness, tropical trending

Look for CBD-infused foods and beverages to remain huge heading into the New Year, Marks-McGee says.

“Cannabis is currently the wild west of the industry and is a cultural phenomenon that is not fully regulated yet,” she says. “I expect to see the continuation of CBD-infused food and beverages with a variety of flavor profiles and new applications.”

Also on the rise are tropical flavors, Marks-McGee says. They’ve always been popular in spring and summer. Now, she says, tropical is trending year-round.

The meat category has been a surprisingly strong performer when it comes to tropical flavors, Marks-McGee says. Take cold cuts and jerky. Bold Aloha Sunshine Turkey Breast by Boars Head, according to the company, is “expertly coated with pineapple and hibiscus, and lightly charred for a sweet and savory traditional luau flavor.”

In addition, Country Archer Jerky Co. offers a Pineapple Pork meat stick that “is bursting with flavor reminiscent of a tropical luau, hints of real pineapple hula with delectable antibiotic-free pork for a savory and not-too-sweet on-the-go treat.”