COVID put a serious dent in demand for global and other exotic cuisines, as Americans were not only unable to travel but were also seeking comfort in foods they knew well and that hearkened back to a more stable time.
Now, in Year Three of the pandemic, vaccinated Americans are willing to start taking a few more risks, and that includes food.
Even before the pandemic, some trends were starting to point away from experimentation with new cuisines, said Maeve Webster, president of consultancy Menu Matters. In 2022, she’s looking forward to a reversal of that.
“I'm just excited to have international food trends come back,” she said. “We had a few years now of retrenching back into more standard items but I think 2022 will be the year that international influences come roaring back, which is a great thing for our food scene.”
Those influences will come from all corners of the globe. There will continue to be a heavy influence from Asian cuisines, ranging increasingly into Filipino flavors and foods, Webster said.
But she also said there will likely be a “far heavier” influence from a variety of African cuisines.
“We saw that begin before the pandemic, but this year we'll see a more significant impact. Part of this is also driven by the prominence of Africa in the news, particularly recently due to both Omicron first identified in South Africa and the passing of Bishop Desmond Tutu.”
Despite the increase in international influences in the food world of 2022, the level of experimentation will be muted compared to pre-pandemic behavior, Webster said. Consumers are still stuck in a “siege mentality,” given the prolonged impact of the pandemic, and the midterm elections next year are likely to exacerbate that situation.
That said, so many consumers are ready to "get back to normal" or, at the very least, to try to forget what's been happening, Webster said — and experimenting with food is one way to do that. Travel should also open up, which will allow for more exploration, which typically leads to more food experimentation.
“All in all, I think 2022 will see more innovation in food, and consumers will definitely be open to that more so than they have been since the beginning of 2020.”
Looking east and south
New twists on Korean, Caribbean and Mexican foods will be among the hot international trends to keep an eye on in 2022, said Suzy Badaracco, president of consultancy Culinary Tides, Inc.
Many international food trends get their momentum from non-food sources, Badaracco said. Take Korean: the meteoric rise of the pop group BTS, the success of “Squid Game” and other recent Korean cultural successes have spurred demand for Korean BBQ and other Korean foods.
Even if Americans still can’t or are at least hesitant to travel to Korea and other foreign countries for Covid-related reasons, they can do the next best thing and enjoy US-produced versions of their favorite foreign foods.
With the Caribbean, it’s different, however, Badaracco said.
“With travel opening up and cruise ships back in operation, the Caribbean is one of the easiest places to get to,” she said, adding that US consumers can expect to see more Caribbean jerk chicken offerings in 2022.
When it comes to Mexican foods, look for foods that are particular to specific regions of the country to take a step forward this year in US channels, Badaracco said. Regional comfort foods in particular could be in high demand. Mexican street food should also be popular. A grocery deli, Badaracco said, could jump on the bandwagon with a roasted corn and black bean street corn salad.