Cooking up Global Foods for Latin American Consumers

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Through the Latinization of global foods, a team of flavourists, food scientists and chefs have unlocked the secret to making international cuisines appeal to Latin American consumers

Not long ago, we reported that global foods, international flavours and ethnic restaurants are trending in Brazil, and the same holds true for much of Latin America. This marks a new acceptance for international cuisines, something that can be attributed in part to growing rates of foreign travel amongst Latin American consumers. But another factor influencing this craving for global foods is the effective “Latinization” of international flavours.

“When you Latinize a flavour, you take a flavour that is related to a certain global cuisine, and you adapt it to make it more acceptable to local tastes,” says Sergio Tango, President of Taste for Kerry Latin America. “If you give Brazilians a typical German or Japanese flavour they could reject it. But by adapting it, consumers get to experience something new that is still suited for their tastes.”

Latinized foods should appeal to local tastes for sour, sweet and spice, which can vary throughout Latin America. For example, French-style candies should be extra sweet for Brazilian consumers and Japanese dishes need to be extra spicy in Mexico. Another way to appeal to Latin American consumers is through local ingredients such as “consomé de pollo” (a powdered chicken broth) and herbs including cilantro, culantro, loroco and parsley, says Natalie Leon, an R&D manager for Kerry Costa Rica.

Restaurants and manufacturers that want to create global foods that appeal to Latin American consumers should consider the below suggestions—assembled by our team of chefs, flavourists and food scientists—for the Latinization of four popular international cuisines.

Latinization of German Cuisine:

Starting two centuries ago, German immigrants began to bring new foods, ingredients and flavours to Brazil, including beer, potatoes and salted meats such as pork, mortadella and sausages. But Brazilians did not fully adopt typical German dishes. For example, sauerkraut can be very intense for the Latin American palate, which is resistant to bitter tastes. A smaller than typical portion may be served alongside a meat such as pork. On the side you might find mashed potatoes, which provides a more savoury side than the traditional apple puree. (Although Brazilians like sweet flavours including fruit in select main dishes—see the sushi and pizza examples below—consumers are generally resistant to the addition.) Beer is another category where Latin American consumers often reject an intense bitter taste. But, German beers such as pilsners are lighter and much less bitter than many beers, so they already hold local appeal.

Latinization of Japanese Cuisine:

Throughout Latin America, there are thousands of Japanese restaurants, but the food served in them is quite different from traditional Japanese dishes. Japanese cuisine became popular in Brazil in the 1990s, largely because it was considered healthy. In Japan, traditional dishes could be considered minimal. But Latin American consumers enjoy a hearty helping of sauces and seasonings. There’s a lot of creativity in the kitchens of Japanese restaurants in Latin America. Many increase the level of flavour in Japanese dishes by adding more spice, herbs or salt to intensify flavours. To satisfy local tastes, chefs may also add a layer of sweetness. In Central America, one favorite is the sushi roll, often Latinized and “tropicalized” with local ingredients such a pineapple, mango, cilantro, ripe plantains, japalapeño and chipotle peppers. In Brazil, despite reservations about sweet during dinner, popular sushi additions include cream cheese, strawberry and guava. Throughout the region, some restaurants even offer sushi options with refried beans.

Latinization of Italian Cuisine:

There’s already a lot of Italian influence in Latin American cuisine, such as pastas and lasagnas, and chefs tend to make minor adaptations. For example, in Latin America, lasagnas and pastas will often include extra sauce and meat plus a healthy helping of a variety of cheeses, including dried cheeses popular among locals. Gnocci may be made with cassava and pumpkin instead of potatoes, pesto might include Brazil nuts instead of pine nuts and red sauce will often be made with extra garlic and herbs such as parsley. However, pizza in Latin America takes on a life of its own, including a thicker crust than what’s typical in Italy and plenty of experimentation with unusual combinations of cheese and meats, tropical fruits and local sauces such as chimichurri.

Latinization of American Cuisine:

American cuisine is often thought of in terms of fast food, with offerings in Latin America resembling those in the United States. The hamburger is one of the most iconic American foods in Brazil, and the more intense beef flavour of Brazilian meat works well with salt and traditional American sauces such as ketchup, mayonnaise and barbecue. Fried chicken tends to be more chicken-flavoured in Latin America than in the States, and is made with a breadcrumb-type coating versus the traditional batter. Across the board, American foods are generally adapted to include less fat and are served in smaller portion sizes. In Mexico, there’s a tendency to cook American foods so they include more heat from chili peppers, such as smoky chipotle flavours, although consumers elsewhere often don’t want such heat to distract from the flavour.

Global foods continue to grow in popularity in Latin American, and the 2018 World Cup ushered in even more international cuisine options via limited time offerings. With public interest piqued, now is the time to invest in developing Latinized foods. Contact Kerry to learn how to partner with us.

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