COVID drastically reduced demand for global and exotic cuisines, as Americans were not only unable to travel, but also sought solace in foods they were familiar with and reminiscent of more stable times.
Now, in the third year of the pandemic, vaccinated Americans are ready to start taking a few extra risks, and that includes food.
Even before the pandemic, some trends were starting to move away from experimenting with new cuisines, said Maeve Webster, president of consultancy Menu Matters. In 2022, she looks forward to a reversal of that.
“I’m thrilled that international food trends are coming back,” she said. “We’ve had a few years now to fall back on more standard items, but I think 2022 will be the year international influences return, which is good for our food scene.”
These influences will come from all corners of the globe. There will always be a strong influence from Asian cuisines, moving more and more into Filipino flavors and foods, Webster said.
But she also said there will likely be a “much heavier” influence from a variety of African cuisines.
“We saw this start before the pandemic, but this year we will see a bigger impact. This is also partly due to the prominence of Africa in the news, particularly recently due to both Omicron being first identified in South Africa and the death of Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Despite increased 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 next year’s midterm elections are likely to worsen this situation.
That said, many consumers are ready to “get back to normal” or, at the very least, try to forget what happened, Webster said – and experimenting with food is one way to do that. . Travel should also open up, allowing for more exploration, which usually leads to more food experimentation.
“Overall, I think 2022 will see more food innovation, and consumers will certainly be more open to that than they have been since the start of 2020.”
Looking east and south
New twists on Korean, Caribbean and Mexican foods will be among the international trends to watch 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 pop group BTS, the success of “Squid Game,” and other recent Korean cultural hits have boosted demand for Korean barbecue and other Korean dishes.
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 resuming, the Caribbean is one of the easiest places to get to,” she said, adding that U.S. consumers can expect to see more of Caribbean jerk chicken offerings in 2022.
When it comes to Mexican foods, look for foods specific to specific regions of the country to step up this year in U.S. chains, Badaracco said. Regional comfort foods, in particular, could be in high demand. Mexican street food is also expected to be popular. A deli, Badaracco said, could jump on the bandwagon with a grilled corn and black bean salad.