Topline Trends Tuesday: Arriba!

November 3, 2009


As I mentioned last week in my post about tacos, our perceptions and understanding of Mexican cuisine is morphing. Sometimes it moves into non-authentic directions (like Korean Tacos), and sometimes it eases into more diverse, genuinely Mexican directions.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, from 2008 to 2009, the following were the fastest growing Mexican flavours on American restaurant menus:

Pico de Gallo 35%
Poblano 21%
Chipotle 15%
Cilantro 11%
Salsa 8%
Guacamole 6%

Here in Canada, we have a smaller Hispanic population to drive this trend; however, most of these are items that I’ve had in my trend tracking notes, too.

Are you familiar with all of these flavours? If so, do you have these items in your pantry or are you just familiar with them from visiting restaurants?

Or, is this list all Spanish to you? If so, here’s a glossary of these flavour terms:

Pico de gallo: the name of this sauce (wackily) translates to “rooster’s beak” but don’t be alarmed. There are no beaks in it. Instead, the Food Lover’s Companion lists the typical ingredients of this relish-textured sauce as jicama, oranges, onions, bell and hot peppers, cucumbers and garlic; however, many of the recipes I’ve seen for it in North America also contain tomatoes.

Poblano: a dark green to reddish-brown chili with a flavour that gets sweeter as the chili gets darker. They are also sometimes called ‘ancho’ (especially when dried) and are used in chilies rellenos.

Chipotle: if you haven’t tasted chipotle you are either a pepper-phobe or living in the arctic. Chipotle peppers are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers that are most often sold in cans in a sauce or as a hot sauce.

Cilantro: this herb ingredient causes confusion on two levels: 1. It’s sold in some Canadian grocery stores as coriander. 2. Many people don’t know if they should use just the leaves, the leaves and stems or the roots. The answer is that the recipe should call for which part of the plant to use (all are edible) and if it doesn’t, assume they mean just leaves.

Salsa: a catchall term for a saucy, chunky, veggie-based condiment that usually contains tomatoes, onions, garlic, raw chili peppers and often cumin and oregano and/or cilantro. It can be cooked or raw.

Guacamole: in its simplest form, guacamole is mashed, seasoned, fresh avocado; however, some recipes include lime juice, cumin, chili powder and other ingredients, too.


Taco tsunami

October 29, 2009

Shrimp tacoTacos. They aren’t just filled with chili powder spiced ground beef anymore. Recent trends have seen fish tacos win fans from coast-to-coast and so-called Korean Tacos trucks are cruising the streets in big US cities like LA, New York and Seattle. Likewise, meatless tacos and tacos that feature slices of meatloaf as the star filling have recently been featured in national magazines.

At our house, tacos are a regular menu item. We’re soft taco lovers and I’ve been known to fill our shells with pulled pork, vegetarian chili, seared hoisin glazed duck and even stir-fry.

What happens at your house? Are you a taco kit household or an anything-goes-in-a-tortilla household like ours?

Mexican spices

January 9, 2009

I’d love to be able to say that I know all there is to know about food and cooking, but that statement just wouldn’t be true. And, truthfully, if I did know everything there was to know about food, I wouldn’t like my job anymore. Learning about new foods, flavours and ingredients is what makes being a food writer interesting.

Even before I really knew that the food I called Mexican was really an American derivation, I was on my way to loving the flavours of Mexican food. Later, after visiting Mexico, my appreciation of that country’s cuisine only deepened.

Regrettably, until recently, authentic Mexican ingredients weren’t readily available in Canada. Fortunately that problem is starting to abate as more Canadians learn about authentic Mexican flavours. Recently I purchased three new ingredients that I’m looking forward to experimenting with in my own kitchen.

1. Avocado Leaves: Similar in texture to a dry bay leaf, dried avocado leaves are quite different from the succulent, rich fruit Canadians are used to eating as guacamole and as a filling for maki style sushi. These leaves are best toasted to release their subtle hazelnut and anise flavours. Books I’ve consulted say they should be ground with a mortar and pestle and then added to moles, fish and chicken dishes.

2. Achiote: Also called annoto seed, this red, musky scented seed is the colour of the Middle Eastern spice zaatar. These hard seeds are used as a base seasoning for pastes used for grilled meats and fish.

3. Epazote: Apparently this herb is considered essential in Mexican bean dishes by some people since it helps to relieve gassiness. Epazote has a bit of a bitter flavour that is vaguely citrusy. It makes me a bit nervous, though since it carries a warning not to be eaten or handled by pregnant women and is also called wormseed (yuck!).

If any of you have experience using these ingredients, please share your tips and insights. I’m sure you can teach me and other readers a lot!


TOPLINE TREND TUESDAYS:  Beginnining Tuesday, January 13th, every Tuesday post will be devoted to food trends. Don’t forget to sign up for my blog in your RSS feeder so that you never miss out on the latest (and sometimes greatest!) news from the world of food.