The United States has a high rate of immigration. In 2006 Americans of Hispanic and Latino origin were estimated to make up 14.8 percent of the country’s population. A report from the Pew Research Center last year projected that they would account for 29 percent of the population by 2050.
Asians, meanwhile, were said to make up 4.4 percent of American residents in 2006. By 2050 the Pew Research Center reckons their number will have doubled.
The influence of immigration on the wider food culture of an adopted country is well documented. In the UK, for instance, where there has been a high rate of Indian and Asian immigration in recent decades, curry is said to be the overall favorite dish.
Mexican food appears to be following a similar route in the US, with almost six in ten respondents in a Mintel survey saying they have cooked Mexican food in the past six months.
Mintel’s new report on ethnic cuisine still counts Mexican food, like tacos, burritos and fajitas, as ethnic foods for now. Overall sales of ethnic foods have climbed since 2004 to be worth $2.2 billion this year. By 2014, the market researcher expects the market to grow by another 20 per cent.
But while Mexican food makes up a 62 percent slice of the market, Asian and Indian foods have seen the highest growth rates – of 11 and 14 percent respectively.
David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel, said: “Since 2005, there are over one million foreigners becoming legal permanent residents in the US each year. This escalating group is influencing the American palate and piquing Americans’ interest in new cuisines.”
The report suggests several channels by which Americans are encountering the new ethnic tastes:
They are becoming “increasingly exposed” to ethnic cuisine when they eat out. Some 80 percent of survey respondents said they had eaten some kind of ethnic food in the past month – and the changing population means there are more independent restaurants open to them. Many people are then encouraged to try replicating restaurant dishes at home.
People interested in trying out new foods in the home are being helped on their way by the launch of ethnic sauces and seasonings by food manufacturers, Browne points out. These products require home cooks to just add their own meat and/or veg.
In addition, overseas travel is opening up new culinary horizons for many – and for those who stay home, new and exotic ways of eating are being propounded by TV schedules packed with cooking shows.
Who eats ethnic?
The report also gives an indication of the profile of people keen on cooking ethnic foods. Young adults are especially adventurous, Mintel says, with 91 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds having cooked ethnic food in the past month.
Nor is it a style limited to those scraping by on a limited grocery budget. Ninety-two percent of respondents with an annual household income over $150k reported cooking ethnic food in the same time frame.