*Vinod Rajasekharan

India is a land of rich food heritage. While most nations are renowned for some specific form of cuisine, Indian flavours change with every demography. From North to South, East to West, our rich cultural inheritances, varied ingredients, exciting cuisines and delightful fusions make Indian flavours a sweeping hit across continents. Naturally, when the world got used to the ‘new normal’ and travelling through taste buds became a popular fascination, Indian flavours are gaining limelight once again, especially the ethnic ones.

The hunger for exploring “hyper-specific” flavour profiles during the pandemic has led to the resurgence of age-old ingredients and flavours. Consequently, flavours like cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ashwagandha, tulsi and ginger are performing strongly in not just India but across Europe & North America among other global markets. Ethnic flavours are set to trend stronger compared to the Western-infused menus in the post-pandemic world. Innova market insights revealed 65% growth in food and beverage launches with ethnic flavour. It has also been noticed that consumers are willing to pay premium for authenticity of ethnic foods.

Ethnic is deemed ‘healthy’

There is absolutely no industry that is untouched by the impact of the pandemic. Food industry particularly saw the greatest influence with people embracing a renewed sense of health consciousness. Today wellness, both physical and emotional, is one of the key priorities while choosing food products.  Ethnic flavours which are mostly sourced from local ingredients have its roots in traditional recipes and ancient culture. Thus, these traditional flavours are perceived as more ‘healthful’ and ‘natural.’

Ethnic ingredients like kombucha, turmeric and ashwagandha among others are particularly known for their adaptogenic properties. At a time when functional foods are gaining prominence, incorporating the goodness of natural flavours to food and drinks can be a great value addition. Fruit infused herbal teas which bring together one or more of ingredients like lemon, hibiscus, tulsi, ginger etc. can offer immunity boosting and relaxing benefits. Similarly, bhringaj known to increase the functioning of brain can be a great addition to chocolates, considering children being a major target segment.

Range of Applications

Indian ethnic ingredients have been showing good potential across different applications. From beverages to bakery, confectionery, dairy, sauces and seasonings, ethnic flavours are making its presence felt everywhere. While the highest percentage of ethnic launches are seen in sauces, soups, ready meals and side dishes, beverages are becoming an important category in this space. Some of the recently popular foods with ethnic flavour upgrade include coconut coffee, turmeric latte, curcumin infused pasta, rose petal ice creams, creamy kheer toffee etc.

Popular Indian ethnic flavours to watch for While consumers demand for originality in ethnic flavours, regional twists on ethnic formats or pairing with familiar flavours could offer a multi-sensory and flavourful experience. Blending familiar flavours like vanilla, mango or chocolate with rose petals, coconut burfi, kulfi flavours etc. could make irresistible treats. Listed below are some popular Indian ethnic flavours which will appear in more food and drinks in the coming days,

Kesar/ Saffron- An expensive yet aromatic ingredient, saffron can be a flavourful and nutritional addition particularly in beverages and savoury dishes. Saffron can be an extremely versatile and can pair well with apple, pears, cinnamon, honey, almond, vanilla etc.

Badam Elaichi- Nutty goodness of almonds blended with citrusy and peppery tones of cardamom, this flavour is a hit in beverages, especially milk shakes, protein mixes, cookies and desserts too. It can also be used as a flavour punch in mulled wines.

Coconut Burfi- The pleasantly aromatic flavour of toasted coconut makes it great to be used in a range of foods including confectionery, bakery and more. 

Rose petal- Though the roots of this ingredient traces back to Ancient Egypt, rose petals have been in use in Indian foods too from a long time, especially in Sindhi foods. They are intensely aromatic and have a floral sweetness or tartness and could also be mildly spicy. Rose petal ice creams and herbal teas are favourites.

Kulfi- A creamy, fresh, sweet profile, this authentic desi flavour can be great for confectionery, bakery, dairy, pharma and beverage categories. Highly versatile with pairings, it can blend perfectly with a burst of scrumptious flavours like alphonso mango, passion fruit, avocado, chocolate, pistachio, almonds, coconut etc.

Thandai- This Desi festive flavour that combines nut and flavoured spice milk notes offers a refreshing punch to a variety of applications. It is a potpourri of several ethnic ingredients including badam, pista, saunf, sugar, kali mirch, elaichi, magaj and khas-khas along with milk solids.

Rasmalai- One of the most popular Indian desserts of all time, Rasmalai is becoming a new favourite among home bakers too as a much sought-after cake flavour. The flavour works perfectly on chocolates, desserts, beverages and more.

Creamy Kheer- A smooth ethnic, rich and sweet flavour that comes with fragrant rice and elaichi notes, it is suitable for a variety of applications particularly bakery, confectionary and beverage.

Tandoori chicken- A popular spice blend from northern India, it is mildly spicy and has a pungent sweetness. The flavour goes well for sauces, savoury top notes for ready-to-cook snacks, pizzas, plant-based meats and more.

Achar- Among the innumerable nuanced flavours from India, Achar is a much-cherished one that is particularly impressive for instantly delighting the taste buds among spice lovers. A perfect flavour for savouries and seasonings, it is also suitable for sauces and dips. 

Curry leaf- A complex and herbal flavour with distinct citrus notes, it pairs well with other spices including asafoetida and mustard seeds. With its horde of health claims, citrus is becoming a popular flavour in ‘swavouries (sweet+ savouries), bakery, snacks, sauces and more.

Ethnic Indian flavours are distinctly positioned to offer a bold, Desi sensation to food applications. Nostalgic flavours like Paan, Aamras, pappad, Jigarthanda, Roohafza are also making entry into ready-to-eat/drink categories satiating consumers’ desire for a comforting, culinary experience. As demand for ethnic flavours is seeing more interest than ever among consumers, its time brands geared up to offer authentic tastes with a contemporary twist in a variety of applications.

*Director- Key Accounts and Marketing, Stonefield Flavours