In recent years, the Asian food market has inspired a range of U.S. food trends — consider the growing popularity of ingredients like yuzu, sriracha, soju, ube, seaweed, and a number of mushrooms traditionally used in Asian recipes.
Beverages and snacks from the Asian market or those offering Asian flair (think boba or wasabi-flavored chips) are also showing up in more American markets.
For chefs, restaurateurs, and food manufacturers interested in innovating new recipes with an eye toward Asian-inspired trends, several developments are on the horizon. What’s popular in Japan right now, and how can you bring it to the attention of American consumers?
An incredibly popular snack in Japan, karaage is a more delicate version of fried chicken, consisting of small bites and a light, crispy batter.
Translating this dish to the American market could be as simple as putting it on a bun.
The crispy chicken sandwich trend isn’t going anywhere, but it has started to shift. With upgrades that include Asian flavors already gaining popularity — think spicy Korean fried chicken sandwiches or inclusions like Asian slaw — it’s no great leap in logic to add karaage to the menu.
Gut-related disorders like IBS, GERD, Crohn’s disease, and ulcers aren’t just on the rise in the U.S.; the Japanese market is also concerned about a growing prevalence of GI disorders. Additionally, more consumers are looking for alternatives to typical carbonated beverages like sodas.
The result has been increasing demand for functional beverages, including sports, energy, and specialty drinks. These are often infused with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, adaptogens, and other beneficial nutrients geared toward supporting a healthy microbiome and improving a range of health functions.
A good example of this trend in action is the rampant popularity of Yakult 1000, which was released in Japan in early 2021 and continues to be difficult to find due to overwhelming demand. This product, featuring high-density Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota bacteria, is said to help relieve stress and improve sleep quality.
Canned Draft Beer
When Asahi Breweries launched the Super Dry Draft Jokkikan (Jockey Can) in Japan in 2021 for consumers unable to get draft beer in public establishments due to COVID restrictions, it wasn’t ready for its massive popularity.
Designed to mimic the draft beer experience, this product foams up when the top is popped and delivers a fresh, creamy, foamy brew.
Unfortunately, demand from the at-home market was so high that the company couldn’t keep up production to meet it and temporarily suspended the product. When it returned, it was only available in limited quantities for months.
In mid-2022, Asahi announced the product would become available year-round. Later that year, it revealed a global rollout schedule, including launching in the U.S. and Canada in March 2023.
Swapping Oatmeal for Rice
The U.S. is no stranger to oatmeal, which serves as a hearty and cost-effective breakfast staple in areas with cold winter weather. However, it’s relatively new to the Japanese market, where it is being used as a nutritious alternative to white rice.
Higher in fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients and lower in carbs, whole grain oats are a healthy alternative to white rice, and rolled oats can be cooked to a rice-like consistency with the right moisture ratio. This makes oats a creative base for savory chicken, fish, or lentil bowls.
With more consumers adopting a health-conscious approach to their diets, swapping oatmeal for white rice could be a great way for chefs to innovate and meet consumer demand.
Whether you’re a beverage manufacturer looking to update your line of functional or alcoholic offerings or a restaurant owner interested in new flavors and food trends, turning an eye toward the Japanese marketplace is a great way to find inspiration for an American audience.
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