Latin American food goes mainstream

Latin American food goes mainstream

From tacos to ceviche Latin American food is finally going mainstream in the U.S. Americans are becoming increasingly savvy about their food. We’re eating healthier, and we’re venturing into more exotic foods. As more foreign foods find their way onto American dinner tables, more of those foods and products just so happen to be Latino. People across the U.S. are reaching for tortillas, tacos, salsa and burritos and other Latino staples to spice up their kitchen. Here in Florida, even the Publix grocery stores across the state are offering Cuban mojo rotisserie chicken, mojo roast pork, white rice and black beans in their deli section.

Just like pizza invaded American tables in the 1950’s—(In 1905, the first pizzas sold in the U.S. appeared in New York City’s Little Italy, but pizzas did not become popular in the U.S. until after WWII, thanks to returning GIs who had been posted in Europe, having developed a palate for the tasty pies)—Mexican and Cuban cuisine are now becoming everyday staples for many Americans. The most obvious and visible Latino food is chips and salsa, followed by burritos, nachos, tacos, quesadillas and guacamole.

The invasion of chips and salsa into the U.S. become complete in 2006. According to BusinessWeek magazine, that year salsa surpassed ketchup in sales in the U.S., and is now America’s second favorite condiment after mayonnaise with sales totaling $764 million in 2010.

Salsa, which means sauce, was first commercially produced in the U.S. in 1917 by La Victoria. At the time, the company was a regional operation owned by the La Baca family. Then, in 1941, Henry Tanklage took over the company and made La Victoria national brand, (it is now owned by Hormel).

Today, Frito Lay’s Tostito’s brand is the best-selling salsa in the U.S. Other major players in the salsa game are Campbell Soup Company, Pillsbury, Hormel, the Mexican brand, Herdez and Newman’s Own.

Salsa is big business. Even Sabra, the company that has become a force in the snack industry by capturing 60 percent of the growing hummus market, has expanded to offer two guacamoles and six different salsas. And of their 16 different hummus themes, three have a distinct Latino flavor, (Southwest Garden, Chipotle and Jalapeño).

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Latin American food goes mainstream

But beyond snacks, many households are using Latino mojo sauce (common brands are Goya and Badia), to make their cooking easy and tasty.

The popularity of TV cooking shows has also brought what was once exotic food within the grasp of most Americans. Think celebrity chef Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.

Latin inspired dishes are also commonly featured in cooking magazines, not only because the food is tasty but also healthy. At the top of the list is Mexican food. Americans’ love for Mexican food has led to an industry worth billions of dollars in sales every year. Everything from salsas, tortilla wraps of every variety, canned refried beans and concession stand nachos, to the more authentic fare at real Mexican restaurants like Hugo’s in Houston, Texas, Babita Mexicuisine in California and Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. And let’s not forget the ubiquitous taco trucks that cruise the streets of major American cities.

The taste for Latino inspired cuisine has also led to the success of franchise restaurants like Moe’s Southwest Grill, which ranks 5th in QSR’s list of Best Franchise Deals for 2012. Many other Mexican or Latino food themed franchise restaurants have shown tremendous growth in the last few years, including Taco Bell, Chipotle Grill, Tijuana Flats and Pollo Tropical. The continued success of Latino restaurants has demonstrated Americans are in love with the incredible food and flavors that comprise Latino fare.

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is a bilingual author and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and other national publications. Phillippe’s novels Sofrito and Playing for the Devil’s Fire are both published by Cinco Puntos Press. He is the recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty!