Five emerging ingredients: from West African to Japanese cuisine

Food Spark’s resident food development expert Sparkie delves into five more interesting foods that could appear on UK shelves in the future

9 March 2020
africanfermentedingredientsjapanesemiddle easternNPDvegetables


A stuffed dumpling popular in Turkic, Central Asian and South Caucus cuisines. Manti stuffings usually include spiced meats (commonly beef or lamb) and can be steamed, boiled or even fried.

Why are we interested?

What with the rise in popularity of wider Middle Eastern cuisines (and a deeper exploration of traditional Turkish) in the UK over the past year or so, staples such as simit, latke and manti are starting to be seen with increasing regularity in the UK.

The aforementioned manti popped up on Marks and Spencer’s serial taste hunter Gurdeep Loyal’s Instagram just over a week ago, with the supermarket’s head of trends dining at Yeni – a Turkish eating spot in Soho that specialises in modernised versions of Istanbul street-food and meyhane (restaurant) classics.

Considering the success of bao (Chinese steamed buns) in the UK over the past two years, in both retail and foodservice, could there be an opportunity for a similar concept from a particularly on-trend region in 2020?

Sparkie says…

Dumplings seem to be one of the universal food products of the world, most countries have their own variation and these Manti are very similar to Chinese dumplings.

A fairly simple, spiced meat filling in a steamed or fried pastry wrapper that, much like the Cantonese versions, can be turned into works of art. They would be an interesting food to introduce as part of the world cuisine expansion begins to explore the traditional foods of Turkey and the Middle East.

The easily made comparison with foods that are commonly enjoyed already should make them an easy introduction.


Yuzu kosho

A Japanese condiment of fermented yuzu peel, salt and (normally green) chilies. Traditionally, yuzo kosho was used in Japanese hot pot dishes (nabemono) but this has expanded over the years, with the paste used as a seasoning for a variety of foodstuffs including udon noodles and miso soups.

Why are we interested?

These days, it seems as though any fermented foodstuff warrants a closer look, with consumer interest in the benefits, flavours and textures achieved through this still experimental, yet ancient, food and drink production technique now through the roof.

Sourdough, vinegar, kefir, kombucha – the list of on-trend fermented products goes on and on, with yuzu kosho not only fitting in as part of the fermented phenomenon, but also as part of a new route for condiments in this area.

Plus, all things Japanese and edible are getting plenty of the spotlight, with flavours and dishes from the Asian country regularly cited as a country-wide trend for 2020.

Sparkie says…

Condiments tend to be another good way to introduce or expand on cuisines.

I have noticed yuzu kosho increasingly being used on cookery shows, particularly those from the US. It has been available, hidden in the back corner of Asian grocery stores, for some time but I don't believe it has had anywhere near enough exposure to make it known by the general populace.

This means that even if it is popularised by the media, it would take some greater effort to make it understood by consumers enough for them to seek it out.

This one seems like future potential with a lot of work on the way.



Dried, fermented and smoked tuna – an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine mainly due to it being one of the two main components of dashi (along with kombu).

Why are we interested?

While surely familiar to a number of chefs and NPD teams due to it being a fundamental of age-old Japanese cuisine, katsuobushi popped up recently as a pizza topping at Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia on their winter menu, with head chef Salvatore Moscato telling Food Spark that the Italian trattoria ditched British in favour of the fermented flakes.

“On the new menu we’re doing a pizza with katsuobushi,” Moscato said. “It’s something very crazy. Never have a pizza with pineapple – but a pizza with katsuobushi is possible.

“On the last menu we had the British scotch egg, made with Italian ingredients. There’s no British dish on the winter menu, but our katsuobushi pizza is what’s unusual this time.”

Could this unusual marriage of cuisines be the start of something new? 

Sparkie says…

Strong fermented flavours - particularly fish - is still something the average UK consumer struggles with.

Those of us who cook can understand the value of including flavours that are meant to add complexity to the dish but not be tasted on their own. We have made use of things like anchovies, yeast extracts and so on for this purpose.

Katsuobushi is one of those ingredients, but while it is extremely good in the right foods, I think it would be difficult to explain to the general consumers. Tasting a flake of the fermented tuna on its own is not good. A strong salty fish taste that would not appeal to most people but once blended into the background of soups and sauces it can offer something unique.

I think this is an ingredient that can slowly be introduced into food service and as an ingredient in retail products, but it may be difficult to sell as an ingredient until the general consumer understands the value of having those ingredients which provide complexity.



Boiled, pounded and rounded balls of starchy root vegetables such as cassava, yams and plantains, are very popular across a number of West African countries and the Caribbean. These doughy balls are dipped into a variety of different regional soups and broths, very much like bread in the West.  

Why are we interested?

Food Spark highlighted the emergence of several West African cuisines in London over the past year, including Senegalese, Ghanaian and Nigerian, with the capital getting its first African fast food chain only last month.

Diner curiosity with regional West African continues to grow, with high-profile West End restaurant Ikoyi being joined in the past few years by a number of other African-focused restaurants such as Akoko in Fitzrovia and the recently opened Nigerian tapas spot, Chuku’s in Tottenham.

Fufu is found across West Africa and, considering the recent boom in bread, could potentially be a relatively cheap (and risk-free) route into an on-trend eating out area.

Sparkie says…

We are familiar with the idea of having bread or something similar to dip into soups or mop up sauces. It is definitely a procedure which is greatly enjoyed by the general populace.

Fufu is an alternative to the bread. Ultimately, I think it might require a little explanation but the procedure is still going to the same so it should not take much persuasion to show people the value of it.

I think for it to be truly popularised, it would have to offer something more though, something that bread doesn't otherwise consumers will likely revert to what they are used to.



A traditional Italian sauce made by reducing sweet and sour elements (often vinegar and sugar). Other ingredients such as wine and fruit can also be added.

Why are we interested?

Trends for regionality are certainly not restricted to the Middle East or Asia, with greater exploration of regional Italian very much under way in the UK.

With the likes of farinata (a Ligurian flatbread made from chickpeas) and gnudi (gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese) cited by our man Sparkie as ones to watch this year, could agrodolce, being extremely versatile in terms of application (it works on anything from a cheese board to a sandwich) and altogether simple in terms of ingredients, be another lesser-known Italian foodstuff to take advantage of the recent focus on the wider delights of Italian cuisine?

Sparkie says…

Agrodolce is an interesting one. We generally attribute this sort of sweet and sour flavour to Asian cuisine, where it is extremely popular. It is as basic of a sauce as you can get really, but one that is vastly adaptable.

Due to its simplicity, it would work with a large number of different ingredients and flavours to provide additional complexity to dishes. As a condiment, a little sweetness and sourness can go a long way, and this is a form which can provide both without overpowering the ingredients that it is served with.

It will likely need some explanation on its virtues, but this is one that can be easily demonstrated.

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