MIAMI — Salsa overtaking ketchup as America’s No. 1 condiment was just the start.
These days, tortillas outsell burger and hot dog buns; sales of tortilla chips trump potato chips; and tacos and burritos have become so ubiquitously “American,” most people don’t even consider them ethnic.
Welcome to the taste of American food in 2013.
As immigrant and minority populations rewrite American demographics, the nation’s collective menu is reflecting this flux, as it always has. And it goes beyond the mainstreaming of once-esoteric ethnic ingredients, something we’ve seen with everything from soy sauce to jalapenos.
This is a rewrite of the American menu at the macro level, an evolution of whole patterns of how people eat. The difference this time? The biggest culinary voting bloc is Hispanic.
“When you think about pizza and spaghetti, it’s the same thing,” says Jim Kabbani, CEO of the Tortilla Industry Association. “People consider them American, not ethnic. It’s the same with tortillas.”
With Hispanics making up more than a quarter of the U.S. population today – and growing fast – experts say this change is dramatically flavoring the American culinary experience. Hispanic foods and beverages were an $8 billion market in the last year, according to consumer research firm Packaged Facts. By 2017, that number may reach $11 billion.
And that’s influencing how all Americans eat. Doritos, after all, are just tarted-up tortilla chips.
As the entire menu of the American diet gets rewritten, the taste is getting spicier, with salsa and chipotle popping into the mainstream vernacular. And onto your dinner table: Marie Callender’s has grilled shrimp street tacos with chipotle ranch dressing; Whataburger has a fire-roasted blend of poblano peppers in its chicken fajita taco; and there’s tomatillo verde salsa in the baja shrimp stuffed quesadilla from El Pollo Loco.
From queso fresco to chorizo, traditional Hispanic foods – or even just the flavors of them – are making their way into our everyday diet, particularly among the millennials – those born between the early ’80s and the turn of the century. Generation Y’s Hispanic community was born into an American culture but still holds onto its traditions, often eating white rice and seamlessly switching between English and Spanish.
“They are looking for products that are not necessarily big brands anymore,” says Michael Bellas, chairman of the Beverage Marketing Corporation. “They like brands that have character. They are looking for authenticity and purity, but they are also looking for new experiences.”
All of this has meant a near complete loss of ethnicity for many Hispanic foods. Americans now more closely associate tacos, tortilla chips and burritos with fast food than with Hispanic culture.