Asian Inspired Flavors
Asian Inspired Flavors
The ever-increasing interest of western consumers in Asian flavors and ingredients doesn’t show any signs of slowing. As more and more ingredients from traditional Asian cuisine become mainstream in Europe and North America, the more new and unique flavor options and fusion dishes we’ll all be able to enjoy.
We’ve put together some of the hottest Asian-inspired flavors from heat spices and savory sauces to fishy flavors and the sweetness of ripe fruits. Find inspiration for your next recipe or product with these Asian-inspired flavors.
Bring the Heat
There are a number of spices and ingredients used in Asian cuisine that can bring the heat to a dish or product. Some are familiar favorites, and others are just now starting to shine in Western markets.
Wasabi is a great example of a spicy ingredient that many are already familiar with. It is made by working Japanese horseradish into a paste. It is often served with sushi and sashimi but is also used to coat nuts and veggies like peas.
Since wasabi is a member of the Brassicaceae family, making it a relative of both mustard and horseradish, it is no surprise that the flavor of wasabi is similar to their clean, white heat that stimulates the nose rather than scorches the tongue.
Another familiar ingredient to add an Asian-inspired kick to your cooking is chili sauce. There are many variations, but the base of the sauce is made with peppers and vinegar, then ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, sesame, or other ingredients are added to make it distinct. Some variations include Korean Gochujang, Thai sweet chili sauce, and the widely popular Siracha.
The flavor and heat intensity of a chili sauce will vary depending on the blend of ingredients, but, in general, it will have a balance of sweet, spicy, tangy, and savory. This balance makes chili sauce incredibly versatile for use with almost any food.
Somewhat less well-known is the sweet and spicy palapa, a staple in the cooking of the Maranao people of the Philippines. Palapa is made by combining thinly chopped white scallions, turmeric, pounded ginger, toasted grated coconut, and labuyo chili then cooking the mixture until slightly dry.
In addition to the spicy-sweet flavor of the palapa, it also holds earthy and garlicky notes that round the profile, adding to its versatility, as it is indeed used in a wide variety of dishes throughout Maranao cuisine.
Taste of the Ocean
Seafood plays an important role in the diets of many Asian people and there are many Asian-inspired flavors that can impart that distinct ocean taste.
One of the most common ocean-based ingredients used in Asian cuisine is fish sauce. Made from salted and fermented fish or krill, fish sauce can range in color from a bright, tealike amber to a more opaque brown similar to soy sauce.
The fermented sauce has a distinctly fishy taste with a briny saltiness and subtle caramelized sweetness. It works well in marinades, salad dressings, and as a condiment on its own.
Another seafood-based sauce that can add an Asian-inspired flair to a wide range of recipes and foodstuffs is oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is made with oyster extracts, salt, sugar, and corn starch thickened water. It’s dark brown in color and much more viscous than fish sauce.
It combines the flavors of barbeque sauce and soy sauce for a salty-sweet experience that is filled to the brim with umami. It goes well with roasted meats and vegetables thanks to the lack of any distinct fishiness.
If you’re a vegetarian or have a shellfish allergy, you can still add a taste of Asian coastal life to your cooking with kombu. Also called dasima or haidai, kombu is a type of edible kelp that is dried and then eaten, though it is quite rubbery, or, more often, used to make the dashi broth that is full of delicious umami notes.
Kombu is briny, bringing in the saltiness of the ocean, but also green as it is a sea vegetable. It is not at all fishy and its taste has even been compared to that of mushrooms.
Finally, flakey furikake, made from dried fish, chopped seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar. The salty seasoning adds a satisfying crunch to cooked rice, fish, and vegetables. Furikake is also used in onigiri, a type of Japanese rice ball.
In addition to the delicious savory seafood sauces and ingredients inspired by Asian flavors and recipes, there are also a large number of land-based savory flavors that can take a fried or roasted dish to the next level.
For an Asian spin on a staple condiment, try kewpie mayo. Made with egg yolk instead of the whole egg, kewpie mayo is richer and has a thicker consistency than regular mayo. It is less sweet than Miracle Whip with a more distinct eggy flavor and an unmistakable hint of umami.
Kewpie mayo can be used to make other sauces, marinades, or as a condiment on its own. Switch out your regular mayo for kewpie on your next burger and you’ll quickly see what all the fuss is about.
Next up is hoisin sauce, a salty, sweet, and fragrant sauce made of soybeans, garlic, chili peppers, and spices. Commonly used in Cantonese cooking, the dark, thick sauce makes an excellent dipping sauce, meat glaze, or stir fry
Another star flavor out of the Phillippines comes from achara or atchara, a common side dish made of pickled green papaya. The unripe papaya is grated and pickled to bring out the unique sweet and sour flavor of the dish.
Achara is commonly paired with fried and grilled foods like pork, sausage, bacon, and chicken. The crispiness of the papaya and the sweet, tangy flavor make it a perfect pair with richer, savory dishes.
Fruity and Sweet
Last, but certainly not least, sweet fruity flavors to incorporate in cuisine, sweets, or beverages. Asian citrus and other fruits have been gaining more and more popularity with western consumers. Here are a few you should know.
Yuzu has been gaining popularity in the west for its unique taste. While yuzu is commonly grown in Japan, it originated in China. It looks like a cross between an orange and a lemon with larger seeds. The flavor of the yuzu is a cross between lemon, lime, and grapefruit, making it a versatile flavor ingredient.
The tart, citrusy flavor of the fresh fruit’s flesh and juice can be enjoyed directly, though you might want to add a little sweetener to the juice, or its rind can be used to add zest to a wide range of dishes. You can also get yuzu powder to add a sweet, citrusy kick to tea, ice cream, cakes, and other desserts.
Star fruit, also known as carambola, is a sweet and sour fruit with five points that make it look like a star when sliced. There are two varieties of star fruit, one small and sour, the other large and sweet.
The skin of the star fruit is edible and turns yellow when ripe. Ripe star fruit are sweeter than green ones which can be sour and taste similar to a lemon or lime. The tartness gives way to sweetness as the fruit ripens until it resembles the flavor of a kiwi.
Another unique fruit found in Asian cuisine is the ume plum, also known as the Japanese plum, though it originates from China. It is a small green to yellow-orange fruit with an aroma similar to apricots. On their own, the plums are quite sour, bitter, and astringent, so they are usually only consumed pickled as umeboshi.
Umeboshi has a tart fruity flavor with deep, rich notes of apricot, though still incredibly sour and quite salty after the ume have been pickled. While there are sweeter versions available, the true taste of ume and umeboshi will pucker the lips of anyone, which can be half the fun of sour candy.