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Why Korean & Thai Foods Will Delight Your Guests

August 31, 2021

Americanized versions of Chinese dishes have been fan favorites for decades, achieving comfort food status with many as they’ve grown up with these flavors. We’re not going to deny anyone of their go-to lo mein, but the presence of more authentic and regional Asian dishes on the US food scene is what’s currently fueling our culinary fire. This month, our Top 10 Trend is Experience Asia, where the focus is getting familiar with the nuances of Asian cuisine, as every country, city and street corner has an exceptional dish with appeal that knows no bounds. Korean and Thai cuisines possess some ingredients that are lesser-known, while at the same time have familiar elements. Often the lesser-known items fall into categories that suit today’s consumer. Let’s take a look at some of the growing ingredients and dishes within these two cuisines that you can incorporate on your menu.
Many consumers may not be acquainted with some of the foods and ingredients within Korean cuisine, but they do fall into on-trend categories that consumers are looking for. As health and wellness continues to be top of mind for consumers, many are looking towards food as part of the solution to their overall health. Gut health has been a growing topic, especially as it relates to immunity. Almost half of consumers claim they want immunity-boosting ingredients in everything they eat, from burgers to burritos.1 Eating fermented foods, such as kimchi, not only helps the immune system, but can also benefit weight loss, mood, and inflammation.2 Kimchi has grown 5.4% on the menu over the past 4 years, and kimchi slaw has grown 8.2%, often seen in builds such as bibimbap, chicken sandwiches, and tacos.3 Mix comfort and kimchi with these Kimchi Loaded Fries, complete with a kimchi and peanut slaw, scallions, and a drizzle of bibimbap mayo made with Bibimbap Sauce.
Another US health-related trend found naturally within Korean cuisine is the use of vegetables. Whether a guest is trying to decrease animal protein consumption or just wants to add more nutritious items into their diet, Korean cuisine embraces the use of vegetables at the center and side of the plate. Both of the following bowls are loaded with produce and feature kimchi. The first is a Korean-Style Red Lentil and Asparagus Bowl that uses Chili Garlic Sauce for its punch of flavor, along with stir-fried vegetables, red lentils, kimchi slaw, toasted walnuts, and sesame seeds. Next is a Tempura Cauliflower Ancient Grain Bowl made with ancient grains, tempura-fried cauliflower, edamame, kimchi, green onions, and our Korean-Style Barbeque Sauce.
Speaking of Korean BBQ, this mention has grown 41.6% on the menu since 20174 and our sauce helps bridge the gap between the newness of Korean chili flavors and recognizable sweet and smokey notes. Use it on everything from plant-based burgers to chicken tacos. It’s a great way to bring a new, globally-inspired element to American dishes—and consumers are looking for something new. In fact, the number one answer from consumers when asked what they will likely eat more of in two years was “new menu items/things they’ve never tried before.”5 Complex flavors that may be new to many US diners but standard of Korean fare include black garlic and gochujang, growing on menus by 8.2% and 117.3%, respectively.6 Black garlic is aged raw garlic that is said to have originated in Korea. Once aged, the garlic takes on a deep, dark color and becomes soft and savory, but also sweet, eliminating the “bite” of regular garlic. Chefs enjoy using black garlic for its umami qualities in practically any application regular garlic is used. Flavoring sauces, condiments, oils, and dressings is just the start for this unique ingredient. Gochujang gives consumers that heated kick many are seeking with its savory, sweet, and spicy flavor. Essentially a fermented chili paste, its flavor notes can be found within our Korean-Style Sweet Heat Sauce and Bibimbap Sauce.
Switching gears to Thai cuisine, you’ll find Thai chili has also been satisfying consumers’ need for new and spicy, steadily climbing on menus for the past decade—2.7% in the past year alone.7 Thai chili sauce often complements chicken in items such as wings, wraps, salads, and pizza. There is not one specific variety of pepper that defines a Thai chili pepper but all pack a punch; their heat is typically charted between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville units which is accompanied by fruity notes. Layer a variety of flavors and textures with Thai chilis to achieve a well-balanced dish, like in these Thai Roasted Peanut Lettuce Wraps which feature our Thai-Style Roasted Peanut Sauce. Butter leaf lettuce is loaded full of chicken, Thai roasted peanut sauce, sambal, shiitake mushrooms, Thai red pepper, and water chestnuts. Give it extra crunch by topping with fried rice noodles.
Last, but not least, one of the growing Thai items on the menu we’re most excited for are the soups. Tom Yum is a hot and sour soup that incorporates lemongrass, makrut lime leaves and lime juice, galangal (a similar relative to ginger), fish sauce, and chili peppers. Proteins and mushrooms join this base to create a variety of Tom Yum versions. Mentions of Tom Yum have grown 14.4% since 2017.8 Tom Kha has a similar foundation to Tom Yum, and has risen 7.5% on menus in the past four years.9 The main difference? Coconut milk for added creaminess. Coconut milk is a staple in Thai cuisine and is becoming commonplace in many foodservice operations, mainly as a dairy substitute. To achieve your version of these Thai soups, use our Thai-Style Vegetable Broth, a ready-to-use solution that packs in authentic flavor. We’ve already put together two great Tom Kha recipes for you to try. Power Greens Tom Kha is a vegan soup that utilizes a variety of summer produce and quinoa. Noodles and shrimp create this heartier version along with bok choy, mushrooms, and Thai chilis.
Even if truly authentic dishes don’t align with your menu, inspiration can be found in the iconic dishes from different cities, regions and countries across Asia. Be sure to look through our latest newsletter featuring menu insights, recipe ideas, and culinary demonstrations related to Asian cuisine. Let us know how you’ve brought Korean, Thai, or other Asian flavors into your operation. We can’t wait to see your creativity.

Until next time, stay true to the food!


Joe Beitzel
Brand Marketing Director
Custom Culinary, Inc.

1 Datassential, Covid-19 Report 20: Health at Home, May 2020
2 Harvard Health Publishing, Feed Your Gut, April 2021
3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 Datassential SNAP, August 2021
5 Datassential, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Webinar, July 2021