Integrating Hispanic Ingredients, Offerings

Retailers with a strong Hispanic customer base should consider their unique needs and demands. Not all Hispanic customers are the same and understanding key differences can help your bottom line.

By Sylvia Klinger, Contributing Editor

Projections from the U.S. Bureau of the Census indicate Hispanic population growth will continue, with Hispanics making up roughly 30% of the nation’s entire population by 2050.

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Addressing the unique dining differences among this population will be beneficial to the consumer and can help convenience retailers distinguish the benefits of catering to the various segments of this growing demographic.

If it’s reasonable to include Hispanic offerings to their menus, it’s important that c-stores understand that different geographic regions have different dietary patterns.

Still, Hispanics are most often influenced by the core elements of their country of origin, which include grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. There are a bevy of items convenience retailers can use to spice up their foodservice offerings.

Hispanics tend to incorporate some western food favorites as they spend more time in  the U.S. and achieve better economic status; however, they are rooted in their culture and the traditional foods from their country, which still marks their specific preferences.

Cooks from the Caribbean (e.g., Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic) tend not to use chilies in their cooking. Instead, sofrito—generally used to flavor many dishes Caribbean and Latin American is a sauce made of tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and herbs.

To understand Hispanic food, it’s important to talk about its culinary history. I prefer to categorize Hispanic food by Mexico, Caribbean, Central America and South America and Spain.

Mexican cooking uses a wealth of fresh ingredients to create a dynamic flavorful cuisine.
Mexican food options can include:
• Agua Fresca: Fresh fruit juice with sugar and water.
• Arroz a la Mexicana: Long grain white rice cooked with tomatoes.
• Café con leche: Coffee with whole milk and sugar.
• Chorizo: Spicy Mexican pork sausage.
• Empanadas: Small turnover (filled with meat, sweet yams or pineapple).
• Mole: Red, green or brown sauce prepared in hundreds of different flavors, colors and nuts or chocolate.
• Picadillo: Mixture of ground beef or pork, shredded with other ingredients such as raisins, vegetables, etc., and usually used as stuffing.
• Pozole: A hearty soup with hominy and pork or chicken.

The popularity of Puerto Rican cooking reaches beyond its shores to a large Boricua immigrant population in New York and other American cities.

Typical ingredients in Puerto Rican cooking are chicken, fish, seafood, avocados, calabaza (pumpkin), greens, chayote, okra, gandules (pigeon peas), apio, ñame (yams), plátanos (plantains) and sweet potatoes.

Puerto Rican cooking is distinguished by its use of adobo and sofrito. Adobo is simply a marinade or rub, typically with garlic and lime juice that is used to season meat and poultry.

Mofongo, mashed plantain mixed with pork cracklings, often serves as a meal’s starch. Plantains are also popular as fried chips called tostones that are served with garlicky mojo sauce. Arroz con pollo, or chicken with rice, is considered something of a national dish.

Traditional fare from Puerto Rico includes:
• Adobo: A basic seasoning combination for Puerto Rican cooking.
• Arroz con gandules: A medium grain white rice seasoned with sofrito, achiote and green pigeon peas.
• Arroz con pollo: A medium grain white rice seasoned with sofrito, achiote and chicken.
• Bistec: Cubed steak; used to prepare pepper steak.
• Empanadillas: A turnover or fritter made of dough stuffed with beef picadillo.
• Tostones: Slice of green plantain fried, smashed flat and refried.

The Cuban cuisine had as its foundation the broad and varied Spanish cuisine which is a summing up of regional cuisines. This is a common phenomenon in the Hispanic Caribbean.

There, the red kidney beans are called “kongo” and the rice “ri.” The combination name comes from the Haitian Creole, meaning red kidney beans with rice.

Traditional Cuban offerings are:
• Moros y Cristianos: Black beans and rice mixed together.
• Arroz con pollo: Yellow rice with chicken.
• Ropa vieja: Seasoned shredded beef (dried).
• Licuados: Made with whole milk, fruit and sugar or condensed milk.
• Maduros: Fried sweet plantain.

It’s important to note the most characteristic feature of Cuban food is a mixture where the tomato sauce with a few sautéed spices or Cuban sauce stands over the rest of the ingredients.