Culture Researchers: More Americans Interested in ‘Bold’ Food Tastes

23 June 2023

Researchers who follow trends say more people in the U.S. are interested in "bold" food tastes than ever before.

That means an increasing number of Americans enjoy foods from Mexico and Asia while Italian foods like pizza and pasta are not as popular.

Pizza and pasta are still the most popular foods among Americans of all ages. But they have dropped in the opinions of younger people.

FILE - President Joe Biden, joined by Rep. Karen Bass, D, Calif., pays for a takeout order at Tacos 1986, a Mexican restaurant, in Los Angeles, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FILE - President Joe Biden, joined by Rep. Karen Bass, D, Calif., pays for a takeout order at Tacos 1986, a Mexican restaurant, in Los Angeles, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mike Kostyo is an analyst at Datassential, a research company in Chicago, Illinois. He works to identify new things that are becoming popular.

People who want to go into the restaurant business are his customers. In the past, he said, it was easy to suggest that customers open a restaurant that served Italian food.

But now, he said, the choice might not be so easy. As a new generation of Americans starts spending money at restaurants, they are choosing Mexican and Asian foods.

Generations have different tastes

Datassential's latest food report shows that Americans aged 27 to 42 often choose Mexican food over Italian when they are thinking of going out to eat. Those who are even younger, in Gen Z, like Mexican food the most. Those in Gen Z are younger than 23.

That means if you visit the U.S., you may start seeing more places to buy foods like tacos than pizza or lasagna.

"Before, you know, if you were opening kind of a classic, everybody loves it, restaurant, it would have been a pizza operation. I think in the future, it's going to be a taco operation."

Kostyo noted that among all Americans, Italian food still holds the top spot. The Baby Boomer generation still likes Italian food. Baby Boomers are between 57 and 75 years old. But Mexican food and Asian food, such as ramen noodles from Japan, are rising fast.

He said many young Americans are influenced by what they see on social media services such as Instagram. People often take photos of their food and share them with friends.

Kostyo recommends that a businessperson who wants to open a restaurant near a college or university should think about a place that serves tacos instead of one that serves pizza.

The researchers note that more Americans like the taste of foods from Asia and Latin America than ever before. That is because the number of people in the U.S. from Asia and Latin America is larger than in the past.

More Latin Americans and Asians

The 2020 Census showed the Latino population grew by 23 percent in only 10 years. Asians make up over 6 percent of the U.S. population.

Kostyo said many Americans have neighbors or friends from Asia or Latin America. So, they might be introduced to these new foods more often.

The change from Italian food to Mexican food, Kostyo noted, came much faster than he expected. "This is the first time we have ever seen...this change happen in a generation," he said.

Kostyo noted that American tastes are changing. In the past, many Americans were not comfortable with spicy foods. "Every year, their capacity for bold flavors increases, so I think that's also driving some of these changes, as well."

Asian food – from places like China, Japan and Thailand – is known for bold flavors. And a recent report from the Pew Research Center shows Asian food trends.

Sono Shah helped write the Pew report. It said that 71 percent of Asian restaurants in the U.S. serve foods from either China, Japan or Thailand.

People from those countries make up only 33 percent of the U.S. Asian population.

"Chinese restaurants were the most popular, so they're found in every state," Shah said. He added that every state has at least one Japanese or Thai restaurant.

Chinese food, he said, has been in the U.S. for a long time. Japanese restaurants have increased because of the popularity of sushi, an uncooked fish dish. But there are many more Thai restaurants compared to the number of Thai people in the U.S.

"Eleven percent of all Asian restaurants are Thai. In this piece, we mentioned, you know, the Thai government has sponsored programs abroad to kind of increase the number of Thai restaurants throughout the world as a form of diplomacy."

Shah said many people first experience a culture through its food. So, if people like Thai food, they might gain a favorable opinion of Thailand.

While you may find more Asian restaurants in the U.S. than in the past, it is worth noting that they are centered in cities and states where a lot of Asian people live. So about 45 percent of all Asian restaurants are in California, New York, Texas, New Jersey and Washington.

One final finding about the food interests of Americans? They may fall back on what they see as traditional or "comfort" foods in difficult times. While Kostyo found that young people are interested in trying different foods than their parents, many chose Italian food when asked: "What would they eat if they could only eat one kind of food for the rest of their lives?"

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Jill Robbins

VOA's Dora Mekouar wrote this story. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English.


Words in This Story

trend –n. the direction of change in public opinion; things that are growing in popularity

bold –adj. strong; very easy to notice

analyst –n. a person who studies a subject in an effort to be an expert in it

customer –n. a person, group or business that pays for a product or service

classic –adj. something considered the best of its kind often because of traditional values

operation –n. a business

go-to –adj. producing the desired or needed result

capacity –n. the ability to produce or withstand something

flavor –n. the taste of something

sponsor –v. to support; to pay for in an effort to make something successful