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Chefs see an increased demand for exotic ingredients



CHENNAI: Heard of black garlic or purple lemon? Maybe swiss chard? Probably not. Exotic ingredients like these and many others are entering the kitchens of restaurants in India, driven by the changing Indian taste. With more Indians taking to dishes like sausages and mash, Mee pok, Thai curries, Peking duck from the confines of their kitchen, the market for exotic ingredients and leafy greens like lemongrass, Thai ginger, mitsuba, seaweed, morning glory and bakchoy is growing in India. Startups like Bengaluru-based Licious and Gurgaon-based ZappFresh say curing of the meat requires these ingredients, leading to an increasing demand.
“Belts in Arakonam, Vellore, Nilgiris and Ottanachatiram are hubs for specialty greens needed for cuisines like Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese,” said Shankar Subramanian, partner, Dragon’s Den, an Indo Chinese/ Asian cuisine restaurant in Chennai. While most greens are available at the Koyambedu market, Subramanian says there are suppliers who deliver fresh greens on a daily basis to his restaurant.


At MeatRoot, also there is a steady demand for exotic meat like pork bratwurst sausages, chicken frankfruter sausages, burger patties for McDonald-style cheesy burgers. “An Indian kitchen has become extremely cosmopolitan, turkey for Thanksgiving, roast duck for Christmas, pork ribs, lamp chops, filet mignon, wiener sausages. We have been seeing an uptick from people hosting parties with fancy menus,” says Vrushali Manar, CEO, MeatRoot


Along with the increase in demand for exotic meats and cuisines, rising awareness and demand for quality ingredients in driving the market. For instance, in the past year, Hydroponics startup Future Farms has set up 22 farms in the country. Hydroponics involves growing plants with nutrients, water and no soil which results in water and energy savings besides pesticide free plants that give 2-3 times better yield. “Food processings is one of the fastest growing sectors today. If you are able to suppky high quality and hygienic products, there is immense opportunity. We are growing at 350-400% yoy which is testament to the demand for these leafy greens,” said Sriram Gopal, founder, Future Farms. Italian and thai basil, bakchoy, morning glory, leeks, chives are among the products that Future Farms supplies to restaurants besides taking on turnkey projects to set up farms.


Meat startups also say that India is moving from a primarily chicken-eating market to embracing other food like pork vindaloo, mutton kheema. “People are moving towards weekend celebrations, Christmas galas and they want specialised meat like Hong Kong-style Peking duck or pork salami to make Subway-type sandwiches,” says Deepanshu Manchanda, cofounder and CEO, ZappFresh, which sells 50 plus meat products.

Malar Mannan, chef, 601, The Park says while demand is rising for exotic cuisines, availability of suitable ingredients is still an issue. With a 20-30% increase in demand for exotic ingredients, Mannan says orders have to be placed well advance. Besides the greens that he sources from Future Farms, Mannan also has suppliers for items like peruvian white asparagus, artichokes, purple lemon and swiss chard.

Another exotic ingredient that is taking its early steps in India is black garlic. White garlic has been used as a functional food, flavouring agent and traditional medicine for years. However, garlic when fermented gives black garlic which is sweet and chewy, rich in nutrients and known to help about 150 health conditions including diabetes, blood pressure and cancer, says Dev Rattan Nagpaul, MD, Pure Incense Private Limited. Nagpaul says while black garlic is very popular in countries like china and Japan, it is unknown here. Sourcing garlic from local markets, Nagpaul has them tested and fermented to convert them to black garlic and sells it on Amazon.com.

Social media, instagramming, food groups and hastagging is also driving more people their way. “Consumers today are more aware of their choices. They want to consume near-organic chicken – chicken that haven’t been pumped with antibiotics or steroids; chickens that are cage free or free-range. We source our meat from 20 farms for chickens, quails and ducks,” says Manchanda.



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