Home Food Experiments for the Palate: Evolving tastes and preferences

Experiments for the Palate: Evolving tastes and preferences


‘I am looking forward to our offsite this weekend, at least I will get a break from cooking.’ ‘I have such a problem getting hold of the television remote when Master Chef is being telecast.’

Experiments for the Palate: Evolving tastes and preferences
The India Gourmet market is growing annually at more than 20 per cent and today it is not very difficult to find a store that stocks items ranging from gourmet cheese, imported kiwis and exotic sauces to imported salami, sausages and wines

Nothing unusual about these comments until you realise that the first one was made by a male colleague who cooks regularly at home. The second was made by a female friend of mine, whose son and husband were hooked on to the show because they were looking for gourmet ideas for cooking at home.

The Changing Palate

Along with politics and cricket, food is the only other topic that elicits the kind of emotion it does in India. And globalisation, without doubt, has only enhanced the way we look at our food. Today we want to experiment with our taste buds and try cuisines ranging from Cuban to food from Nagaland. We seek variety in ingredients; whether it is the Quinoa, micro greens or native grains from Kumaon.

While there is still no real threat to the home-cooked Indian food that we have grown up with, our appetite for variety is only increasing. It isn’t uncommon for people to walk into a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) to try out new chicken flavours or opt for Indian or international theme-based restaurants or simply buy imported ingredients to cook at home.

The India Gourmet market is growing annually at more than 20 per cent and today it is not very difficult to find a store that stocks items ranging from gourmet cheese, imported kiwis and exotic sauces to imported salami, sausages and wines. While one might argue that this is largely a metro phenomenon, statistics show that Tier II and III cities are also experimenting with their palates.

At the same time, the ecosystem is evolving to cater to this change. While the domestic south and north Indian cuisines continue to be a staple, restaurants are not only experimenting with newer cuisines but also redefining the way we have been used to eating our food, whether it is the addition of Peking duck to the Chinese cuisine, Japanese Sashimi, ham from acorn-fed pigs or truffles.

On the other hand, gourmet retailers have made procuring ingredients for cooking a variety of international cuisines at home an easier option – be it Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, African or European.

The advent of lifestyle and specialised food channels has made cooking more fun and specifically cooking beyond the usual a style statement. Food based programmes are attracting eyeballs across sex, age and geography and fueling the change in our tastes. It is hence not surprising that the Indian palate is hungry to experiment and getting increasingly adventurous with each new taste.

Drivers of change & The Disruptors

This change has its genesis in a number of reasons. Double income, changing demographics and globalisation have given the consumer access to information and the ability to pay for the variety.

Digitisation, however, has been the single biggest disruptor and has given birth to new categories of companies, players in the ecosystem and supply chain. We now have companies like Zomato, whose business model is to aggregate information about restaurants and their menus, as well as to provide a platform to food enthusiasts and bloggers to post reviews.

There is also a growing breed of online startups which have made cooking gourmet meals at home a breeze by delivering all the necessary ingredients, which are sometimes hard to find, to our very doorsteps. In fact digitisation is fundamentally changing the nature of the companies.

Today 50 per cent of Dominos’ business comes through e-commerce. Having food delivered from restaurants to your coach, when you are travelling by train, is now a reality.

Digitisation has shifted the power from the provider, in this case the restaurants or the food company, to the consumer in more ways than one. It has given rise to an ecosystem which includes the importers of foreign food products who cater to the increasing demand for foreign ingredients at one end and an entire crop of food bloggers who have taken food tasting and critique to a different level, on the other.

Another key reason for these changing tastes is increasing consciousness about health. We have seen products like olive oil, oats and green tea enter our homes like never before. Just a few years ago, olive oil was not even known as a medium of cooking in Indian kitchens. Today, we have thousands of homes that use only olive oil in their cooking because it is seemingly healthier.

The demand has made us adopt not only the oil but also created an entirely new ecosystem in India, right from growing olives to producing the oil indigenously. The Rajasthan Government is experimenting with this, with help from Israel, and India might soon have its own home grown olive oil brands. We are also seeing the organic food market flourish.

Today, every supermarket has a section on organic products, stocking the organic staples, tea, organically grown fruits and vegetables. Increasing consciousness about the use of fertilisers, its impact on our health and the water table is driving people to adopt it as part of their lifestyle.

The organic market, though still small, has made a bold entry and has not only given a healthier alternative to consumers but also a whole new opportunity to farmers. Local farmer markets selling these produce are now becoming a common phenomenon in urban cities.

Options Galore

All this has also changed the way we eat out and also given rise to new ways of eating out. Today we have homes that turn into restaurants for a day in a week or in a fortnight inviting people to taste home cooked food that is otherwise not readily available, like Parsi, Kutchi or North Eastern food.

A few years ago, eating out meant either having North Indian Punjabi food, which globally is recognised as ‘Indian Food’, South India food that was restricted to dosa, idli and uttapam or Indian Chinese. A few restaurateurs changed all that. They not only experimented with the palate of the Indian foodie but also introduced a few cuisines to the mainstream.

Specialised regional cuisine restaurants are giving people outside of that region a taste of the dishes beyond the usual while also breaking a few myths.

Food tourism is a growing area and is seen as a great weekend getaway. Following the Tea trail, going to Bhopal to taste the local cuisine on a weekend or working in a farm on a holiday are some examples of the variety of holidays and ‘destressing’ mechanisms that the tourism industry is offering to their customers.

Investor’s Interest

There is yet another stakeholder in this ecosystem – the private equity, venture capitalist and the angel investor who has capitalised on this opportunity by funding new businesses and entrepreneurs to give the required fillip in the area of restaurant business or processed food.

Outlook With globalisation, increasing disposable incomes and more connectivity in the world, it is but inevitable that there would be an increase in the exchange of information and ideas, greater awareness of cultures and hence the hunger to experiment and learn more. As a result, the evolved ecosystem will not only better our understanding of other cultures but also hopefully improve the lives of multiple groups and people starting with farmers and traders on the one hand and the delivery boys on the other. This will also lead to newer business models and innovation along with the creation of employment.