A nationwide movement toward healthier eating is forcing restaurants and their suppliers to tweak their strategies and mix in new ingredients, according to a recent NRA show panel.  And, fresh is becoming an important differentiator in Hispanic diners’ choices of where to eat.

Hispanic food culture has played a significant role in the culinary world’s move toward fresh, less processed eating choices. This is due to a deeper understanding of the cultivation process, a cultural history of growing one’s own food at home, and the perceived value of making foods from scratch.

In addition, Hispanics, unlike the general population of the U.S., have a poor quality perception of packaged foods due to the increased use of preservatives and additives in these products. As a result, Hispanics place a higher value on the freshness and authenticity of foods and recipes—important factors to keep in mind when developing appealing menus.

In fact, 82% of Hispanics are more apt to associate fresh food with comfort foods.  Favorite fresh-prepared comfort foods include such ethnic dishes as pupusas with squash blossoms(a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick corn tortilla filled with cheese, pork or beans); pozole (a Mexican stew featuring hominy kernels); menudo (cow's stomach in broth); and arepas con queso (Colombian or Venezuelan cornmeal cakes stuffed with cheese).

Many Hispanics new to the U.S. start eating packaged foods only because familiar fresh options are no longer available to them. Innovative restaurants have an opportunity to reverse this trend by promoting menu selections made from fresh ingredients. Highlighting the “fresh” characteristics of a few key ingredients creates an overall halo of quality.


There is a growing appreciation by Hispanic consumers for the healthfulness of traditional, fresh foods. Ingredients that are categorized as “cultured“ (i.e., fermented, pickled, cured, brewed, or lacto-fermented) are both delicious and can promote a variety of health benefits.

Tapas, featuring traditional items such as the pickled vegetable cassava or jalapeños, commonly known as escabeche, are an easy-to-prepare addition to your menu. Or, you can experiment with innovative flavors like Chicha (a maize beverage, infused with barley, cinnamon and clove — very popular in Andean countries, like Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador). The possibilities are only limited by your culinary imagination.


Authenticity is about place and self, according to some of the country’s most well known chefs. Latin dishes must be true to their country of origin, but also represent the fact that they are being prepared in America, for customers who tend to also prefer that chefs follow local, modern sourcing practices in the 21st century. 

Efforts to establish authenticity in menus should also include staff education, training and care to use correct menu verbiage.  It’s important that the service staff convey the chef’s passion to guests. Training and communication close the circle of authenticity in Latin menus.


Only 25% of consumers polled in a recent survey say they are satisfied with the availability of ethnic offerings at larger limited-service and full-service restaurants.  This means there are significant opportunities for independent restaurant operators to differentiate their menus in a very competitive marketplace.

Enhancing the freshness, healthfulness and authenticity of your menu can be critical to attracting new diners and keeping current guests coming back for more. But, all your efforts may go unrewarded if your customers aren’t aware of the changes you make. Tell them the good news by promoting your menu additions on tent cards, restaurant promotions, or by ensuring fresh items make the list of specials shared with guests by your servers!


1 From, “Health trends force industry to innovate,” by Jason Q. Freed, May 21, 2014

2 From, “Trends in Latin Flavors and American Food Culture” a presentation at by Melissa Abbott, The Hartmann Group, Bellevue, WA., on

3 “Hitting a high note with Hispanic foodservice consumers,” by kelly weikel, senior consumer research manager at Technomic Inc., posted May 1, 2013 on

4 From, “Trends in Latin Flavors and American Food Culture” a presentation at by Melissa Abbott, The Hartmann Group, Bellevue, WA., on

5 “Latin Flavors, American Kitchens. Envisioning A Future Of Excellence, Innovation And Opportunity,” posted at

6 Presentation by Fernando Salazar – VP of food and beverage Wyndham Hotels and Resorts posted on