Exotic foods not foreign anymore

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Do you eat foods today that you thought you'd never eat, like humus or jicama? Foods once considered exotic are now on our dinner tables and becoming multi-million dollar industries.

Humus is a Mediterranean dip or spread made from chickpeas. Sabra is the country's largest humus maker and it's made right here in Chesterfield.

Said Sabra CEO Ronen Zohar, "Who thought that humus that had 2.5 percent household penetration, would have today 13 percent?"

Humus was a $5 million industry five years ago. Today it's $325 million. Sabra's been converting eaters one taste at a time.

Said Zohar, "I think only by tasting, we convince them to try. Some people are much more open, some people are less, so it takes time."

According to the Food Marketing Institute, seven out of 10 shoppers under age 40 buy an ethnic food once a month.

Martin's culinary specialist Eric Henkel showed us what they're buying. Roots like yucca or jicama.

Said Henkel, "Jicama, which is another root big in the tropics, is great over salads, which you'll see quite a bit, or fried, as in french fries or chips."

Latin foods: "Goya has developed a big set in most grocery stores because of that. Juices, beans, sauces, marinades," he showed us.

Tropical fruits: "Coconuts, mangos, you'll see papayas, kiwi fruit."

Add to that coconut water and coconut milk and drinks made with green and black tea. Said Henkel, "You'll find it in soft drinks, green tea extract, black tea extract."

And don't forget plantains, which he sauteed up for us.

So why are we eating what we didn't before? Henkel finds its the popularity of cooking and food shows like the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods."

Not to mention food trucks and restaurants offering new tastes, plus Americans' desire to eat healthier. But we don't embrace everything. Americans are quicker to accept flavors that are sweet or salty.

Said Zohar, "Most Americans love to try. They look for a new kind of experience, they love to try foods from all over the world."

What exotic food are you going to be eating next? Time magazine says it's the banh mi, which is a Vietnamese sandwich made with pork or chicken, pickled carrots and cucumber.

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