02/19/2014 03:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

20 Formerly Bizarre Foreign Foods That You Should Pretend You Already Knew About


Remember when almost nobody outside Asia had ever heard of sriracha? Well, now it comes pre-mixed with mayo. And remember those years before everything tasted like wasabi and chai? Wait, you don't?

Which currently exotic foreign foods will next be "discovered," soon to surface in every American cocktail and candy bar?


Gochujang: A Korean staple for centuries, this blazingly hot-sweet-savory sauce might be the next sriracha sauce. Annie Chun's, which now mass-markets it in the U.S., suggests putting gochujang into meatloaf and bloody Marys.

Licorice Syrup: Licorice -- sweet and salted -- is a smokin'-hot flavor in Sweden right now; Lakritsfabriken licorice syrup is used to licoricize ice cream, milkshakes, cocktails, pastries and sauces.


Drinkable Vinegar: Cocktail shrubs are just the tip of the iceberg. Sweet-and-sour fruit-flavored drinking vinegars -- sold fizzy and straight, in bottles and juice boxes -- are popular throughout Asia.


Voatsiperifery: Aka Madagascar wild pepper, this woodsy, citrusy, and very rare type of black cubeb -- that is, tailed -- pepper only grows wild on vines suspended sixty feet up trees in tropical forests. It's finally starting to appear in chocolates and other desserts outside its native island.

Salted Cherry Blossoms: Sakura no hana no shiozuke, pink blossoms preserved in plum vinegar and salt, are used as teas and garnishes in Japan. At Spoonbar in Healdsburg, CA, Chef Louis Maldonado uses them in brine, honey, meat sauces, and aioli. They deliver "the essence of cherry, not sweet and cloying but very aromatic," he told me.


Chraimeh: This spicy-garlicky-tomatoey hot-sweet-sour sauce, a Sephardic Jewish staple whose many ingredients include cinnamon, cumin, chili and lemon juice, might be the next harissa. Executive chef Nate Simmons tops cod with it (as depicted above) at Seattle's Ciccheti.

Anchovy Extract: Siphoned from the wooden barrels in which salted anchovies have been cured for five months, colatura harks back to the ancient Roman fish sauce, garum. Chefs use this intensely umami-tastic ingredient in pasta and salads.


Bibimbap: This exquisitely customizable stir-it-up rice dish, Korea's ultimate comfort food. The Bibigo restaurant chain, with locations in Beverly Hills and beyond, hopes to make this the new pho.

Date Molasses: This versatile Middle Eastern syrup, also popular at Seattle's Ciccheti, is made from pitted dates, dried ancho chiles, vinegar and water.

Matcha: This powdered green tea is what gets whisked in bowls during the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It's making inroads.

Elderflowers: Best known as the brains behind Sambuca, the delicate blossoms of Sambucus nigra are now flavoring fizzy drinks, jellies, liqueurs, and more.


Quail Eggs: These spotty minis, barely bigger than grapes, have long been sold, canned, at Asian grocery stores. Fresh ones are popping up at trendy restaurants such as LA's RivaBella, where Chef Gino Angelini has put them on pizzas.

Pimentón de la Vera: Only distantly related to Hungarian paprika, this oakwood-smoked Spanish paprika flavors and colors traditional dry-cured Iberian sausages, including some made in the U.S.


Chia Seeds: Boosted by health claims aplenty, these tiny black and white dots are popping up in cereals, health drinks, multigrain dishes and snack packs.

Grains of Paradise: Made from the seeds of a member of the ginger family, this African spice has been used in brewing since medieval times. It's in Samuel Adams' Summer Ale and springtime Cold Snap. "Grains of paradise wakes up the palate with a nice hit of pepper and a perfume of sweet spice," chef David Burke told me.

Mangosteen: Hailed as the next superfood, this curiously beautiful, leathery-skinned Southeast Asian fruit is increasingly visible in health drinks.


Monk Fruit: With an extract that is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, this apple-sized green melon -- native to subtropical China, where it's called lohan guo -- might be the next agave.

Other fruits -- I'm looking at you, calamansi -- are waiting in the wings. Chef Jeffery Russell of Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, DC favors finger limes. Dustin Valette of Dry Creek Kitchen in California's wine country favors mandarinquats. Floral-flavored camu camu, which grows in the Amazon rainforest, might be the next big berry. Mild-tasting dragonfruit is harvested from night-blooming cacti that are pollinated mainly by moths and bats.


OK, that was more than 20. And if anyone asks, act as if you already knew about all this stuff. Because you're cool. You've been eating Meyer lemons instead of regular lemons since, whatever, 2009. And hey: You probably mumble "pisco" in your sleep.

Licorice syrup and colatura images courtesy of Formaggio Kitchen. Chraimeh image courtesy of Ciccheti. All other images by Anneli Rufus. All images used with permission.