Middle East invades the world — in a very delicious way.

Serdar Paktin
Jun 4, 2019 · 5 min read
“Middle East Meets West” insight report in collaboration with PAKT and Brand Genetics, 2019

Do you ever wonder why you began to see salad options with tahini dressing or za’atar on pizzas and flat breads? Why is everything you eat and drink turmeric flavoured? Why a tiny Scarface-wannabe butcher man from Istanbul has more than 22 million followers on Instagram?

Middle Eastern food culture is on the rise globally and it may be the most significant shift in global culture nowadays, which will continue to grow even more in the future. We have prepared an insight report, in collaboration with Brand Genetics, that aims to provide a cross-cultural outlook with five key trends to understand how Middle Eastern food culture is influencing how and what we eat in the world. You can download the report via this link.

I wanted to write a bit about the context for the report which are partly in the report and partly about the global context that we live in. So, below points are not directly reflecting the trends in the report.

Middle Eastern, not Mediterranean

One of the most significant outcome of this change is the liberation of the term “Middle Eastern” from its negative connotations. The term “Middle Eastern” had been almost synonymous with terror and violence since 9/11. Therefore, any food company or restaurant refrained from calling their food “Middle Eastern” and hid under the bigger umbrella of “Mediterranean” for long years. Now, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food has a distinction with their ingredients, use of spices, cooking techniques and taste. Therefore, we see brands and companies like The Halal Guys, Saffron Road, Nai Arabia Ice Tea, who proudly state that they are Middle Eastern.

Photo by Hari Nandakumar on Unsplash

Universally, food is the initial interaction domain between cultures. There are quite a few examples in history that interaction created some of the food and drinks you consume daily today. For instance, coffee was introduced to the West via the Ottoman Empire, and today, it’s one of the most consumed products in the world.

In recent times, falafel and hummus have pioneered the Middle Eastern cuisine to become mainstream in urban global culture and the vegan-vegetarian culture had a big influence on that expansion. This is not news anymore. Now, we see other recipes, methods, food and ingredients follow these pioneers and find their place on the tables and menus of the Western world.

Authentic superfood

Spices and ingredients of those cultures are entering our cupboards as functional food or superfood that are boosting our immune system, helping as antioxidants or making us less dependant on vitamin pills…

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Food as a social experience

Those food cultures are also influencing how we eat and serve our food. More platters to share, like mezzes, are making our tables more of a social experience rather than individuals eating their own food at the same table.

This also transforms that social experience into an occasion to be shared and communicated on new media platforms and the food becomes a part of online conversation. Also, one person’s knowledge in local food culture and taste is part of his/her cultural capital — and it enables him/her to gain reputation among peers and followers. Cultural capital on food culture is a merit for a person that’s paving the way to becoming an online influencer.

Photo by Callie Morgan on Unsplash

Food as communication

Similarly, showing cooking skills and interesting food on online media is a way for chefs and restaurants to open up to a global audience and introduce their food, which helped many Middle Eastern individuals to become celebrities. For instance, CZN Burak, who is the owner and chef of Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrası in Istanbul, now has almost eight million followers on Instagram. His followers increased almost one million since last month when I last checked.

Rising Star: Halal food

In addition, Islam is one of the most followed religions in the world with a population of more than 1.8 billion people today, according to The State of Islamic Economy Report 2018/19. It is expected to rise to more than 2.2 billion by 2030 according to Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. Therefore, Muslim population has a strong presence around the world and that creates a bigger demand for Halal food and other Halal branded products and services. For example, London Halal Food Festival will take place for the fourth time this year with an ever growing number of guests and vendors. Halal concept is not only becoming a big thing for the Muslim community but also for consumers who are looking for cleaner, ethical and sustainable sources of nutrition and food.

Trust issues with big food companies

That brings us to another issue, which is affecting people’s perception of food and nutrition: trust in brands and products. In the last few decades, brands and companies have begun to modify and transform so much of the ingredients in food that people started to question if that food was actually healthy and good for them.

For instance, Adnan Durani, CEO and Founder of Saffron Road, has recently said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio that we’re in a crisis now in the food system according to “ a recent report that paints Big Food as the new Big Tobacco, linking the industry to a global obesity epidemic, malnutrition and climate change.”

Increasing rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity and other health conditions are partly related to unhealthy and modified ingredients used in food, which creates a loss of trust towards some brands and companies. The loss of trust against brands has also triggered a search for more natural, untouched, traditionally produced products. This search has a certain significance for Middle Eastern and Halal food to become more popular in the Western world.

As a summary, we can say that the Middle Eastern food culture is entering the global scene big time and there are so many opportunities for brands, companies and entrepreneurs in food and beverage industry. In this sense, we wanted to outline five key trends and insights that create a shift in global food culture and deliver a report that would be valuable even in the years to come.

We would like to hear your feedback so please do contact us either on social media or email us and let us know what you think.

Afiyet olsun! بالهناء و الشفاء

pakt agency: sensemakers

We are sensemakers: cultural insight for impact. PAKT is an interdisciplinary human understanding and cultural relevance agency. We specialize on systems thinking, cultural understanding and future visioning to provide long-term impact and relevance.

Serdar Paktin

Written by

sensemaker: semiotics | cultural insight | strategic foresight | multisensory experience @ PAKT

pakt agency: sensemakers

We are sensemakers: cultural insight for impact. PAKT is an interdisciplinary human understanding and cultural relevance agency. We specialize on systems thinking, cultural understanding and future visioning to provide long-term impact and relevance.

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