Chile: The Global Gourmet

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Consumers looking for unique, exotic flavors in foods produced in limited quantities with world-class ingredients and sold in attractive, sophisticated packaging are changing the global food industry. In addition to being healthy, these discerning consumers want their food choices to reflect their refinement and are especially attracted to natural, organic, and ethnic products and flavors.

Chile has more than 2,700 miles of coastline, a privileged geographic location, a wide range of climates, and natural barriers – such as the Atacama Desert, the Andes, the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica – sheltering it from pests and disease. Leveraging these advantages, in recent years Chile has developed a wide range of innovative, high-quality, safe, and reliable food products that have been introduced with much approval in international markets. Following up on its success, Chile now stands poised to seduce sophisticated consumers around the world.

Unique natural conditions do not by themselves account for the success of the Chilean gourmet industry. Both government and the private sector have worked together in support of innovation and creativity, focusing on small and medium-size businesses able to leverage the advantageous trade agreements signed by Chile, such as the 2004 Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

The result is more than 4,000 Chilean companies shipping food products worldwide. But the bushels of ripe blueberries, pounds of Omega-3 rich salmon filets, and cases of quality value-priced wines are only part of the equation. Chilean growers and producers are carving out a share of the emergent export market with handcrafted extra-virgin olive and avocado oils, herb-infused vinegars, preserved fruits and jams, farmstead cheeses, and specialty wines.

Chilean cuisine reflects the cultural evolution of a country in a constant search for its essence and ancestral identity. It is characterized by the use of milder herbs and spices than elsewhere in Latin America and features a wide range of seafood, meat, fruit, and vegetables.

Traditional recipes handed down for generations by the indigenous Mapuche population of southern Chile are now captivating discerning palates around the world. One case in point is merkén seasoning, a unique, highly versatile blend of ground, smoked hot peppers, coriander seeds, and salt that gives a rich Chilean flavor to practically any type of food. Merkén, made for generations the old-fashioned way by native families for their own use, is smoked with native woods that impart a unique, all-natural flavor.

But merkén and extra-virgin olive oil are not alone in the Chilean gourmet lineup. New products are making their debut abroad, including Ulmo tree syrup; traditional farmer-style cow’s milk cheese; heart-healthy avocado oil; herb and citrus-infused vinegar; Chilote garlic paste (from the southern island of Chiloé); natural mineral waters; chestnut flour; specialty salt; exotic jams such as murtilla (Chilean guava) or tropical Chilean carica grown in the Limarí Valley. Others are prepared game meats such as deer ham, ostrich sausage, and canned snails – the list of new, high-quality Chilean food products taking on the world just goes on and on.

Even seafood is getting an export update. Having three vastly different marine ecosystems, Chile has long been home to a great variety of seafood. While fresh-from-the-sea, healthy salmon still dominates the roster, trout, oysters, and scallops are only steps behind. Niche, hard-to-find Chilean products that are becoming increasingly popular with today’s discerning consumer – canned abalone, anchovies packed in olive oil, smoked salmon, and trout, even sea urchin – are fast becoming a welcome addition to worldwide food markets.

In the wine world, Chilean offerings have long been praised as great value for the money. But with the recent trend towards production of premium wines, connoisseurs around the world cannot wait to see just to what levels Chile can take its already celebrated wines.