When Gurgaon resident Avanti
Agarwal (name changed) got married this year, dishes made of white asparagus
that she had arranged to be served turned out to be a huge hit.
"We had a separate stall serving white asparagus because it is healthier and more nutritious than the green one. Everyone loved the salads and soups made from it," said Avanti who is a vice president with a multinational bank and a health freak. She is also a regular at gourmet stores in the National Capital Region. Avanti is not an exception and this is not something that's reserved for special occasions. The grocery lists of many households these days have exotic products such as hazelnuts, asparagus, basil and kiwi fruit— products that were barely visible in the country a few years ago and now increasingly appealing to the Indian palette.
Consider this: India imported
$270,000 worth of shelled hazelnuts in the first four months of this financial
year compared with $150,000 in the whole of 2014-15. Similarly, asparagus
imports have already crossed $160,000 compared with $400,000 last year. Imports
of herbs such as rosemary and basil, the foreign cousin of the desi tulsi
plant, have more than doubled to $3.5 million in this period from the whole of
Purchases of exotic fruit,
vegetables, oils and other ingredients are increasing, thanks to higher
incomes, the opening up of gourmet food stores and the rising number of Indians
travelling abroad and bringing new tastes back home. Add to this, cookery shows
-- both Indian and foreign - that have exposed the upper middle-class to a
range of ingredients and dishes so much that the level of experimentation has
gone up dramatically.
"People want something new
in every category -- even something as basic as potatoes. We find that broccoli
and baby corns, which were considered essential in Chinese cooking, are now
passe. Instead, things like water chestnuts have made their way. People explore
new flavours when they travel abroad and want to replicate them here,"
said Swasti Aggarwal, food strategist at Foodhall, Future Group's premium food
Avocados, native to Mexico and
Central America, are Foodhall's highest-selling product these days. The best
quality berry costs Rs700-800 each. Aggarwal said that while buying these
exotic products, her customers also ask about their health benefits and
recipes. Avocado is used in dips, salads, wraps, smoothies and brownies.
Data from the commerce ministry
shows that imports of niger seeds, the oil of which is a substitute for olive
oil, have quadrupled to $2.7 million this year. Shipments of virgin olive oil
are likely to surpass last year's level of $7.61 million.
"Olive oil imports are up
because edible oil prices have collapsed globally. However, one can't discount
the fact that people are giving greater importance to health and wellness and
hence, even willing to pay a premium for such products," said Ajay Sahai,
Director General and CEO at the Federation of Indian Export Organisations.
Higher hazelnut imports have been driven by the opening up of coffee chains
that offer hazelnut-based beverages and desserts, besides the growth of
chocolate manufacturing in India. The increased purchasing power of India is
evident from the imports of raw cashew nuts in the April-July period, which at
$636 million are already 60% of the $1.08 billion shipped in during the
previous financial year.
"Domestic cashew consumption
is almost 2.25 lakh tons and has been rising. There is consumption here but we
can't increase production because of certain regulatory conditions like land
ceiling rules," said K Sasi Varma, executive director and secretary of the
Cashew Export Promotion Council of India.