Increasingly sophisticated consumers are seeking authentic ethnic fare. Pictured here, Chinese dim sum. ©The Hong Kong Tourism Board

(Relaxnews) – No more ‘nuclear-orange’ shellacked Chinese chicken balls or cowardly spiced curries. When it comes to ethnic fare, a new market research report has found that increasingly international taste buds are seeking authentic and traditional flavors.

In a Mintel survey released last week, analysts found that two-thirds of US respondents named authenticity as the most important factor when buying or eating international foods.

As consumers become more globalized, well-traveled and food savvy, taste buds are also becoming more sophisticated and are able to make out the difference between Westernized ethnic foods — softened or diluted for foreign palates — and the real thing, the report pointed out.

“If flavor fanatics are going to spend their hard earned money and time visiting an ethnic restaurant or buying international foods to prepare at home, increasingly, they want it to be the real deal,” said David Browne, Mintel senior analyst.

In addition to wanting authentic ethnic flavors, nearly half — 49 percent — of consumers surveyed also placed importance on premium, gourmet and all-natural food and ingredients, in addition to reduced fat — 48 percent.

It’s a pattern that fits in with the larger trend Mintel calls ‘The Real Thing,’ where consumers are continually setting the bar higher, the report points out.

“Today’s American has much greater exposure to diverse cultures than an American 20 years ago. And as once-exotic things like sushi or yoga become mainstream, we seek new, more niche markers of cultural authenticity,” added Alexandra Smith, director of consumer trends.

When it comes to making ethnic meals at home, 70 percent of respondents said they prepared an Italian meal in the last 30 days; 63 percent cited Mexican; and 46 percent said they’d made a Chinese meal.

Another 29 percent of intrepid home cooks said they dabbled with fusion cuisine in the last month, mixing elements from different ethnic food traditions to create a multicultural meal.

According to Mintel’s Menu Insights, the five most popular ethnic menu items in restaurants at the end of the third quarter in 2011 were Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Pan-Asian and Japanese.

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare are also seeing a rise in popularity, most notably foods like hummus, tabbouleh, and Greek-style yogurt.

Meanwhile, food trendspotter Baum + Whiteman forecast that Korean and Peruvian fare will become increasingly popular this year: Korean cuisine for its kimchi, a pungent, fermented spicy cabbage side dish, and Peruvian fare for its ceviches and Asian fusion.