Family, Story, Culture: Inter-Generational Evolution of Latino Food Traditions in the US

A man serving plate of food to happy family at outdoor summer picnic or garden party with other food platters on table in foreground.

Countries — and the people and cultures in them — are always shifting and changing. One way we’ve seen that play out IRL over the past few decades is the explosion of the Latino population in the United States. According to a report from the US Census, the Hispanic or Latino population was 62.1 million in 2020, representing a 23% increase from 2010!

There are people from over 20 different Latin countries living in the United States, each with different and nuanced cultures. So, while we can’t paint with broad strokes about a monolithic “Latino population,” there is one value that’s shared by nearly everyone under that colorful umbrella: a deep appreciation for the impact and value of heritage and culture when it comes to food.

For immigrant families especially, there is a strong emphasis on not forgetting where you came from, and on staying connected to cultural heritage through dishes and ingredients. As a global company founded in Japan, where culture and tradition also play a strong role, ZENB understands the profound importance of these ideas and values. And, with a multicultural and diverse team of people who are passionate about food and cooking, we’re always curious to look at how these ideas expand and evolve over time.

As with many diasporic communities, a cultural conversation develops and broadens as second and third generations of families forge their own ways in the world. And for Latino families living in the US, that conversation often includes food.

Food in Latino culture is not just about the act of eating, but about sobre mesa: time spent at the table deepening relationships. It’s during unhurried meals when Latino families, many of whom are living in homes with multiple generations, connect with one other. It’s not uncommon for a traditional Latino meal to last for several hours, starting with the preparation (it’s usually a group effort in the kitchen), and moving into the eating of a variety of dishes while everyone shares stories and history, along with passing on cultural understanding.

Another interesting aspect of intergenerational Latino families often seen during mealtime is the role of cultural influence. It isn’t always a one-way flow from the older to the younger generations, but a multi-directional exchange, with history and tradition passing from older to younger, and modern ideas and cultural evolution passing back up the chain from younger to older.

For instance, over a meal, a grandparent may talk about the historical and cultural importance of an ingredient like corn or yucca, or how to prepare it, with the grandchildren chiming in about how they’ve seen those ingredients interpreted in new ways at popular restaurants. Especially for second- and third-generation Latino families in the US, Gen Z and Millennials are helping to guide the older generations through the modern world, creating unique hybrids and fusions of old and new.

One way that younger Latino generations are influencing their elders is through exploring a broader understanding of health and dietary needs, with a conscientious effort to not erode the cultural roots or sacrifice flavor.

This might look like incorporating more vegetables and plant-based foods, or trying different cooking techniques, like grilling or air-frying instead of deep-frying. It might mean pairing traditional ingredients and flavors with more nutrient-dense ingredients, like a Oaxacan-Style Agile, which honors the flavors of Oaxaca, Mexico, or Shrimp & Chorizo Paella, a lower-calorie version of the traditional Spanish dish made with ZENB’s yellow pea penne in place of rice. As the younger generations meld these ways of thinking about cooking and food, they are writing new chapters in the story of their culture. 

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