Ethnic vegetables become increasing popular in the U.S.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Formisano Farms in South Jersey began growing ethnic vegetables more than 20 years ago, starting with the herb cilantro.

A staple in several ethnic cuisines, cilantro has now become mainstream. It’s a key ingredient in salsa, which has surpassed ketchup sales, and now makes up 10 percent of the farm’s income.

The explosion of immigrant populations is fueling the growth of ethnic vegetables like cilantro and bok choy, giving farmers new and potentially more profitable revenue streams to add to their American staples of corn, sweet peppers and tomatoes. They’ll have less competition for this narrow niche, crops that an ethnic population would have consumed in their home country, now growing in small quantities in the United States.

“Cilantro is widely used almost everywhere today,” said John Formisano, whose family has been farming for nearly a century. “When we first started, most people hadn’t ever heard of it.”

Today, the American public may not recognize Chinese eggplant’s long, slender purple shape, or aji dulce – small, colorful sweet peppers – two vegetables commonly used in Asian and Hispanic cooking.