A Mardi Gras Lesson on Food Localization

Category: Culture

Here at Acclaro, we often talk about the importance of adapting products to local tastes. The Mardi Gras doughnut is the perfect example of a core concept (sugar, butter, flour — combined and fried) that acquired different forms and flavors in its journey around the world. From beignets in N’awlins to pączki in Chicago, the foods associated with the Tuesday before Lent are a classic example of how to adapt a product to cater to the needs, preferences, tastes and whims of a local culture or target audience.

Originally these treats were made to use up all of the sugar, butter and fat in the home before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Catholic Lent. The intense process of deep-frying in the medieval times made the end result — delectable fried dough — an indulgence that would make its way into celebrations around the globe.

In spite of their similar origin, Mardi Gras doughnuts have morphed into unique (but always fried) expressions around the world. Just look at beignets (French) and Fastnachtsküchlein (German). Or Portuguese malasadas. These raised doughnuts made their way to Hawaii in the late 1800s courtesy of sugar plantation workers from the Azores. Malasadas originally had no fillings or holes, but over the years they have changed to include Hawaiian ingredients such as coconut and guava inside. Today malasadas are the specialty of many Hawaiian bakeries, some of which make them year-round.

The Polish pączki are another iteration of the Mardi Gras doughnut. This confection was traditionally filled with powidla, made of stewed plums or rose hip jam, though their modern versions are more likely to have custard or jam fillings.

During Carnevale in Italy, revelers have two fried options for feasting. Cenci (or frappe) are crispy strips of pastry, much like funnel cake. Castagnoles are small fried balls of dough soaked in liqueur.

The history of Mardi Gras fried dough is a lesson in successful food localization. So are you hungry yet? Pick up a beignet and then contact us for more information on how we can help you to appeal to local audiences wherever you go, just like the humble doughnut.