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Don't sit on the sideline as this new seafood star rises

It's not often you can be on the front end of one of seafood's biggest trends -- but here's your chance.

Looking for a hot seafood trend? One word: poke.

Pronounced “Poh-kay,” this traditional Hawaiian seafood favorite typically consists of cubed ahi (yellowfin tuna) sashimi marinated with sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, seaweed, and other spices. Poke  can be made with other seafood as well, but ahi poke is by far the most common.

In Hawaii, the poke capital of the world, you can find the seafood treat in most grocery stores and restaurants. In fact, Honolulu magazine in a 2011 article described the ubiquitousness of poké  this way: “Its explosion in popularity and rise as a culinary icon has made poke Hawaii’s hamburger, another foodstuff that began with humble origins and has taken on a cultural identity …”

On the mainland, too, the versatile seafood is enjoying unprecedented popularity – in Los Angeles and other cities there has been an explosion of poke restaurants in the last several years -- and it would appear we are just at the beginning of this trend.

You can find poke in Costco and other supermarkets large and small. And poke-focused restaurants are popping up around the United States.

At the recent Seafood 1on1 conference in Providence, Rhode Island, poke was greatly on the minds of buyers such as Lisa Todd Cole, seafood category manager for the P.F Chang's and Pei Wei restaurant chains.

The chains added sushi on a trial bases around two years ago and it has become the most successful product launch in the history of the restaurants, she said.

Now they want to expand their sushi and also bring in poke,specifically salmon poke, she told me.

Poke sits comfortably at the intersection of several food trends -- growth in health-conscious menu items; increase in small-plate/bowl menu items, mainstreaming of sushi, and explosion in Asian, fusion cuisine.

And given that these trends are well established, it is likely they will continue to fuel poke's growth.

Poke's identity is tied to ahi tuna -- it is easily the most used species for the dish. But it doesn't have to be, and as this trend evolves chains such P.F Chang's, could help consumers crossover from ahi to salmon and other species.

Which others?

Tamashiro’s Market in Honolulu features 30 to 40 varieties of poke.

“It varies because it depends what fish is available at the time and things like that,” Guy Tamashiro told me earlier this year. While variations of ahi tuna are the go-to seafood for poke and the most popular at Tamashiro’s, other seafood such as, marlin (pacific blue and striped) and octopus also have a strong following. Virtually any saltwater fish can be used to make poke, Tamashiro said.

While ahi is a traditional gateway species to get folks into poke, I think if buyers and suppliers put their heads together on salmon poke, it could drive even more interest among consumers, given the "favored-fish" status salmon now enjoy.

I expect poke will become a ubiquitous addition to most restaurant appetizer menus in time, a must-have like calamari, shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and chowder.

What is your company doing with poke? Send comments to john.fiorillo@intrafish.com.

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