Cuong Pham, the founder and chief executive of Red Boat, a Bay Area company, wants customers to use its fish sauce for pastas and vinaigrettes, not just in East Asian dishes. But because it is usually placed in the ethnic aisle, he said, it limits perceptions of the ingredient’s uses.

Mr. Pham said the aisle seems to exist more for those looking to find ingredients new to them than for the communities whose cuisines are represented there.

That aligns with the ethnic aisle’s original purpose: to serve returning World War II soldiers who had tasted foods from countries like

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