Consumers Seeking Different Flavor and Texture Sensations

Some consumers are looking for sensory sensations that tickle their taste buds.

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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Flavor trends clearly show that Americans are going to extremes. Hotter than in previous years, cold enough to take one’s breath away, super strong and super sour.

Flavor sensations need to be stronger, just as music is louder, movies sexier and television more violent. But in addition to strength, if flavors can also tingle, well, so much the better.

When you’re hot...

Hot flavor, to lots of consumers, means hot peppers. It doesn’t have to, of course. It could mean horseradish, Hungarian paprika, mustard, ginger or black pepper, or one of their active ingredients recombined in formulated flavors.

Capsaicin, the heat factor of hot peppers, is measured in Scoville units (see sidebar, "Scoville tests being replaced by chromatography," for details). Pure capsaicin measures at 16 million Scoville units. To reduce the heat of peppers, the ribs of the pepper cavity can be removed, as that is the site of most of the capsaicin. Dehydrated peppers are often much hotter than the just harvested vegetable.

Are hot peppers a problem for most eaters? For years, ulcer patients were warned not to eat them, but for the last several years, studies have shown they aren’t harmful. In fact, peppers have more vitamin C than citrus and are rich sources of various carotenoids.

A product that has gotten a lot of attention lately is chipotle, the grayish-tan, stiff pepper that looks a lot like a cigar butt. It is not a particular type of pepper but rather the end result when you smoke and treat any of a handful of peppers. The resultant taste is smoky, hot and flavorful. Chipotle has become a popular flavor, and is now used in a number of fast-food offerings, ensuring that the flavor will be around for a while.

Chipotle can be made from various chili peppers such as chili ahumado (smoked chili); chili meco (blackish-red chili; meco is close to seco, meaning dry); the double terms chipotle meco and chipotle ta­pico, and just ta­pico. Further confusing the issue is a cultivated variety of jalapen that is also named ta­pico. The tipico variety is often smoked to become a ta­pico chipotle.

Other varieties of smoked jalapenos are often mistaken for the ta­pico chipotle. The most common one is called morita, which means "little blackberry" in Spanish. The color of this smoked chili is dark red to purple. Both the ta­pico and the morita are smoked jalapenos; the difference is that the morita is not smoked nearly as long, and thus it remains very leathery and pliable. Not only is the smoky flavor much more intense in the ta­pico, its flavor is much richer.

Combinations of hot and other flavors provide interesting results for consumers. Flavor combinations using peppers and other hot flavors are spreading from the traditional chili and hot sauces to chili-and-cheese dips, a little more heat in brown sauces and heavier use in traditional Oriental dishes.

As Americans travel more, and as people of Asian and Hispanic backgrounds become residents of the U.S., they will look for more authentic flavors in the ethnic foods they have been exposed to. Authentic, in this arena, means both hot sensations and the other background flavors so important to these cuisines.

Sweet and hot are combinations that are popular among Hispanic populations, according to Jeff Bogus, a formulator with Chicago-based Ferrara Pan Candies (www.ferrarapan.com). “Flavor companies have done a good job of isolating the heat and some of the other characterizing flavors from peppers so they can be used in confections. People really like the combination of heat and fruit flavors, if you can get them to try the products.”

T. Hasegawa USA Inc. combines chili with chocolate flavors for confections and mole sauces and adds hot peppers to curries. “We’re also making fruit dips that are sweet and hot, with various types of chilies,” notes John Mattcheck, corporate chef for T. Hasegawa USA (www.thasegawa.com), Cerritos, Calif. He’s responsible for reading trends and demonstrating the company’s flavors in those areas.

Mattcheck has a fascination with “chiliheads,” as he calls them, tasters who can tolerate the intensity of Scotch bonnets and still taste the subtle flavors and other aromatic notes through the heat. “There are more people with that kind of tolerance than there used to be,” the corporate chef says. “It’s a lot like wine tasting. They actually taste the flavor of the peppers instead of simply the heat.”

In addition to being natural customers for Hasegawa’s chili-and-flavors combos, chiliheads are responsible for cranking up the heat for all of us on snacks, sauces and salsa, Mattcheck believes. “They are clearly hotter than they were a few years ago,” notes Mattcheck.

Gary Hainrihar, vice president of sales and marketing at Kalsec Corp. (www.kalsec.com), Kalamazoo, Mich., agrees that chilies are showing up in a variety of foods that never used to have the little heaters. "It's the effect of fusion cuisine and the result of expanding ethnic diversity," says Hainrihar. "People are being exposed to cuisine that, up till now, was not readily available to them. They find that they enjoy both the pungency of chilies as well as the other flavors they impart to foods.”

Kalsec suggests specific types of capsicum extracts to achieve specific effects. Extracts express pungency differently in different foods. There is the instantaneous perception of heat or bite, which may fade quickly, or there is a pungency that builds slowly to a crescendo and slowly fades.

Hainrihar also agrees that mild products have grown hotter over the past few years, and the popularity of curries, sauces and dips with added heat has increased as people have acquired a taste for pungent foods. Kalsec’s pepper extractives are responsible for Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and other corn-based snacks.
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