If flavor trends for the new year can be summed up in a single word, it's complexity. Flavors must extend beyond fusion. A single spice isn't enough: It needs to be combined with additional spices and flavors. Fruits aren't simply fruits, they're superfruits. Fruit flavors must be unique, exotic, varietal and chock full of naturally occurring antioxidants.
Photo: Kraft Food Ingredients
As foods become more complex, so does flavor. Flavors overlay each other, introducing more and more flavor notes. These foods are so interesting that overeating occurs less often, accomplishing (eventually) the real No. 1 food industry objective of holding obesity at bay.
One of the biggest current societal pushes is to prevent obesity from childhood on. This calls for tasty foods for kids that keep caloric content under control. Many flavor companies currently have a great deal of research under way studying children's preferences in an effort to encourage kids to eat what they ought to. The resulting products are seen in breakfast cereals with fruity bits, yogurt flavors and cinnamon (not sugary) notes. Interestingly, they test well with kids while sounding like flavors Mom would approve of.
But eating healthy doesn't mean eating boring. As flavor technologies have improved, sophistication decrees that simple flavors aren't enough. Flavors mimic the trendy foods appearing in restaurants and on grocery shelves. Food trends lead to flavor trends; both get more complicated and sophisticated by the week. As consumers become more widely traveled, they are accepting of new cuisines, and therefore of flavors from places that American's haven't always visited.
Fruits from far away
Fruit flavors are likely to continue the trend begun in earnest last year: exotic fruits with lots of antioxidants. Once-unfamiliar names such as acai, goji berries and mangosteen are becoming ask-for flavors and ingredients, especially in beverages. Look at what's happened to pomegranate.
"We're seeing interest in acai fruit with cherry flavors, pomegranate with blueberry and cherry juice. The added plus of high levels of antioxidants is the key," says Ron Arb, national sales manager of Abelei Flavors Inc. (www.abelei.com), Aurora, Ill.
"We will see more flavors from Latin America and Asia," predicts Mark Bento, technical director of savory flavors at Mastertaste (www.mastertaste.com), Teterboro, N.J. "Examples are sweet-tart fruits like acai from Latin America and yuzu from Asia. William-Sonoma recently released Tonton Red Miso Glaze with Yuzo." That's a mouthful.
Pomegranate, which showed up last year in everything from ice cream to breakfast cereals, shows no signs of retreating. Its key ingredient, antioxidants, has been touted as helpful to combat aging, heart disease, cancer, even Alzheimer's disease.
Even common berries are finding new interest thanks to the public's increasing understanding of antioxidants. Another fruit flavor growing in popularity appears to be "mixed berry," which can be anything from loganberries and raspberries, blueberries and huckleberries, marion berries plus gooseberries, or any combination in between. But mixed berry is no longer the "red" flavor popular in our childhood.
Today's mixed berry has distinct, blended, finished flavors with some level of sophistication. They are found in yogurt, ready-to-eat cereals, beverages, sports drinks and salad dressings.
Citrus fruits are no longer lemon and orange, but are blood orange, Meyer lemon, and Key lime. The availability of these varietal fruits has added a need for flavors that match them, and ingredient suppliers are responding.
Two of the more exotic flavors are feijoa and mojito, flavors that are becoming more available. Feijoa, a small fruit that is also called pineapple guava, is native to South America, and has been grown in southern California. They are now popular in New Zealand, where they are being grown as a source of food and flavor.
This year's McCormick Flavor Forecast explores pairings of unlikely flavors, such as smoked tea and sea salt. Scroll down to find other flavor pairings.
"Feijoa is a very exotic fruit now imported from New Zealand. It's something different, and rich in antioxidants, so consumers want to try it," observes Greg Bach, director of product innovation for Synergy Flavors (www.synergytaste.com), Wauconda, Ill. "The Mojito, a cocktail made with mint and lime plus rum, was supposed to be Hemingway's favorite drink, and the flavor combination lends itself to other foods and beverages."
Juices and other fruit-based beverages may be poised for a great year as schools begin replacing carbonated soft drinks in vending machines, notes Arb.
While we're on the subject, beverage flavors are not restricted to beverages anymore. Coffee shows renewed popularity in desserts, including some very fancy pastries. Coca-Cola has introduced a cola with black coffee (Blak), and coffee is showing growth in dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream. Coffee, called mocha when used with chocolate, takes on extra panache when identified as "fair trade." While that moniker doesn't change the taste any, it does appeal to the social conscience.
Tea has continues to gain trendiness. While the FDA turned down proposed health claims linking green tea to reductions in breast and prostate cancer, its health aura is unabated and many still believe it helps weight reduction. White, black and green teas not only flavor other beverages but are showing up in sauces and atop meats. Combinations of tea and smoke flavors are showing up in poultry dishes. On the dessert menu, green tea is appearing with chocolate and ice creams.
Spices are hot
Among spice preferences for the past few years, hot has been, well, the hottest trend. Starting with ethnic foods and growing into the American mainstream, chili peppers of all varieties have bonded with vegetable flavors, cheese notes and often chocolate to wake up lazy taste buds.
With a much lower level of heat, ginger is showing up in baked goods, beverages, and ethnic foods. Its use as a phytochemical isn't unnoticed. Both chili peppers and ginger are being married with other, somewhat unexpected, partner, such as cheese, tea, tomatoes and smoke. "Chili, curry, garlic and spicy are top flavors for condiments and sauces," says Bento of Mastertaste. "Tamarind, truffle and honey and bourbon are also seeing some interest. These are being driven by trends of no additives/preservatives, organic and all natural."
Cheese remains popular, but not American. Even cheeseburgers are now made with bleu cheese, goat cheese and Asiago. Artisanal cheeses add new flavors, and cheese and smoke flavors appear to go together. "Specialty cheeses are growing in popularity, with double digit growth," Bento continues. "Hispanic types like queso freso and cotija are showing a strong following. Domestic artisan and farmstead cheeses are hot. We have been receiving more and more flavor requests for specific brands and types."
"Consumers today are moving beyond the basics and looking for more interesting flavors," says Mike Chapter, corporate chef at Kraft Foodservice (www.kraftfoodservice.com), Glenview, Ill. "There are so many delicious specialty cheeses produced domestically. Food manufacturers are also appealing to the needs of consumers with new varieties of flavored, blended and shredded cheeses."
Dark chocolate lights up
Chocolate has always been popular, but dark chocolate last year caught fire. Studies showing that dark chocolate includes phytochemicals that reduce the effect of cholesterol has "given permission" for dark chocolate to be eaten while the consumer feels she is doing the right thing. Connections to satiety are brightening the halo.
Mars and Hershey have heavily researched the health connection and just as heavily marketed products making the connection. "Companies are making combinations of dark chocolate with fruity flavors, and with white chocolate, to make the product more interesting. Companies are turning dark chocolate into gourmet products," says Arb.
"There is a movement toward referencing the chocolate's region of origin in the name and creating chocolate flavors that mimic different regions, such as Venezuelan Cocoa and Ecuadorian Chocolate," says Jessica Jones-Dille, industry trend manager at Wild Flavors Inc. (www.wildflavors.com), Erlanger, Ky. "Also, the addition of herbs, spices and other botanical flavors into chocolate concepts is gaining momentum. Artisan chocolates have been made using these ingredients, such as teas, chilies and blossoms, for the past several years. We've introduced a Spicy Chocolate Chile dessert sauce and flavors that pack a punch with Mayan Mocha Milk and Red Wine Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Truffles."
Ethnic flavors, of course, are a long-term trend that most food processors are dealing with in some way. "I foresee more products containing Latin American flavor profiles. More and more QSRs (quick-serve restaurants) are adding Mexican/Hispanic items to the menu [like chipotle, carnitas, tequila lime, etc.]," says Zachery Sanders, senior flavor scientist at Kraft Food Ingredients (www.kraftfoodingredients.com), Memphis, Tenn.
Latin American no longer is solely Mexican. Central and South American flavors - Cuban, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Brazilian - are moving from the top of the restaurant trend category to being part of mainstream.
Also incorporating some of these flavors is Mediterranean. While the influences come from Greece, Italy, Spain, Africa and even the Middle East, Mediterranean has become its own ethnic cuisine, at least in many restaurants. It is a fusion of flavors including peppers, eggplant, garlic, cucumbers, olives and olive oils, hard cheeses and seafood, especially shellfish. The variety of olive oils is beginning to move to other oils, including nut oils flavored with lemon.
Not a flavor, a lifestyle
Yogurt and fruit flavors are trendy right now in breakfast cereals.
A big trend with far-reaching implications is organic. Sure, it's not a flavor, but its stamp is being sought on just about all flavors.
Organic is a lifestyle, and one that's growing, according to Simon Poppelsdorf, vice president for flavor research at Bell Flavors (www.bellff.com), Northbrook, Ill. For flavor suppliers and processors alike, organic requires spending a lot of time and effort on sourcing of ingredients and keeping up with the latest regulations vis-à-vis organic.
"What's organic today may not be organic tomorrow," says Popplesdorf. Sourcing means building a provenance for the flavor ingredients, making sure the documentation is there for all of the components of a flavor system so that it can be labeled organic.
Joe Swetra, application technologist for savory flavors at Mastertaste, agrees with organic but adds "healthy" as another lifestyle trend affecting flavors, especially in terms of a healthy ingredient or flavor replacing a less healthy one. "Olive oil is big as a healthy replacement for butter in cooking, and new flavored olive oils will be showing up on the market. The flavors we will be replacing and creating during the coming year will be in the areas of organic, vegetarian, salt replacers/reducers and extending our flavor line that includes organic compliant flavors as well as allergen restrictive requests."
Non-GMO is emerging as an important part of the lifestyle trend. Dave Booth, director of strategic alliances for Edlong Dairy Flavors (www.edlong.com), Elk Grove Village, Ill., notes his firm has developed several milk, cream and masking-type flavors as part of their expanding Ed-Vance line that can be used in non-GMO applications. Some of the many uses include creamers, soy milks and enhanced functional products. They are particularly useful in the international market, he says, where companies want to present the same flavor profile worldwide.