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.