Flavor trends for 2007

Will acai be the next pomegranate? Is it time to develop Argentine frozen dinners? Will dark chocolate work on pizza? Here are our predictions for the flavors and ingredients that will be hot this year.

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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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.

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