Flavors have come full circle, from purposeful to frivolous and back again. In nature, flavors entice animals to eat fruits and other plants to spread seed and obtain nutrients necessary for survival and reproduction.
Flavors also entice us – to eat wonderful things as well as foods that are good for us but maybe not so tasty. Throughout history, we’ve used added flavors to both spice up the menu and hide repugnant qualities of some foods and ingredients. Today we create new flavors as part of the highly valued art of culinary expertise.
Recent discoveries, or at least acknowledgements, indicate many flavors may double as unique and beneficial phytochemicals. With that realization, the art of flavoring took a great leap forward (or backward, depending on your view) toward its more natural roots, as an enticement to better nutrition. Look for this trend to continue throughout the new year; functional flavors are in.
The popularity of pomegranate shows no signs of abating, although its appearance in yogurt may be a first. Stonyfield Farm held a national popularity vote (28,000 votes were cast) late last year for new flavors, and the seedy fruit won. The new yogurt began appearing this month.
Flavor and function merge
“As more and more people become aware of environmental issues and safety concerns, there is a considerable and continuous shift toward natural products,” says Antoine Dauby, group marketing manager of Naturex Inc. (www.naturex.com), South Hackensack, N.J. “By focusing on making products that positively impact the health and well-being of consumers, the food industry is increasingly calling for natural ingredients.”
Dauby also says consumers desire experiences, not just tastes. As a result, “Our industrial customers seek high-quality plants from geographically diverse areas, including Asia, South America, North Africa and elsewhere. The interest in flavor extractfs is driving the demand for a broader range of plants than ever before.”
He noted growing demand for his company’s tamarind and ginger extracts in 2008, which he expects to continue into 2009.
Attractive combinations of health benefits and exotic tastes constitute a trend expected to thrive in the New Year. “We have seen the rise of acai and pomegranate, even in combination, as this year’s flavor,” says Rodger Jonas, vice president of technical sales at PL Thomas (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J. “We believe acerola, camu-camu and especially baobab will be the upcoming flavors.”
Camu-camu fruit from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Peru has an extraordinary amount of natural vitamin C, about 2g per 100g of fruit. Baobab fruit, native to Madagascar, mainland Africa and Australia, is rich in vitamin C and calcium and may act as a natural anti-inflammatory as well as an antioxidant.
“These ingredients offer unique flavors and colors,” continues Jonas. “I have begun to develop botanical blends that offer mixed flavors and benefits that target specific areas for functional foods. We now have a line of unique ingredients that offer the opportunity to attack a specific nutritional benefit from multiple mechanisms at the same time.
“The clinical science combined with a more usable functional extract allows natural ingredients to make more of an impact in the health and wellness sector while still providing flavor and color,” he adds. “You now have flavor and claims combined,”
Functional, flavor and tradition
Traditional flavors and functional foods are a perfect match, as often the hidden driver behind traditional dishes is health. It’s no coincidence that grains and beans, which are complementary sources of amino acids, are the center of countless ethnic dishes. The same is true of many flavors.
Heat may provide a time-honored punch to many dishes, but capsaicin, the anti-inflammatory functional compound, delivers the heat. Ginger, curry, garlic and peppers are at the heart of many ethnic cuisines. All are rich in functional compounds. Our drive to eat flavorful foods is nearly impossible to tease out from an instinct for health.
“Authentic ethnic cuisines remain popular as more countries are added to the ever-growing list of global tastes available to consumers,” says Sheri White, marketing manager for the sweet segment at Cargill Flavor Systems (www.cargill.com), Wayzata, Minn. “Consumer palates continue to become more sophisticated and adventurous.