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.
“To meet the high expectations for taste, flavor innovation now includes taking popular and familiar flavors and putting them into non-traditional applications. For example, cake flavors decorate yogurt, and coffee deepens the flavor of ice cream. Sushi and burritos are now made with non-traditional ingredients,” she says.
The health halo surrounding superfruits will continue to drive their popularity. Over the last couple years, pomegranate has become widely accepted across the food and beverage industry, paving the way for other superfruits to work their way into products. In 2008, açai made its way into several new product launches. This year, look for goji berry and mangosteen to make appearances in better-for-you foods and beverages.
Though function and flavor may match perfectly, there is still no doubt which one will win out when it comes to attracting consumers. “When creating new products for the health-conscious consumer, developers know that taste is the number one driver,” says White. “Though a functional product may fit into one’s diet, if it doesn’t taste good, it is unlikely that person will purchase it more than once.”
But functional foods and beverages offer their own flavor challenges, and often require flavor maskers or modifiers to create an overall balanced flavor profile. “Bold flavors are great additions to functional foods, as they help cover the off notes often associated with the addition of functional ingredients or the void left when reducing fats or sugars,” White adds.
Combining new tastes with familiar favorites is one way to bring excitement to a functional product without creating concepts consumers are hesitant to try. Açai-raspberry and goji-orange are examples of blends that will increase the appeal of unknown superfruit flavors.
A trend that appears to be on the increase is the integration of superfruits and other functional ingredients into foods already rich in fiber, creating unique functional combinations. Nature’s Path Foods (www.naturespath.com), Richmond, British Columbia, added granolas to its organic cereal line and included many of the more popular functional food flavors to increase the appeal of an already well-received whole grain snack.
Açai, pomegranate, ginger, hemp, agave and vanilla, along with almonds and pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds, bring added nutrition to the high fiber content of the organic whole grains. Cinnamon, an anti-cholesterol spice, and blueberry, an antioxidant powerhouse, both add flavor, value and interest to the new Nature’s Path’s line of organic whole-grain breads.
Yogurt continues to evolve from the tart yet plain ethnic specialty that some of us grew up with into a flavorful, custard-like source of probiotics. Stonyfield Farm (www.stonyfield.com), Londonderry, N.H., recently introduced several new flavors based on functional ingredients, including pomegranate berry and chocolate raspberry.
For the new year, the company will add limited-edition seasonal yogurts, inspired by the time of year. Apple Pie should be on store shelves starting this month and available until early spring, followed by a spring/summer seasonal flavor. All limited-edition seasonal offerings are certified organic, low in fat and made with no artificial colors, flavors or ingredients.
Researching new flavors
The new year also will see evolving methods of creating new flavors. Two of the larger international flavor houses used strikingly similar and innovative approaches last year in developing new chicken flavors. Why chicken? Perhaps both companies focused on it as a comfort food consumers are turning to in tough economic times.
Working from The Netherlands, International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (www.iff.com), New York, conducted consumer research in major markets across the globe to identify ideal chicken tastes and aromas.
"Our research told us that chicken is a nearly universal comfort food and that consumers want authentic, familiar chicken tastes and aromas created by cooking techniques they know and love,” says Jos Muilwijk, IFF’s head of global savory category management. “Spices and herbs add interest and regional character, but the true ‘essence’ of chicken should shine through.”
From there, IFF’s Certified Master Chef Florian Webhofer and his team prepared gold standard chicken dishes. Trained sensory panels in various locations around the world evaluated these to find the superior profiles in each category. Then the R&D and flavor creation people created flavors to match those flavor profiles. The result is IFF’s new range of authentic natural chicken flavors.
Givaudan Flavors (www.givaudan.com), Cincinnati, recently unveiled a new approach to creating unique chicken flavors. A research team in Dübendorf, Switzerland, surveyed about 7,300 consumers in 14 countries and observed home-cooking first-hand, translating the needs and preferences of the end user into a sensory language to help guide the company’s flavor creation team. Researchers also observed professional chefs in the process of cooking chicken dishes, noting meat types, preparations, ingredients, cooking techniques and other methods.
Researchers tasted and analyzed dishes from fine-dining, quick-serve and traditional restaurants in 10 countries to get a handle the complex cultural associations that consumers make with chicken flavors. They did not influence consumers to use any specific chicken products, but instead observed the consumers’ spontaneously purchased ingredients, bought locally and known traditionally. The results provided a comprehensive picture of how chicken was perceived, purchased and prepared globally.
“We know the experience of flavor is more than just sensory, it is also deeply cultural,” explains Andreas Haenni, global head of Givaudan’s savoury research. Now, the company’s research may help food manufacturers identify their precise chicken essence, signature and aroma needs, including taste solutions for low salt recipes.
Givaudan researchers used a similarly intensive technique, a program referred to as TasteTrek, to evaluate natural orange flavor varieties from around the world. Flavor experts, aided by the company’s proprietary Virtual Aroma Synthesizer technology, can rapidly translate complex aromas from fresh fruit into natural and naturally derived citrus flavors, ranging from the traditional to the exotic.
TasteTrek teams traveled extensively, setting up mini-labs, often in exotic locations, in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the fruits, plants, pods and herbs indigenous to a region. In addition, TasteTrek teams learn local food preparations and authentic cooking techniques. The objective is to experience exotic foods and culinary delights in their natural settings to advance the discovery of new ingredients in support of innovative flavor development.
From exotic to familiar
Acai appears to be firmly established. Now other exotic fruits may be moving into consumers’ consciousness – such as yumberry and goji berry.
Bringing exotic flavors to familiar products will be a key theme for 2009.
If you thought you were keeping up with the latest superfruit trend because you finally learned how to pronounce açai, or that maybe we’d exhausted the superfruit market, then the new year will bring surprises.
Goji berry, also known as wolfberry or western snowberry, commercially grown in China, gained much attention at the end of 2008. Also from China comes the newest of the superfruits, the yumberry, yet another antioxidant star in the superfruit galaxy.
Buffering the exotics is the familiar … for instance, tea. Honest Tea, (www.honesttea.com), Bethesda, Md., expanded its line of organic teas to include such offerings as pomegranate red tea with goji berry and pomegranate white tea with açai. Honest Teas are traditionally rich in natural ingredients and low in sugar, generally between 30 and 50 calories per 8-oz. serving, itself a healthy trend.
Yumberries and goji berries flavor Honest Tea’s newest line of beverages, Honest Ades, the company’s answer to the ever-growing thirst quencher market. “Honest Ade Superfruit Punch delivers knockout taste with the high levels of antioxidants consumers are seeking,” says Seth Goldman, president and TeaEO of Honest Tea. “We’re thrilled with the early results we’ve seen in New York, and we can’t wait to share Superfruit Punch with the rest of the country.”
Honest Tea’s Honest Ade organic thirst quenchers are certified organic, low in sugar and rich in the newest exotic superfruits. In addition to yumberry and goji berry, other Honest Ades include pomegranate blue, cranberry lemonade, orange mango with mangosteen and limeade.
With all the attention paid to superfruits, it makes one wonder whether exotic locations outscore homegrown superfruits. Why, for example don’t U.S.-grown tart cherries gather the same attention as the exotic superfruits? They are rich in antioxidants, melatonin and anti-inflammatory agents, with plenty of folklore and research as backup, not to mention superior taste. Maybe this will be the year we pay a little more attention to this native potential superstar.
Soy still has a healthy halo. Delivering it with indulgence can make products a winner.
Sometimes flavor is about what you can’t taste. Soy products show no signs of slowing in popularity, even though few people care for its unadulterated taste. Benesoy from Devansoy (www.devansoy.com), Carroll, Iowa, adds little if any soy flavor to end products. Its white and bland nature results from unique processing, making it an easy match for applications that rely on the flavors of exotic fruits or spices to shine through.
The new year will bring new flavors, along with many new products and advances in processing techniques. But a trend that hopefully becomes a tradition is the move to associate flavor with products that benefit the consumer’s health.