Flavor Trends 2010: Make Mine Plain

Flavor trends are going comfort-retro — but don't write off exotics just yet. Consumer palates remain open to new adventures.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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Vita Soy  Inc.
Positioned as "nondairy recipe starters," the Nasoya line of silken tofu products from VitaSoy Inc. was launched in the three classic dessert flavors.

Chocolate and vanilla (as well as another taste classic, strawberry) were tapped as the introductory flavors for the launch of Nasoya brand nonsavory tofu from VitaSoy Inc. (www.nasoya.com), Ayer, Mass. The three sweet, silken tofu products are designed to be used as primary ingredients in dairy analog desserts and confections but can pass as healthful, dairyless "custards" in their own right.

Sweet and savory

Natural, non-sugar sweeteners could become an economic flavor trend, according to Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president of Blue California (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. The company's stevia leaf rebaudioside-A extract, Good & Sweet Reb A, is now actually 10 to 20 percent below the cost of sugar when the sweetness equivalency is taken into account, she claims. (Reb-A is around 400 times the sweetness of sugar.)

"The flavor companies we work with to develop unique, natural blends prefer sweeteners such as our Good & Sweet Reb-A 99% because often there's no need for an additional masking flavor," says McCollum. In comparison tests, fruit beverages using reb-A without maskers or enhancements actually allowed the natural fruit notes to come through better, she says.

The key to stevia's acceptance was new techniques of purification. "It's of the highest purity, meaning we've eliminated all the compounds that impart any negative taste, including bitterness or metallic aftertaste," explains McCollum. "As with all our products, it's derived through natural methods, such as water extraction and ultrafiltration. This allows us to refine it to such a degree it can meet all the requirements for the stricter EU requirements to be labeled 100 percent natural."

FDA's approval at the end of 2008 of reb-A came at a perfect time when the consumer demand for natural was impacting artificial sweeteners and even naturally derived sweeteners with bad publicity — i.e. high-fructose corn syrup. As a natural sweetener with virtually no caloric load, this is a nascent trend that promises years of strong and steady growth.

On the savory side, the flavor trends mirroring sweet natural and basic demands focus on sea salt (countering such falling-out-of-favor flavor enhancers as monosodium glutamate), ethnic spices (especially chili) and — perhaps because of all the interest in vampires these days on TV and in cinema – garlic. Garlic's increasing popularity was cited by Business Insights as being linked to the increased attraction to "natural" flavors. Consumers do trust garlic.

A surprising jump in the savory flavor trend curve comes from the humble chick pea. Hummus maker Sabra Dipping Co. has seen a doubling in sales in just two years. Moreover, the appeal of hummus has branched beyond Middle Eastern flavors. The company enjoyed instant success with such flavor crossovers as jalapeño, chipotlé and sundried tomato.

The flavor is expanding beyond dip to the dipper. "Our Hummus Maximus Culinary Crisp has been one of the better selling products this year (2009)," says George Eckrich, owner of Dallas-based Dr. Kracker Inc. (www.drkracker.com). "These are new and exciting flavors, and customers love the nutritional profile of higher protein and whole grain, adding both chick peas and sesame to the whole grain or whole seed camp." The 100 percent whole-grain spelt-based cracker has lemon and garlic as well as chick pea flour, thus including two other hot savory flavor trends in a single snack.

In 2010, processors tasked with deciding flavors for new formulations find themselves at an interesting point of the flavor-trend pendulum's swing. As with everything else the past couple of years, the economic collapse has triggered a cascade that is affecting what the next round of snacks, drinks and energy bars will taste like. Luckily, consumers are proving themselves eager to accept the old favorites as well as new experiences — as long as they taste good.

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