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By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 12/27/2010
Coconuts, too, have seen a huge increase in popularity, with some dozen coconut water companies springing up in recent years. One of the most innovative applications of coconuts has been the positioning of coconut water as a sports drink due to its natural richness in potassium and low calorie profile. But coconut milk is also surging. Turtle Mountain LLC, Eugene, Ore., has taken the coconut to a new level by making coconut milk the base of its dairy-free frozen desserts.
"The inspiration for these innovations is really our customer," says Chris Turek, Turtle Mountain marketing services manager, "They're seeking quality dairy-free products, and specifically are seeking alternatives to soy. Coconut has a great taste with unique health attributes and is incredibly versatile as a base ingredient. Much of the credit goes to John Tucker, V.P. of Marketing and Technology at Turtle Mountain, who saw the demand in the marketplace, conceived the ideas and, with the help of his R&D team, made them a reality."
The popularity of nuts as boosters of flavor and health has led to a unique application of nuts via a byproduct: almond "bran" (actually the skins). Much as bran is a beneficial byproduct of refining grains, almond skins are a nutritious byproduct of blanching almonds. Almond skins have now been transformed into a safe, low-fat and nutrient-dense product suitable for use as an ingredient (in place of or in addition to other nut forms) or as a supplement.
Almond bran is manufactured by Nut-trition Inc., a division of Hughson, Calif.-based Hughson Nut Co. Since much of the non-fat nutritional aspects of nuts are found in the outer seedcoat, it has many of the health benefits of almonds with less than half of the fat and can thus reduce cost and calories.
"When formulating protein beverages I find myself leaning towards popular classic flavors like chocolate and vanilla," says Rick Oliverio, senior application technician at Fona. "These flavor profiles tend to pair best with dairy, especially when working with whey proteins. Depending on the base, I might choose a flavor like chai tea, which gives an overall pleasant and long lasting flavor and finishes nicely."
Increased interest in functional ingredients presents new challenges to processors who want to pump up the potency without putting off the palate. Flavors can cover the potential unpleasant taste of added nutraceuticals.
"Chocolate and nut flavors mask protein really well and tend to be the top sellers," says Carrie Jaeger, senior scientist at Wild Flavors, Erlanger, Ky. "Flavors we often use in functional nutritional bars include Cookies & Cream, Dulce de Leche, Rocky Road, Caramel and Peanut, as well as superfruit-based flavors and ‘dessert-type' flavors."
According to Jaeger, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Oatmeal Cookie flavors are other popular options. "All are typically enrobed in milk or dark chocolate, and we've also enrobed caramel bars in white chocolate." Jaeger further notes superfruit-based flavors and dessert type flavors come into play for these new formulations, especially with cereal/fruit bars. Flavors might include citrus and vanilla blends—which are excellent at masking a variety of functional ingredients.
Many of the off-notes associated with nutraceutical ingredients have a delayed onset. Carefully select masking agents that are appropriate for the particular nutraceuticals and work with flavors that are longer-lasting or have a late hitting profile, suggests Fona's John Fishel. "We've found certain vanilla, chocolate and sweet brown flavors work well for this."
The Fona team also notes peanut butter flavors are experiencing an uptick in popularity, and they work well to mask nutraceutical ingredients in food products such as nutrition bars because of long flavor duration, especially at the end of the profile where most off-notes are perceived. And caramel flavors deliver strong "brown" sweet notes that pair well with the base of nutrition bars and enhance sweetness.
Pairing classic "comfort" flavors with fruits and herbs or spice flavors in health formulations is spreading. "People tend to still want indulgent flavors even though they want healthier products," says Jaeger. Flavor combos have included Dulce de Leche, Chocolate Cinnamon and Cinnamon Pastry and paired flavors such as pineapple pear, lemon-mint and fruit and ginger. "In general, fruit flavors in combination with spicy flavors tend to work well," she adds.
Heather Biehl, manager at Wild's H.I.T.S. (health ingredient technologies and solutions) team, agrees. "Citrus flavors, with some vanilla notes, are employed as balancers to nutraceuticals. For example orange carambola, lemon meringue, pineapple lulo and grapefruit pummelo work well to mask off-notes associated with omega-3s, CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] and protein," according to Biehl. "Dark berry flavors such as pomegranate pinot, blackberry grape, blueberry black currant and yumberry go well with the astringent notes of polyphenols from tea, resveratrol and grapeseed extracts. And herbal notes from guarana, echinacea and yerba maté pair well with sweet flavors like strawberry, cherry, grape or floral flavors like lavender or chamomile."