A big burst of fiery jalapeno pepper once made for a cutting-edge flavor profile, but maybe not so much in 2014. Also, at the outset of the new year, food formulators have more choices than ever when it comes to sweeteners. These are among the most significant ingredient trends that will emerge or expand in the coming year.
A group of culinary experts recently joined potato chip maker Kettle Brand, Salem, Ore., in predicting flavor trends for 2014, and they found that once-bold flavors may fall flat this year if they are too straightforward.
“Overall, we learned that consumers are seeking bigger and bolder flavors in 2014,” says brand manager Marc McCullagh. “Specifically, Asian flavors like ginger and fish sauce will become common household ingredients, and we’ll see influences from regions like Vietnam. Peppers and peppercorns are also bringing smoky and spicy elements to dishes, providing depth and balance to salty-sweet flavors.”
Combination flavors are becoming more popular. So, while bacon has been big the past couple of years, look for maple bacon this year.
“Culinary experts across the country validated a trend toward what we at Kettle Brand call 'flavor seekers' – consumers who now embrace exotic taste profiles as ordinary, everyday flavors,” says Carolyn Ottenheimer, Kettle's chief flavor architect and lead flavor developer. “Americans today require a new level of flavor intensity to be satisfied, and we at Kettle Brand are working to provide that.”
Stevia has been a game-changer for sweet foods, but classic sweeteners such as honey and sugar aren't going away any time soon.
Honey is more expensive to use than other sweeteners, with the wholesale price currently at about $4.50 per pound, but it also looks great on the label.
“Honey’s inclusion into food and beverage products instantly transforms those products into premium offerings that command premium prices,” says Catherine Barry, director of marketing with the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo. “Honey continues to experience high demand due to consumer preferences for all-natural products with clean labels.”
Traditional applications include salty-sweet snacks, ready-to-drink tea and cereals, but we can expect to see more outside-the-box applications in 2014 if recent trends continue. Barry says dairy is using more honey than ever, and she points to a recent trend of including honey in distilled beverages.
“Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey is the first line of whiskey launched in nearly a generation by the Lynchburg distillery," she says. The company says the flavor characteristics of honey greatly complement Jack Daniel’s uniquely smooth charcoal-mellowed character, creating a complex taste profile. The honey-flavored liquor features a bee image as the cornerstone of its label, exhibiting not only honey’s flavor, but also its marketability.
Not far behind Jack Daniel's was Wild Turkey American Honey. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., which is owned by SABMiller, for years has produced a Honey Weiss. Rehorst is a relative newcomer with Citrus & Honey Vodka. And it seems every year around the holidays, people rediscover mead, which uses honey instead of grapes to create a buzz-inducing beverage.
Just a few Januaries ago, adding sweetness to low-calorie products usually required the use of synthetic sweeteners that couldn't make it through the front door at Whole Foods Markets. Things have changed.
Stevia extract provides high-impact sweetness from a natural source, the stevia plant. With five years under their collective belts (stevia was approved for use in the U.S. in December 2008), food formulators are finding ways to deal with its bitterness and off-tastes, often by combining the natural ingredient with other sweeteners (including sugar or honey).
“For many applications, especially beverages, blending sweeteners can be useful to achieve higher sweetness intensity,” says Melanie Goluson, application manager for the Truvia stevia brand, marketed by Cargill, Minneapolis. “Nutritive sweeteners, like sugar, fructose, and even fruit juice or honey, can serve as the blending sweetener for low- and mid-calorie applications.
“Baking presents its own unique set of challenges, and blending stevia with bulk sweeteners is usually the best strategy for reducing calories while maintaining great sweet taste along with other desirable qualities related to browning, texture and spread.”
And monk fruit is following the trail blazed by stevia. Confirmed as generally recognized as safe in January 2011, this natural, non-nutritive sweetener is a little further behind the curve than stevia, but is making inroads. 2014 should be a year of incremental gains for monk fruit, whose main supplier is Tate & Lyle.
Flavor and function
Beyond exciting flavor combinations and expanded sweetener options, food formulators will look for ancient grains and other ingredients with gluten-free applications, as well as cross-functional ingredients that allow for a shorter ingredient deck.
Probiotics will get a good look as applications beyond yogurt will gain acceptance. Sea-salt will find its way into more ingredients, and other savory/umami ingredients will be more widely used. The use of fats and oils has changed dramatically in recent years, and 2014 will see continued change in that area – the biggest of which being the likely ban of partially hydrogenated oils, precursors to trans fatty acids. Suppliers are continually developing new products that offer a variety of functions and are tailored to meet particular nutritional concerns.
And what to do with those ingredients? Well, if the Kettle Brand panel is to be believed, think about complexity and layers.