2006 Flavor Trends Forecast

Here, too, health exerts its influence: How about spices that fight cancer, chocolate for heart-health and sweet-hot combos that improve satiety?

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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Pomegranate, which ranked high last year, remains on the upswing in 2006. Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS.

What will be the hot flavors for 2006? Last year, we predicted that certain spices would be hot, and that hot pepper was, well, really hot. Pomegranate was mentioned, as well as Caribbean-style flavors.

As it turned out, all those flavors did reasonably well and, as trends, they will continue to express themselves during 2006. But there are some new trends in town. Some may come and go, but some will outlast 2006, changing and refining themselves — and the way we make food products — in the next several years.

We surveyed a number of flavor companies, food processors and researchers. Frankly, what we found was not so much some new and trendy flavors but new reasons for using (and consumers demanding) some familiar flavors.

One interesting change was the interest in flavors in the fight against obesity and poor health. The emphasis on healthful, functional and weight-reducing foods has had a huge impact on food manufacturing. As a result, there are certain flavors and flavor-imparting ingredients that show great potential for helping processors follow those trends in the new year.

Fight obesity with flavors

Flavor trends are nearly always reflections of the types of foods that are growing in importance. Currently, the key trend is food products that reduce the risk of obesity.

What does that have to do with flavor trends? First, if we’re going to cut the caloric load of a day’s food from more than 3,000 to about 1,800 or less, those 1,800 calories had better taste really good. At the same time, an increasing amount of research is finding that strong, pungent flavors and aromas have a role in satiety, and therefore weight loss.

The Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation (www.smellandtaste.org), Chicago, found that patients who lost their sense of smell and taste ate more and gained weight. “Patients overate in an attempt to regain some of the pleasure from eating that had been lost along with their sense of smell,” reported neurobiologist and psychiatrist Alan Hirsch, who directed the research.

Hirsch says the aroma of food is essential to the sense of satiety. “The satiety center uses the odor molecules to operate the signals that indicate that the diner is satisfied,” he says. Tests included sprinkling foods with salty/sweet combinations such as cheddar cheese/cocoa, horseradish/banana and taco/raspberry to enhance the aroma of foods.

Chocolate’s popularity as a flavor continues to rise as a result of its heart-health connection. Photo courtesy of Answers.com.

Patent applications for a score of foods that induce satiety have been published recently. One patent application — attributed to Michael Greenberg of Wrigley Co. — describes a combination of heating flavors, cooling flavors and indulgent flavors to create a confection that apparently exhausts the satiety center, causing consumers to eat less. The lists of flavor compounds include a number of black and red peppers types, menthol compounds and chocolate and cream.

Many other product developers and flavorists also are combining pepper derivatives and cooling flavors with chocolate and sweet flavors.

Chocolate as a flavor is getting a boost thanks to work from Mars Inc. on polyphenol enhancement. Mars claims the specially processed flavanols plus plant sterols in its CocoaVia bars improve a number of heart functions, most notably cholesterol.

Hershey and a number of other food processors and scientists are studying the healthful properties of chocolate. While the science behind the chocolate-heart health connection is not conclusive, awareness is growing and the public may see chocolate as a general positive.

Flaunting fruit

Fruit flavors also are gaining popularity due to new-found links to health and their renewed emphasis in last year’s Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans.

Pomegranate’s perceived value as an antioxidant was recognized by consumers last year. This year, McCormick & Co. (www.mccormick.com), Hunt Valley, Md., notes that pomegranate is a star supporting actor, pairing well with vanilla, allspice, mustard, pork, black pepper, sea salt, cinnamon, orange and pears. After a breakout 2004-2005, it remains on the upswing.

Other fruits (and their flavors) also are benefiting from the public’s increased understanding of antioxidants. In addition to being rich in antioxidants, açai is a fruit that is high in fiber, anthocyanins, minerals and vitamin E. It’s showing up in functional beverages, nutritional bars and smoothies.

Cherry is a flavor being aided by a word-of-mouth health connection. Whether or not FDA has found it useful, millions of arthritics swear by cherry juice and cherry products. Newer forms of the fruit are offered for use as an ingredient, including dried cherries and cherry puree.

Cranberries are gaining in popularity for much the same reasons, by diabetics, who use the bright red fruit every day, instead of just around the holidays. Mary Ellen Camire of Maine University has performed research that indicates cranberries may be a retardant for type II diabetes.


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