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Food Formulations Get Spirited Flavor Boost

Everything from craft beers to ruby ports and smoky whiskeys are pouring it on to enhance existing flavors or add greater interest to the ordinary.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Bell flavor beer navAlcoholic (or adult) beverage flavors add a greater depth to everyday food and beverage products. The flavors of spirits, beer and wine can be incorporated into processed foods to add magic, enhance flavors and brighten otherwise basic dishes.

Like adding salt and pepper, adding wine, beer or liquor to bring out flavors has been done for years. But what we're drinking these days is also affecting what we're eating. New drink flavors, often in denatured formats, are enhancing everything from ice cream to potato chips, while actual alcoholic beverages offer benefits to food in at least two important ways: by evaporating and by molecular bonding. That's why adding a splash of brandy or sherry wine reduction to a fruit salad or a dash of red wine to a meat stew bring out hidden aromas and tastes.

"Trends from India include the use of flavors like cumin, mint and mango in alcoholic beverages," says Sheila Harte, beverage laboratory manager at Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill. "Conversely, barrel-aged and cognac flavors add sophistication to a variety of foods, as are flavors of beer, hard apple cider and bourbon."

Harte says some of the applications Bell is developing include spirit flavors for traditional, nostalgic foods and those immersed in Americana, such as orange cream, apple pie and pumpkin pie. "Spicy spirits are also still hot [for ethnic cuisine], especially with pepper profiles like habanero and ghost chili as well as cilantro and tarragon," she says.

"Adult beverage flavors are being used in ice cream/sherbet, sauces, chip seasonings and batters and breading," she continues. "Unique products are being created, like Belgian ale-flavored onion rings, hard apple cider sherbet and bourbon-flavored sauces. And we just launched a line of craft beer flavors in a variety of styles.

"Customers are looking for an edge," adds Harte. "They want a flavor note to distinguish their product from their competitors."

Mistica Boneless Breaded WingsSpeaking of bourbon sauce, Mistica Foods, Addison, Ill., recently launched Jim Beam Boneless Breaded Chicken Wingz with Honey Bourbon Sauce, which infuses boneless, breaded chicken pieces with a sweet, savory honey sauce, spiked with "the world's leading bourbon." Mistica picked up on the trend of using dark liquors like brandy and bourbon to layer rich flavors in meats and poultry. President, Monika Walas says the 3-lb. freezer bags of cooked, all-white meat microwavable chicken are no fuss, no mess and easy to enjoy.

In fact, the use of cooking sauces made with spirits as an ingredient increased by more than 160 percent 2013 to 2014, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database for May 2015.

Spirit, beer and wine flavors are great ways to differentiate food products from the competition, and they can tenderize meat or reduce the need for added salt. Trends that originate in mixology, such as infusing spirits, beer and wine with spices, herbs, fruit and flowers, are being transferred into the food and beverage product categories.

Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y., which develops proprietary flavor technology, says its popular alcohol flavors for foods and beverages include amaretto, beer, tequila, champagne, cognac, red wine, white wine, rum and Grand Marnier. Such flavors heighten the taste profile of dips, sauces and dressings, crunchy snacks and soups and stews and can add a unique twist to standard flavors, says Catherine Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications at Comax Flavors.

Moonshine and suds

Denatured spirits long have been the specialty of Mizkan Americas' Food Ingredients Division, Mt. Prospect, Ill. Mizkan currently offers food manufacturers denatured Dark Rum, Light Rum, Bourbon, Whiskey, White Tequila, Vodka, Brandy and non-alcoholic Triple Sec.

Moonshine and Porter Ale are the company's most recent additions, which it highlighted at the 2015 IFT Food Expo in Chicago. An unaged white whiskey, moonshine contributes distinctive flavor to finished products such as moonshine crab cakes with sherry vinaigrette.

"Moonshine is trending upward and has recently turned into a 'marketing darling' on menus," says Dave Sackett, Mizkan's, executive director of sales and marketing for food ingredients. "In the salsa category, tequila leads as the spirit ingredient, and vodka is the lead spirit with red sauces. Vodka sauces are [also] getting more shelf space. Beer is also popular across many food segments, including protein, dairy, sauces and marinades."

Denatured porter ale, which Mizkan also unveiled at IFT, adds a distinctive tangy and savory to sweet flavor in marinades, dressings, sauces, soups, demi-glazes, food bases and prepackaged meals. The ale has a smooth, deep brown smoky profile, having notes of coffee, chocolate and malt. Adding a "dark" flavor to finished products ranging from tangy and savory to sweet, the ale works well in marinades, dressings, sauces, soups, demi-glazes, food bases and prepackaged meals.

"Product launches with ale as an ingredient are on the rise and mirror the growth in popularity of craft beer,” Sackett states. “We are seeing a demand growing in sauces and seasonings and other areas such as beer batter, beer cheese and beer sausages, as manufacturers seek a stable and consistent way to add beer or ale into their formulations."

The flavors of beer and the properties of malted grains have been used in breads and other baked goods for hundreds of years. But craft beers are extending into products such as sausages, chili, salsas and other condiments, soups, stews and even confections, says Maggie Harvey, Mizkan's new product development manager. "We have had more requests to work with beer and spirits lately. We may possibly consider [developing] a gluten-free beer or lighter/darker craft beers," she notes.

However, consumers "want specific beer profiles like an IPA, wheat or stout," Harte interjects.

Beer cheddar kettle chipsEven salty snacks like Kettle Brand Chips from Kettle Foods Inc., Salem, Ore., feature beer, such as Kettle's Cheddar Beer flavor potato chips, which the company recently brought back from retired status.

Bell recently launched a line of beer flavors including standard yeasty lager, stout, Belgian ale and hard dry apple cider. “Bell’s stout beer flavor provides the dark chocolate and fermented molasses aroma and taste associated with a freshly poured stout,” says Kelli Heinz, Bell's director of marketing and industry affairs. Flavors featured in cocktails are also filtering down to other product categories, she says.

"Innovative restaurant chefs also experiment frequently with different flavors, so if diners like them, the flavors could find their way to supermarket food products down the road."

"Initially, many of the applications we saw for alcohol flavors were in the sauce category," Lane says. "But now that alcohol flavors are trending, they're pushing into categories like savory snacks, popcorn and pretzels."

An example of this is Pretzel Pete's Cheddar & Ale Seasoned Pretzel Nuggets, Montgomeryville, Pa., and Pub-Corn, billed as the original beer- and cocktail-flavored popcorn. Pub-Corn is a non-alcoholic way to enjoy the taste of favorite adult beverages. Pub-Corn comes in beer, piña colada and Irish creme flavors, although there's no alcohol in it.

Invented by Cary Silverman, a senior business student at the University of Missouri, the popcorn snack is coated in flavoring via a patented process. Silverman says the product has met with an overwhelmingly positive response in internet sales, and he's currently testing tequila and bourbon flavors.

"I started experimenting in 2007 with the idea of what alcohol flavors in popcorn taste like," Silverman said during a Utah-based radio interview. "I'd like to make a brand-specific beer flavor at some point but there are so many [alcoholic flavor] options, the choices are endless."

Dark spirits also are surging as formulation ingredients, says Dave Sackett, Mizkan's executive director of sales and marketing for food ingredients. "Kentucky Bourbon continues to be a leader as a food ingredient in the barbecue sauce, marinades and cooking sauce category. Bourbon has a complex, intense flavor that's fruity, caramelized, sweet, oaky and smooth with a long lasting finish.

"Spirits are in the spotlight in all food product categories, and are being added to both savory and sweet dishes,” he continues. “Interest in artisanal spirits and wine appreciation have translated from the restaurants to the large-scale [food] manufacturers."

New spirit flavor trends come and go as fast as the weather changes, and are quite seasonal. For fall, darker colored bourbons, whiskeys and craft beer flavors often surface as days turn colder and foods become richer and heavier. A rich bourbon flavor is included in McCormick & Co.'s convenient new slow cooker sauce line, with the entry for Smoky Bourbon BBQ Pulled Pork. Consumers pour the sauce over fresh meat and vegetables, and let them simmer all day in a Crock Pot. These sauces expand the Sparks, Md., company's Skillet Sauce cooking sauce line.

"Cooking sauce and condiment companies are developing barbecue sauces, glazes and hot sauces with spirits and cooking wines," notes Garth Vdoviak, Mizkan's product development manager.

As far as wine flavors are concerned, customers don’t just want a basic red wine flavor, they want specifics, such as a shiraz profile or a pinot noir, Harte notes.

Wine reductions pair nicely with formulations in the sweet segment, as in Cabernet Sherbet, adds Harvey.

Adultification of products

At Sensient Flavors and Fragrances, Hoffman Estates, Ill., the focus is on hard-liquor flavors in demand. New entries the company is bringing out this fall include oak cask maple, which goes back to the interest in aged flavors that are sophisticated and complex. Sensient's Roger Lane, marketing manager of savory flavors, North America, says these recently launched American Saloon flavors work well in cold-brewed coffee, desserts and truffles.

"We’re continuing to see the 'adultification' of products by including alcohol flavors," Lane observes. "Whisky and bourbon can be used in various savory foods, to flavor meat marinades, add depth to sauces and be added to savory snacks as a way to make them more 'adult.'"

Sensient's American Saloon collection includes a wide range, such as red wine reduction, brandy, IPA beer, stout beer, Kentucky bourbon and margarita, Lane adds. "The biggest benefit is that our customers don’t have to worry about dealing with actual alcohol when using these products, as it can be difficult to use in production."

Experiencing huge success in its own right, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, Canada’s hottest spirits export, is prompting more consumer interest in red-hot cinnamon flavors for foods, he remarks. "Spicy/spirit combinations are on the rise. While this specific flavor is typically found in beverages or sweets, it’s starting to move into the savory category with barbecue sauces and marinades for meat."

MizkanAngosturaBittersBitter flavors are creating a buzz all their own, suggests market research from Mintel. Familiar to Italian and Korean cultures, bitter is rising in popularity in the guise of tangy craft beer flavors, for example, which are finding their way into barbecue, red and white wine in olive oil and condiments, and cocktail flavors like those made with Campari and absinthe in poultry dishes.

Though the common perception is that less salt equals less flavor, the heightened consumer interest in foods and drinks with elements of bitterness can pave the way for manufacturers in their sodium reduction initiatives, says Mintel.

Bottled bitters (such as Mizkan's Angostura brand) act as a zippy condiment for cocktails. But bitters can also give soups and stews, fish, salad dressings and sauces and even cakes more complexity and interest, says Mizkan.

Smoky flavors, the result of smoking processes and barrel-aging − both traditional methods of processing foods and beverages − are trendy, adds Heinz. Bell recently introduced a line of "From Scratch” flavors that features smoky, barrel aged and fermented notes designed to make foods taste like they were homemade. Used in the craft alcohol movement, aging and smoking strike a chord of authenticity. Smoke adds flavor without plumping up the calorie count, allowing consumers to experience more flavor without negative health impacts.