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

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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.

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