Adding herbs, spices and botanicals to food and beverage products amplifies flavor, helps replace sodium, sugar, artificial colors and flavors and address some health issues. Every year, trendy new combinations of spices and herbs come to the forefront. Masala, cardamom, hatch chile, doenjang and turmeric are gaining at supermarkets today, as are green and herbal, hot and spicy and even floral flavors.
The growing Asian and Hispanic populations in the U.S. have introduced wildly popular flavors into the American diet, many becoming mainstays in kitchens and on menus, notes Ann Roberts, vice president of NPD Group's (www.npd.com) SupplyTrack service.
Product developers and chefs know they can change the dynamics of a new formulation just by adding a pinch of spice, a sprinkle of herbs and a few dashes of creativity. Different choices and combinations can completely transform chicken, for example, from one type of cuisine with a certain flavor complex and aromas to another, just by swapping the herbs and spices.
Use of ethnic condiments will continue to grow with the great demand from millennials, who always want something new. "Some of the flavors we're watching are harissa [hot, often smoked, chili peppers], ras el hanout [a warm Morrocan spice blend] and anything from the Philippines," says Judson McLester, executive chef and ingredient sales manager at McIlhenny Co. (www.tabasco.com), the Avery Island, La.-based maker of Tabasco products. "The next big trend in my mind is fermented foods − the use of herbs and spices here is limitless and helps drive the flavor. Also, plant-based cocktails/mocktails that offer up nutritional and medicinal properties."
Herbs, spices and seasonings also can help with ongoing efforts to reduce sodium and even sugar in processed products. Formulators are replacing salt in foods with acidic lemon juice, vinegar and an abundance of herbs, spices and seasoning blends, McLester notes. "All of these contain some amount of naturally occurring sodium. Some of the best flavorful herbs used to replace sodium would be basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, to name a few. The sky’s the limit on spice, since most are aromatic and pungent. I like chili powder and cinnamon."
Today, it's not always about finding alternatives to salt and sugar, but about using real ingredients at the right amount for their functionality. "Use of spices and herbs will definitely increase in scope to drive flavor as we look to reduce added salt and sugars but still deliver a good tasting product," adds Dax Schaefer, executive chef and director of culinary innovation at functional ingredient/seasoning provider Asenzya (www.asenzya.com), Oak Creek, Wis. His customers are enhancing with natural flavors that impart umami.
Changing seasons and regions
"We're looking at deeper Asian profiles such as Korean and Vietnamese and Caribbean profiles," Schaefer continues. However, he cautions: "People want as authentic and traditional a flavor as possible.
African, Middle Eastern and Latin American cuisines are surfacing, observes Lacey Eckert, market development specialist at Kalsec Inc. (www.kalsec.com), Kalamazoo, Mich. "These cuisines have spicy flavor elements and often combine heat with other seasonings," she says, such as peppers with warm spices such as cardamom and nutmeg or black pepper and cumin, sometimes cilantro. Latin American flavors can bring together heat with garlic and onion, cumin and coriander, or strong herbal flavors of parsley and cilantro in the form of chimichurri. Kalsec also monitors specific pepper varietals as consumers look for new and different sources of heat, she says.
"Mexican food was the most popular choice for hot and spicy cuisine in the last year. It's also starting to be recognized as more than just tacos and tortillas," she adds. Authentic Mexican food incorporates many flavors, and Kalsec offers extracts from specific peppers from the region – guajillo, ancho and pasilla, among others.
Japanese-inspired cuisine, which uses ponzu, miso, mirin, sesame oil and plum vinegar, is "moving from restaurant menus to mainstream American pantries," says Whole Foods Market. As food companies add more variety in entrees, snacks and frozen vegetables, savory Japanese influences are showing up in stores. Japanese flavors and spices also will impact breakfast and dessert, Whole Foods predicts.