Spices definitely distinguish certain seasons. Imagine autumn, for example, without pumpkin spice or mulled apple. Christmas without peppermint.
Do certain spices also identify dayparts? Many do. Think cinnamon, whether it's in a sticky bun, sprinkled on a donut or baked into bread – all breakfast occasions.
- Formulation trends are showing breakfast foods aren’t just for morning anymore. Get the full scoop on how breakfast and flavors intersect
“Warm spices fit well in the morning -- such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or even a pinch of cardamom to accent fruit flavors, brown sugar and nut butters,” says Anna Cheely, senior scientist for Kalsec (www.kalsec.com). She notes these spices often are found in oatmeal or breakfast bars.
“In the morning we’re more sensitive to bold flavors so we tend to ease into flavors during morning hours,” she says. Although, “We can relate this to the subtle flavors of sage, thyme or other herbal notes in breakfast sausage with little to no pungency/heat."
Nicholas Ahrens, product applications technologist for Bay State Milling Co. (www.baystatemilling.com) and an ACF certified chef, says traditional spices dominate the breakfast category for breads and bagels. Cinnamon sugar swirls and cinnamon with raisins remain top sellers in the flavored bread category.
“But add olive oil and black pepper at a small percentage and it easily redefines bread’s role for lunch or dinner," he says. "That same bread, by adding different toppings and an egg, avocado and arugula, can be transformed into an elegant breakfast sandwich.”
In 2017 McCormick & Co. (www.mccormick.com) introduced its “Good Morning” line of spice blends specifically targeting breakfast. The ingredients are designed to help enhance “oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes and even smoothies,” according to a company press release.
The seasoning line includes blends typically associated with the breakfast daypart -- such as apple cinnamon, garden herb and brown sugar vanilla -- and mainly devoid of heat, although it does offer a Southwest chipotle topper and Mexican egg casserole slow cooker breakfast seasoning mix.
Maybe it's the look more than the flavor. “As long as the platform is recognizable, such as a breakfast bowl, this offers formulators a lot more creative license to change up spices, herbs or flavors not traditionally found at breakfast," adds Emily Munday, director of operations for Culinex (www.culinex.biz). "We’re seeing more blurring of the lines; strong, bold flavors like harissa or global spice blends at breakfast.”
On the other hand, flavors found traditionally in a specific meal time offer formulators a way to ‘flip the script.’ “Nutmeg or sage own their place in breakfast sausage, but also in savory dinner items,” says Munday. “Sage with pork might remind people of breakfast sausage but paired with chicken, it can help create something new.”
As the day wears on
Referencing the study “Consumer Awareness of and Attitudes to Food Texture” by Alina Szczesniak, Cheely says breakfast foods are more “bland” and “passive,” but as the day wears on, our affinity for more in-depth and aggressive flavors and textures increases.
“We become more adventuresome as the day evolves, for new ethnic profiles and flavors,” she says.
The midday meal often is a familiar but ethnic adventure. “As we move to lunch one might encounter foods with enhanced flavors and increased pungency and spiciness found in chili peppers, or black pepper,” says Cheely. But she says many still have a desire for lunch-time comfort foods, like soups and sandwiches, which may prove difficult to spice up.
Despite its popularity in breakfast breads and rolls, cinnamon offers crossover capability, says Ahrens. “Think of its integral role in pumpkin spice blends. Consumers enjoy pumpkin spice lattes any time of day.”
Cinnamon also can be found in traditional Oaxacan mole sauce. And “in North Africa, cinnamon is added either as a whole stick or ground into a powder and added to rice dishes in a Moroccan tagine,” adds Ahrens. In the tagine he says, cinnamon isn’t the dominant spice but more of a companion, blending well with dates, golden raisins and sometimes a spicy Harissa sauce.
“Spices can certainly influence the daypart category where a product ‘belongs.’ However, globalization and food mash-ups are taking spices into different day parts and across categories from sweet to savory.
“One of my favorite spices that crosses the sweet and savory line very easily is cardamom," Ahrens continues. "Cardamom on carrots is absolutely divine and just like ginger in small amounts, can be just enough to add that ‘secret’ ingredient that brings a dish from ‘OK to ‘wow!'”
When dinner approaches, high adventure begins. “This is the daypart most open to more [adventuresome] ethnic and spicy foods: Buffalo wings, Chinese dishes with Szechuan peppers," says Cheely. "Dinner time allows for the boldest flavors and nothing is off-limits related to spices.”
Munday says this association of traditional spices and herbs with various dayparts might witness a change as millennials continue to influence food development trends. “Millennials aren’t as scared to try different flavors so they might want bold flavors for breakfast, like harissa on a handheld sandwich,” she says.
Perhaps instead of harissa, they might reach for a bottle of sriracha. This Asian-style red chili sauce was introduced to this country in 1980 by David Tran, the owner of Huy Fong Foods, after he fled the communist regime in Vietnam in 1979. Hot sauce sales overall are projected to reach $1.65 billion in the next five years, according to Euromonitor, posting sales gains of at least 5 percent per year since 2012. Hot sauce sales point to a shift towards Asian, Latin and Indian cuisines, aided by that adventuresome generational segment millennials. The cohort between the ages of 18-24 has the most diverse diets of any other group from any point in history, some observers have noted.
According to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor Consumer Trend Report, the different generational groups display significant differences when measuring the appeal of certain flavors. Millennials and Gen Xers drive demand for unique options, with millennials twice as likely as baby boomers to order ethnic foods at least once a week. Seasonal differences play a significant factor on food and beverage purchases as well, with 47 percent of 18-34-year-olds saying their flavor preferences change with the seasons.
According to Munday this market environment provides formulators with an exciting time to exercise creative license. “Spices offer formulators a low-risk opportunity to take something ho-hum and create something truly innovative. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel; simply take an application that already works and revamp it.”
Munday referenced potato chips as a platform that consumers want “in every single flavor under the sun.” Changing up the spices alone is an easy process and low-risk proposition, but also a change that can be implemented quickly, to take advantage of almost any current spice trend.
Maybe the spice we enjoy might not be linked to daypart, generation or ethnicity but a quality much more difficult to quantify — personality type. Researchers at Penn State University recently demonstrated a connection between people prone to taking risks and passionate spice eaters. As these consumers seek the latest thrill, they also enjoy amping up their scoville intake. This is all in pursuit of sensation-seeking, a desire for new and intense experiences.