Seasoning Blends Meet Three Big Trends

March 24, 2022
Spice blends can result in easy fusion cuisine, clean labels and better-for-you formulations.

Fusion cuisine is commonplace in restaurants today – consider the popularity of taco pizza and sushirittos – so it’s no surprise that seasoning ingredient companies are succeeding with interesting fusions and blends.

From spicy flavors paired with fruit sweetness to innovative regional cuisine flavors, ingredient suppliers are helping manufacturers deliver new taste opportunities to please consumers.

“We have a culinary chef who looks across our portfolio to begin the fusion process and show customers what’s possible,” says Peter Losee, vice president of marketing for Bluegrass Ingredients. “The idea is that food manufacturers can rely on their suppliers for innovation. We do the R&D in our lab and correlate our innovations with the manufacturer’s abilities.”

In addition to making creative blends, seasonings suppliers are carefully observing other important trends, such as clean label and better-for-you applications.

Innovative blends

There are countless examples of mixes of flavors in processed foods on the market today. Consider Bookers Soul Food Starters, which feature flavors associated with southern African American cuisine such garlic, onion, vinegar and smoke flavor. The company offers four varieties: Mac & Cheese Seasoning Mix, Collard Greens Seasoning Mix, Peach Cobbler Filling Mix and Candied Yams Seasoning Mix.

Or Fat Rabbit vegetarian frozen meals, which are seasoned with innovative blends such as cinnamon and flaxseed or jalapeno, lime and cilantro. The flavors in Bookers’ and Fat Rabbits’ products – and others like them – are not necessarily unique, but how they are blended and presented to consumers is definitely on-trend.

Fuchs North America’s Spicy Garlic Eggplant Seasoning is featured in their upcoming Korean Kraze Collection.

“We’re seeing certain types of products that have long been popular remaining in favor with consumers – and thus, brands – while also evolving slightly to keep up with the latest cravings,” notes Shannon Cushen, director of marketing for Fuchs North America.

“Take hot and spicy flavors, for example. These flavors have generally always been trendy, but the ways that trend has manifested have continued to change. So, we’ve always had brands interested in hot and spicy flavors, but the kinds of hot and spicy flavors they’re looking for has changed to reflect consumers’ tastes.

These days, we’re seeing a lot of demand for spicy flavors inspired by global cuisines, as well as hot flavors featuring unique and exotic peppers.”

Cushen says her company has recently launched a number of seasoning collections that are available to food processors looking for innovative flavors. One is a line inspired by soul food, which took off due to increased interest in Southern cuisine, she says. A blend that is now being launched is a Korean-themed collection.

“We anticipate Korean cuisine will soon dominate consumers’ cravings for Asian food,” Cushen says. “Consumers are growing increasingly adventurous, making them curious about the foods and flavors of other regions and countries. Brands that are looking to innovate to appeal to these consumers are seeking out the cuisines that reflect what’s new and what’s next in terms of trends. That’s made these lines of seasonings particularly successful.”

Losee says an interesting blend he has observed is citrus combined with heat. This flavor combination can be applied to cooking sauces, table sauces, dry seasoning systems and other flavoring opportunities, he notes.

Mixing well-known flavors in different substrates also can create innovative products, he adds. “My chef was recently working on blending our collection of nacho seasonings into different substrates,” Losee says. “He did a 5% inclusion in cream cheese, 5% in laba, 5% in marscapone. You get a really interesting relationship of texture, taste and mouthfeel, but you’re just adding the seasoning system to a wet substrate. For the dip manufacturer, that creates an innovative product profile.”

Seasonings for clean-label foods

The innovative blends that seasonings makers are developing have a ready market among manufacturers of clean-label processed food – assuming, of course, that the seasonings themselves match the standards established for the foods.

For example, Losee explains that Bluegrass Ingredients has developed a clean-label citrus powder that can be used in a wide variety of seasoning blends.

“The citrus fruit powders are extremely clean label and some of them are organic,” he says. “So it has a lot of dimensions – it fits the clean label, it fits the healthy dietary choices, and then it jumps on the whole fusion trend of mixing sweet and savory.”

Chocolate confections get a flavor boost from gourmet sea salts like SaltWorks' Ancient Ocean Himalayan Pink Salt.

Salt also comes in varieties better suited for clean-label applications. Mark Zoske, founder and CEO of SaltWorks, explains that his company sources salt from pure water sources worldwide, processes it as little as possible, and cleans it with proprietary Optically Clean Technology.

“SaltWorks aims to promote all-natural, clean label products as much as possible,” Zoske says. “Selecting the ideal grain size and texture for the right product should allow for natural adhesion without requiring any additives.

"Our team can work with each snack company and their specific manufacturing techniques to consult them in the R&D process to ensure they are selecting a grain size and salt structure that delivers appropriately for their needs.”

“Clean label” is not defined the same by every manufacturer in every situation, Losee adds. Whole Foods and Sprouts, for example, have different requirements for clean label than Kroger or Safeway.

Cushen says Fuchs’ customers also have been asking for more clean label seasonings.

“Organic and non-GMO products continue to be in-demand with consumers, meaning that more brands have sought out ingredients that meet these specifications and certifications,” Cushen says. “In efforts to meet these demands, brands have been looking for organic and non-GMO seasonings and flavor solutions that not only meet these standards, but also deliver incredible flavor at the same time.”

Better-for-you still needs to taste good

Healthy food has been on-trend for decades, but – as Cushen notes above – food processors know that flavor still matters. Consumers might buy a better-for-you product when they’re motivated by health factors, but if it doesn’t taste good, their enthusiasm for the product will likely wane, no matter how healthy it is. That represents opportunities for seasoning suppliers.

Salt is the most popular flavor enhancer, of course, and choosing the right salt for a given application can allow for recipes that use less salt without sacrificing flavor, a key issue in better-for-you foods.

“Salt varies greatly when it comes to taste, texture and functionality,” Zoske says. “The shape and texture of the salt crystal can make an enormous difference in sodium content. For example, choosing a flake salt over a granular salt for a crunchy snack, like crackers, allows the salt to adhere better to the food. The result is more flavor without using more salt.”

Zoske says SaltWorks just launched two new salt varieties ideal for manufacturers who want to reduce sodium without reducing flavor.

“Pacific Blue Micro and Mini Flake Sea Salt have a hollow, pyramid shape and soft texture that more easily adheres to food, allowing less salt to go to waste in the manufacturing process,” he says. “Additionally, their razor-thin, feather-like nature causes them to instantly dissolve the moment they hit your tongue to achieve that salty, savory bite.

"The unique 3D structure of Pacific Blue Micro and Mini Flake Sea Salt allows you to use less salt without sacrificing the natural salty bite consumers expect," he adds. "It’s a game-changer for food manufacturers.”

Plant-based foods are a good example of foods that definitely need to be seasoned well. Early attempts at plant-based meat alternatives were acceptable by consumers because they were novel and reduced animal consumption, but later iterations have greatly improved texture and taste.

“The plant-based food trend is nothing new, having demonstrated substantial growth over the past several years,” Cushen says. “Now that consumers are becoming more interested in and familiar with these products, though, brands have been looking for ways to make them more appealing – including innovating with flavor.

"For some products, and especially meat alternatives, this has meant featuring flavors that are already popular in other categories on their products to help make them even more approachable and appealing to consumers. For other products, like better-for-you snacks, this has meant looking for new and exciting flavor inspirations that mirror some of the more exotic trends that have been picking up steam in more mainstream product categories.”

The bottom line: Innovations in seasonings help food processors sell more product. Choosing interesting blends can amp up consumer interest, and selecting clean-label and better-for-you seasonings helps processors serve the ever-popular healthy food trend.

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