2006 Flavor Trends Forecast

Dec. 20, 2005
Here, too, health exerts its influence: How about spices that fight cancer, chocolate for heart-health and sweet-hot combos that improve satiety?
Pomegranate, which ranked high last year, remains on the upswing in 2006. Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS.

What will be the hot flavors for 2006? Last year, we predicted that certain spices would be hot, and that hot pepper was, well, really hot. Pomegranate was mentioned, as well as Caribbean-style flavors.As it turned out, all those flavors did reasonably well and, as trends, they will continue to express themselves during 2006. But there are some new trends in town. Some may come and go, but some will outlast 2006, changing and refining themselves — and the way we make food products — in the next several years. We surveyed a number of flavor companies, food processors and researchers. Frankly, what we found was not so much some new and trendy flavors but new reasons for using (and consumers demanding) some familiar flavors.One interesting change was the interest in flavors in the fight against obesity and poor health. The emphasis on healthful, functional and weight-reducing foods has had a huge impact on food manufacturing. As a result, there are certain flavors and flavor-imparting ingredients that show great potential for helping processors follow those trends in the new year.Fight obesity with flavorsFlavor trends are nearly always reflections of the types of foods that are growing in importance. Currently, the key trend is food products that reduce the risk of obesity.What does that have to do with flavor trends? First, if we’re going to cut the caloric load of a day’s food from more than 3,000 to about 1,800 or less, those 1,800 calories had better taste really good. At the same time, an increasing amount of research is finding that strong, pungent flavors and aromas have a role in satiety, and therefore weight loss.The Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation (, Chicago, found that patients who lost their sense of smell and taste ate more and gained weight. “Patients overate in an attempt to regain some of the pleasure from eating that had been lost along with their sense of smell,” reported neurobiologist and psychiatrist Alan Hirsch, who directed the research.Hirsch says the aroma of food is essential to the sense of satiety. “The satiety center uses the odor molecules to operate the signals that indicate that the diner is satisfied,” he says. Tests included sprinkling foods with salty/sweet combinations such as cheddar cheese/cocoa, horseradish/banana and taco/raspberry to enhance the aroma of foods.
Chocolate’s popularity as a flavor continues to rise as a result of its heart-health connection. Photo courtesy of

Patent applications for a score of foods that induce satiety have been published recently. One patent application — attributed to Michael Greenberg of Wrigley Co. — describes a combination of heating flavors, cooling flavors and indulgent flavors to create a confection that apparently exhausts the satiety center, causing consumers to eat less. The lists of flavor compounds include a number of black and red peppers types, menthol compounds and chocolate and cream.Many other product developers and flavorists also are combining pepper derivatives and cooling flavors with chocolate and sweet flavors.Chocolate as a flavor is getting a boost thanks to work from Mars Inc. on polyphenol enhancement. Mars claims the specially processed flavanols plus plant sterols in its CocoaVia bars improve a number of heart functions, most notably cholesterol.Hershey and a number of other food processors and scientists are studying the healthful properties of chocolate. While the science behind the chocolate-heart health connection is not conclusive, awareness is growing and the public may see chocolate as a general positive.Flaunting fruitFruit flavors also are gaining popularity due to new-found links to health and their renewed emphasis in last year’s Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans. Pomegranate’s perceived value as an antioxidant was recognized by consumers last year. This year, McCormick & Co. (, Hunt Valley, Md., notes that pomegranate is a star supporting actor, pairing well with vanilla, allspice, mustard, pork, black pepper, sea salt, cinnamon, orange and pears. After a breakout 2004-2005, it remains on the upswing.Other fruits (and their flavors) also are benefiting from the public’s increased understanding of antioxidants. In addition to being rich in antioxidants, açai is a fruit that is high in fiber, anthocyanins, minerals and vitamin E. It’s showing up in functional beverages, nutritional bars and smoothies.Cherry is a flavor being aided by a word-of-mouth health connection. Whether or not FDA has found it useful, millions of arthritics swear by cherry juice and cherry products. Newer forms of the fruit are offered for use as an ingredient, including dried cherries and cherry puree. Cranberries are gaining in popularity for much the same reasons, by diabetics, who use the bright red fruit every day, instead of just around the holidays. Mary Ellen Camire of Maine University has performed research that indicates cranberries may be a retardant for type II diabetes.

While fresh herbs and spices are favored for their flavor, plant personnel may want to talk to formulators about the use of extractives if methods of reducing bacterial content are needed. New methods of stabilizing spices and herbs are being introduced, so purchasing may look at all of the options to guard against introduction of bacterial load.

Dried forms of these two fruits, as well as infused products, add to their ease of use, and some of the new cherry and cranberry flavors are excellent.Other exotic fruits, many of which are first introduced to Americans through energy drinks, include cupuaçu (rich in vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids) and guarana (a small red fruit of an Amazon shrub, believed to be more potent than caffeine).Spices that fight cancerA few years ago, Daniel Y.T. Fung, a researcher from Kansas State University, began publishing about the antimicrobial characteristics of certain spices. Now, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has taken up the research on spices and herbs, finding that many of them have anti-cancer activities. These include anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, fennel, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme and turmeric.McCormick and Co. for a number of years has published a flavor forecast for the coming year (see McCormick’s Flavor Forecast for 2006, below). Much of the McCormick list echoes the list from the NCI. McCormick says of anise: “the cooling note of licorice balances the heat in many Asian main dishes, plus other flavor notes.” Caraway’s slightly sweet, faintly sharp flavor is useful in whole grain products.Although not on the NCI list, paprika, especially smoked paprika, adds flavor to Spanish and Portuguese dishes, which are poised to be this year’s hot ethnic foods, according to the Culinary Institute of America ( CIA meeting, held in early November, was called Spain and the World Food Table, and featured Spanish regional cuisines. If the CIA’s impact on chefs is any indication, look for flavors that enhance jambon (Spanish ham), various cheeses that can be smoked and shellfish, including oysters, scallops, mussels and clams. Also likely to have increased importance is olive products, including the flavor of olive in tapenade, the Spanish savory sauce.


Gaining a scientific understanding of how flavor is generated and perceived has evolved. One of the leaders in the field is a relatively small firm called Senomyx Inc. ( According to spokesperson Gwen Rosenberg, the LaJolla, Calif., company is the owner or exclusive licensee of 29 U.S. patents and 18 foreign patents as well as more than 80 pending U.S. patent applications and some 90 pending foreign patent applications covering proprietary taste and olfactory receptors technology and related assays.

Senomyx’s work focuses on specific receptors, including the human savory receptor, composed of two proteins called hT1R1 and hT1R3. The T1R proteins are members of the G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) family and are expressed on the surface of certain taste bud cells. The human sweet receptor is composed of two proteins called hT1R2 and hT1R3. The hT1R3 protein is shared in common with the savory receptor. Like the savory receptor, the sweet receptor is also a member of the GPCR family and is expressed on the surface of certain taste bud cells.

A novel family of GPCRs termed T2Rs mediates the response to bitter compounds. Analysis of the human genome reveals the hT2R family is composed of about 25 receptors, each one recognizing a different class of bitter compound.

Senomyx recently reported the identification of two novel ligand-receptor pairs: hT2R61, which is activated by 6-nitrosaccharin, a bitter derivative of saccharin; and hT2R44, which is activated by denatonium (one of the most bitter tasting compounds known to man) and 6-nitrosaccharin. These discoveries, and the identification of additional T2R receptor-ligand pairs, are part of the company’s ongoing program to identify mediators of bitter taste.

Senomyx has established working relationships with several companies, most recently with Cadbury Schweppes, to develop flavor systems that interact with specific receptors, producing unusual flavors that are particularly high in impact. Ultimately, that could lead to the development of flavors that reduce the need for sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate.

McCormick’s Flavor Forecast for 2006

McCormick & Co. for several years has been publishing an annual Flavor Forecast. The Hunt Valley, Md., company ( bills it as “a look at the flavors and trends that will shape the way we eat in years to come.”

The forecast is compiled from comments from about 15 chefs, television personalities and cookbook authors from across the country. Following are highlights of this year’s forecast.

Anise, the licorice-like flavor that is prevalent in Mediterranean dishes, Indian, European, Latin American and African cuisine, is projected to be an element of flavor with coffee, chocolate and orange flavors.

The flavor Americans now know — and love — as "chai" originated as a blend of spices used in Indian tea. Photo courtesy of Yogi Tea.

Caraway is a little sweet, a little sharp, and tastes something like a blend of dill and anise. Long used in rye bread, caraway is finding its way into whole grain dishes, but is very nice with apples, pork, sausage, cabbage, cheese and supports garlic and cumin.

Chai is a blend of spices including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and white pepper. Most folks know it as a tea-like drink. But it’s escaping Starbucks and moving to desserts, snack bars, organic foods and natural foods.

Marjoram is very Mediterranean, but pairs well with Middle Eastern food and American Southwest flavors.

Paprika, especially smoked paprika is a key component of Spanish, Portuguese, European and Southwestern dishes. Especially good with shellfish, chorizo and tomato dishes, it supports garlic, basil and oregano.

Saffron also is a keystone of foods from Spain — which McCormick calls "the new France" as a hotbed for trendy food. Used both in savory dishes (such as paella) and sweet dishes (flan, for starters), the bright yellow spice (really the stamens of a crocus) is expensive, but only a pinch is used.

Sesame has gone beyond the bun and is used as a flavor adjunct in chocolate, chicken, meats and tuna and supports garlic, orange and ginger.

Supporting flavor: Pomegranate is “widely touted for its antioxidants and perceived health benefits.” New methods of processing the pesky fruit and its seeds have suddenly made it very popular, especially used with warm spices.

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