America's culinary climate heats up

March 15, 2003
Bolder, more exciting flavor blends combine the new and familiar
By consulting some of America's hottest chefs, culinary television personalities and cookbook authors in preparation of its 2003 Flavor Forecast, Hunt Valley, Md.-based McCormick & Co. Inc. got an early peek at some of the flavors, spices and trends that are expected to warm, and in some cases cool  -- the culinary climate.You can expect plenty of flavor, exciting pairings, continued use of ingredients that heat and cool the palate, and growing emphasis on authentic, regional ethnic cuisines, according to McCormick. Watch for increased use of bay leaf, mustard, lemon grass, sea salt, sesame and cinnamon. Also look for chile peppers and pepper to pack even more heat into our food selections. Incidentally, it's the capsaicin in chile peppers and piperine in pepper that are responsible for the heat or "burn" that we feel on our tongue and throat when we eat dishes prepared with those spices. Other basic spices making their way to both restaurant menus and prepared foods are coriander/cilantro (coriander leaves are known as cilantro in Mexico and the U.S. and the spice is essential in Mexican, Middle Eastern, North African and Asian cuisine) and turmeric (a warm, mild, earthy and aromatic flavor that supports North African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Indian cuisines). Wasabi powder (referred to as Japanese horseradish) is seeing more use as an accompaniment to sushi and as a key ingredient in condiments and side dishes. And vanilla is not just for baking anymore; it's becoming the star flavor in a variety of both sweet and savory foods and beverages.

With aging baby boomers losing their taste buds and younger consumers pushing the envelope on exciting taste experiences, it's not surprising that Extreme Flavor, "aroma, texture and flavor that reaches new heights," is at the top of McCormick's trend watch."Bolder, more exciting flavor combinations are becoming mainstays on restaurant menus, in packaged foods and in the foods we prepare at home," says Laurie Harrsen, McCormick's director of public relations. "Spice blends are one way that people are achieving these extreme flavors. It's easy to use a spice blend to give a favorite food a new flavor twist."Cookbook author Allen Susser, one of the report's contributors and owner of Miami-based Chef Allen's restaurant, explains the appeal of extreme flavor: "It covers multiple sensations, heat, bitter, aromatic and salty."Extreme flavors are particularly evident in the proliferating numbers of salsas, chutneys, dips and spreads available on supermarket shelves. "I've been playing with fruit salsas, using tart fruits to make salsas that go either way , sweet or savory," says best-selling cookbook author and vegetarian guru Mollie Katzen, another contributor to the report. "Some of my favorites include papaya with chipotle chiles and red onion, or grapefruit, avocado, mango and onion. It's easy to play up the elements of sweet, sour, tart and hot using different ingredients and flavors."Consumer fascination with extreme flavors has manifested itself in a 7 percent increase of spice blends since 2000, making blends the fastest-growing segment in the spice category. Blends create a whole new taste experience -- from ethnic to extreme; there's one to suit every palate. Some of the tastiest pair sweet and spicy. Citrus and tropical fruits are ideal complements to bold spices, helping to offset fiery notes."Pairing opposites is a great example of using extreme flavor," says contributor Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef/owner of New York City restaurants Jean Georges, JoJo, Vong, Mercer Kitchen and 66. "For example, I love the complexity of combining sugar and wasabi." McCormick's report also examines other trends that will warm the culinary climate during the coming year. We'll investigate them next month, but here's a peek. Shrinking Globe -- discovering regional ethnic cuisines; Food as an occasion -- sharing flavor and fun; You Can Take it With You -- portable foods continue to change the way Americans eat; Varying Degrees of Heat , spicy, yet flavorful combinations; Green Season -- organic and natural foods; and Home on the Range -- meat is in!

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